Author: Linxuan Chu
The Education, Justice and Memory Network (EdJAM) is a network of educators, activists, artists, heritage professionals, researchers and civil society organisations committed to teaching and learning about the violent past in creative ways in order to build more just futures. We believe that it is impossible to create a culture of peace and nonviolence without learning about historical violence and injustice and their legacies in the present. As a result, EdJAM supports and develops new approaches to teach and learn about conflict, violence, colonialism, imperialism, and racism, including by sponsoring global research projects. EdJAM is funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). In September 2021 we launched a small grants call for projects up to £25,000 open to applicants based in countries on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list. EdJAM operates as a bilingual project in English and Spanish and the funding call ran in both languages.
We received 58 applications to this call from researchers based in a total of 18 countries. 42 of the applications received were in English and 16 were in Spanish. Our budget allowed us to fund a total of 18 projects, and these are based in 12 countries. These were selected via a review process by the EdJAM team and advisory board followed by a panel meeting. All proposals were reviewed by three people and scored against a set of criteria published alongside the call. All projects that scored above a threshold were discussed by the panel, who made final decisions based on reviewer scores and geographic and thematic spread of projects.
The research funding landscape is an unequal one with funding often concentrated in the Global North, at elite institutions and with projects often led by established researchers. White male researchers are overrepresented as leaders of funded research projects, with underrepresentation of leadership from people of colour, disabled people, carers and women, non-binary and LGTBQ+ people (Adelaine et al., 2020; UKRI, 2021). Aware of this unequal landscape, we hoped EdJAM funding might, in its small way, disrupt these patterns and felt that a first step was to make the application and selection process as transparent as possible in line with our network values.
There is often limited reporting on funding decision making processes, particularly with reference to equalities – hence this blog, which presents an analysis of equalities related information provided by applicants to explore patterns in applications received and in those funded. The analysis was conducted by EdJAM Placement Student, Linxuan Chu, with support from EdJAM Research Assistant, Kerry Parsons, and Lead Researcher, Julia Paulson.
The total budget for EdJAM’s small grants call was reduced due to the UK government’s cuts to their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) budget in 2021, which reduced the total budgets of GCRF funded projects like EdJAM (Worley, 2021). For this reason, we promoted the funding opportunity modestly within EdJAM’s existing networks rather than conducting a major publicity campaign. We promoted the opportunity on social media, in our mailing list, and via online workshops hosted by EdJAM investigators based in Cambodia, Colombia, Pakistan and Uganda. This has meant that most applications and funded projects have some connection to members of the EdJAM team or supporters of the EdJAM network, which is clearly a limitation to the openness of this opportunity and its ability to reach those who aren’t already connected to and familiar with the international research ecosystem.
Analysis of Applications and Funded Projects
We collected equalities information from all team members listed on the application form, though there was an option to leave any and all questions blank. This analysis of applicants focuses on six aspects of the equality information provided by the Principal Investigators (PI) for each project: career stage, gender, member of a racialized or minoritized group in your local context, disability, caring responsibility and other elements related to equality, diversity and inclusion relevant to the application or their professional role. For career stage, we asked applicants to select whether they identified as early in their development as a researcher or as a senior/established researcher. For the other questions, we used free-text responses that applicants completed in their own words. We are conducting this post-selection analysis to explore patterns in application and selection and to consider implications for future commissioning processes.
Concerning the researcher career experience, a total of 29 applicants identified as early career researchers while 28 described themselves as senior or established researchers and one did not specify. Of the funded projects, 9 Principal Investigators are early career researchers and the other 9 are senior or established researchers. Therefore, the EdJAM call does not seem to have favoured senior or established researchers in its application or selection process, with both applications and funded projects spread evenly across career stage. As a relatively small budget call (£25,000), the opportunity may have been better suited to researchers earlier in their careers, though some established researchers noted in their applications the limited funding opportunities for arts, humanities and social science research in their national contexts. Since EdJAM actively encouraged applications from individuals and organisations who do not necessarily identify as researchers but are experienced practitioners, activists and artists working in education about past violence, the category may be somewhat blurred, with some experienced practitioners identifying as early in their development as researchers.
28 lead applicants identified as male, 27 as female, 1 as non-binary, one as N/A and 1 applicant left this category blank. Of the projects selected for funding, 8 are led by male PIs, 9 by female PIs and 1 by a non-binary PI. As with career stage, funding decision ratios roughly mirror applications received, with applications led by women and non-binary researchers having a (slightly, in the case of women) higher success rate than those led by men.
Racialized or Minoritized Identities
A total of 40 applicants indicated that they were not a member of a racialized or minoritized group in their national context, 15 did identify as a member of a racialized or minoritized group and three people left this question blank. Of the funded applications, 12 of principal investigators did not identify as members of racialized or minoritized groups and 6 did, maintaining a roughly similar ratio between applications received and those funded. We framed this question with reference to national context and avoided tick boxes that list ‘options’ for race/ethnicity given the problems with such lists. This means we do not have data to report on the race and ethnicity of applicants using the language that UK funders often do. Applications were received from 18 countries on the OECD DAC list and therefore applicants who may be considered racialized or minoritized in a UK context did not identify in this way in their national contexts.
Of the 58 lead researcher applicants, 39 had no caring responsibilities, 12 had caring responsibilities, and 1 left this question blank. Here we see, what may be, an overrepresentation of applications from those without caring responsibilities, though we do not know what the baseline is in the general researcher population. We did not offer a definition of caring responsibilities meaning that applicants may have interpreted this in different ways. Among the funded applications, 10 are led by researchers who identified no caring responsibilities and seven by those with caring responsibility and one who left this question blank.
We included a final section where applicants could indicate any other information related to equality, diversity and inclusion that was relevant to their application or their professional roles. In 23 of the 58 applications received, principal investigators provided additional notes. Of the funded projects, 9 are led by researchers who added additional notes. These applications were funded in higher proportion than those that did not provide additional information. In notes researchers provided more information about gender and racialized identities as well as indicating information that we did not ask about directly, including notes on LGTBQ+ identities, political identities, social class, victims of violent conflict, previous involvement with armed groups, and religion. These notes tended to explain the ways in which these identities were marginalized and/or discriminated against in the local or national context, limiting opportunities for professional development and research funding.
As a first step in the review process, EdJAM’s Bristol-based team checked all applications for eligibility, ensuring that all required documentation was complete, including early documentation indicating awareness of the University of Bristol’s due diligence checks that would be required of all funded projects. 32 applications were complete at this eligibility check stage and 26 were missing required documents. We operated what we called a supportive eligibility check, writing to applicants with incomplete applications to explain what was missing and request its return within 2 weeks. All projects, except 1 were able to return the missing documentation. Of the funded projects 10 had initially submitted applications that required some support at the eligibility check stage and eight were complete at submission.
Reflecting on this, it appears that some of the projects that most fit with EdJAM’s aims and ethos (and therefore were funded) were developed by colleagues less familiar with commissioned research processes (and therefore required additional support at eligibility check stage). The supportive eligibility check, therefore, seems a valuable approach for enabling applications from those who may be underrepresented in research funding. This approach, however, requires resourcing as does the subsequent establishment of projects led by colleagues without experience of University due diligence, contracting and finance processes. The EdJAM Bristol based team and especially Project and Communications Manager, Caroline Bardrick, and Research Assistant, Kerry Parsons, devote considerable time to ensuring these processes run smoothly for project leads and it is without a doubt the case that inclusive commissioning requires considerable resourcing and skilled colleagues.
We hoped that our call might go a small way to disrupt some of the inequities in UK research funding. We see some evidence of this. The call was only open to researchers based in countries on the OECD DAC list, so this disrupts the dominance of academics based in the Global North in Principal Investigator roles. While we did not track this so cannot report on it quantitatively, we have noted that several funded projects have colleagues based in the UK or elsewhere in the global North in Co-Investigator, advisory or voluntary roles. This links with our earlier observation that most projects (applications and funded) have existing connections (though sometimes once, twice or thrice removed) with EdJAM team members. This raises questions about the degree to which we have been able to decentre the UK and global North academia in our commissioning processes. In future commissioning, we will endeavour to collect data about these connections more explicitly in order to include them in our equalities analyses and we urge Network Pluses commissioning research to do the same.
Our application and funding patterns suggest that EdJAM had more applications and funded more projects led by those who have one or multiple characteristics that tend to be under-represented in research funding. We received feedback that the bilingual nature of call enabled applicants in Latin America who would not have been able to apply to participate – widening the application language of funding calls even further is likely a way to further increase the accessibility and therefore diversity of applications. We received the largest number of applications from the four countries in which EdJAM colleagues are based and from which they organized online application support workshops. We were able to encourage and support colleagues with existing (though sometimes tenuous) connections to EdJAM to develop high quality applications, including colleagues that identify with one or more identities that are often underpresented in research and we do not see any glaring patterns of inequality in funding decisions. Nonetheless, there is more we can do in future to collect more robust equalities data (including on the categories that applicants raised which we did not ask about) and to work creatively to share funding opportunities beyond our existing networks and their few degrees of separation.
Adelaine, A., Kalinga, C., Agbakoba, R.N., Smith, N., Adisa, O., Francois, J., King-Okoye, M., Williams, P., Zelzer, R., (2020). Knowledge is power – An open letter to UKRI. ResearchProfessional News, 17 August 2020: Knowledge Is Power—An Open Letter To UKRI – Research Professional News
UKRI (2021). Diversity results analysis for UKRI funding date, financial years 2014-15 to 2019-20. UKRI. Diversity results analysis for UKRI funding data, financial years 2014-15 to 2019-20 – UKRI
Worley, W. (2021). UK aid budget gets de facto $800 million cut for 2022. Devex, 21 October. UK aid budget gets de facto $800 million cut for 2022 | Devex