Science advice at times of crisis: equity, diversity, inclusion, and bilingualism

David Phipps (York University) recently appeared on a webinar with representatives from UK, US and South Africa discussing how universities, academies and their networks can support science advice in a time of crisis. The specific perspective from Research Impact Canada (RIC) focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) with bilingualism being an important accessibility feature for a network like RIC that has anglophone, francophone and bilingual members.

The full panel recording is available from the Academic Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub.

The crisis that served as the backdrop was the COVID pandemic, but we could have easily been speaking about long term crises such as climate change or social inequality.

After describing RIC, I observed that Canada has 5.5 time zones so we have always been a virtual Network. COVID didn’t affect our business directly, but we were indirectly affected by the effect it had on members in their own professional and personal lives. In some ways, COVID was a benefit to our work. We co-hosted the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum in 2020 where we had 25% more attendees than out largest in-person event (Toronto, 2016). Furthermore, the 2.5 day long RIC annual meeting (September 2021) had broad participation especially from new members (Athabasca wins the prize for most participants!) but we did miss the networking events.

The crisis I chose to address is the crisis of EDI in research and how the barriers we set up in the academy recapitulate systemic barriers in broader society. I explained that EDI in Canada includes Indigenous contexts as that is not the case for UK participants unless they are working internationally. Additionally for RIC, EDI includes Francophones working in a bilingual network. I spoke about how we are considering EDI in RIC operations. How we try to remove barriers to the authentic engagement for all our members. This includes using accessibility features in virtual and in person meetings; being considerate of time zones (increasingly difficult as international members consider membership); being mindful of people’s physical and emotional energy when “on” all day and ensuring that Francophone members can participate in all activities. We have launched two initiatives to help guide our EDI efforts: an EDI thinking group and a Bilingualism committee.

The EDI thinking group (because we’re not yet a working group as we haven’t figured out the work!) is comprised of mobilizers and EDI research specialists from RIC member institutions. We walk the talk. I am the only white guy on the committee, but I am gay. We all are members of equity seeking groups, not by design and we are not representing those groups, but we show up and bring our lived/living experiences with us. We are currently reviewing the report on equity in academic-policy engagement from Universities Policy Engagement Network to see what resonates in the Canadian context. One challenge we are experiencing is getting time from the EDI specialists. They often sit under the VP Research and they are in high demand due to huge need and limited resourcing.

The Bilingualism committee is made up of Francophone, bilingual and enthusiastic anglophone French learners. The group meets to consider ways that the activities and resource of RIC are accessible in both official languages. They have created one resource on making bilingual presentations.

EDI including bilingualism is necessary for all networks. However, in a time of crisis such as COVID, we see that the crisis disproportionally affects people from equity seeking groups. All networks need to consider how to create opportunities for authentic participation of all network members.