RRI action on #Gender at University of Oxford & NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre

Editorial Team RRI

Two large organisations unite to achieve structural change towards responsible bioscience. This is the story of how University of Oxford and NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre implemented RRI, with a special focus on gender equity, in bioscience research institutions that already subscribed to the RRI concept.

Main challenges

  • Achieving structural change in a very large organization with comparatively small resources relative to the size of the organization.
  • Aligning our activities under the RRI banner with many other similar activities driven by different actors under different banners.
  • Address all five RRI keys simultaneously with limited resources and time.

Focus on Gender

We focused on gender because it was tied into the objectives of our organisation under the remit of our funder – the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). The drive to develop and implement Athena SWAN gender equality action plans in our organisation provided an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing activities. The project catalysed change by aligning its objectives with the objectives of Athena SWAN. The most significant example of structural change has been benchmarking gender as part of the organisational performance metrics.

Overcoming obstacles

Given that activities pertaining to all five RRI keys were already well established in our organization before the project, we did not have to convince internal stakeholders of their value. Our main obstacle was to develop enough capacity to catalyse change because the work packages were ambitious and lacked sufficient resources to achieve change at scale. We overcame this obstacle by securing strong support, additional resources, and staff time from the NIHR Oxford BRC.

Action plans in action

Our action plan included ten major streams of action (SoAs):

  • SoA A: Review of the effectiveness of societal engagement in biomedical research and innovation.
  • SoA B: Engaging with technology transfer within the NIHR Oxford BRC.
  • SoA C: Development of new metrics to assess markers of achievement for women in translational medicine settings.
  • SoA D: Qualitative study of women within the NIHR Oxford BRC.
  • SoA E: A gender analysis of authors in scientific publications in NIHR Oxford BRC.
  • SoA F: Scoping and encouraging the use of gender and sex as key variables in the research programmes.
  • SoA G: Evaluating opportunities for lectures, seminars or workshops on RRI and disseminating RRI.
  • SoA H: Evaluating open access and developing a framework for comparison.
  • SoA I: Ethics at the edge of consent: capacity, consent and vulnerability.
  • SoA J: Ethics, big data and research data governance.

Achieving goals

We have achieved the planned goals in all SoAs, but with a varying degree of success. The most significant structural change and impact has been achieved in gender-related SoAs. Given the emphasis at our institution on the evidence-based approach, we have captured and disseminated our major results in Open Access:

  • Ovseiko PV, Pololi LH, Edmunds LD, Civian JT, Daly M, Buchan AM. Creating a more supportive and inclusive university culture: a mixed-methods interdisciplinary comparative analysis of medical and social sciences at the University of Oxford. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 2019;44(2):166-191. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03080188.2019.1603880
  • Henderson LR, Shah SGS, Ovseiko P, Dam R, Buchan AM, McShane H, et al. A survey to explore new markers of achievement to assess and monitor gender equity in an NIHR Biomedical Research Centre: A two-factor model. medRxiv. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.04.20020347
  • Dam R, Shah SGS, Milano MJ, Edmunds LD, Henderson LR, Hartley CR, et al. A retrospective analysis of gender parity in scientific authorship in a biomedical research centre. bioRxiv. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.24.962175
  • Kalpazidou Schmidt E, Ovseiko PV, Henderson LR, Kiparoglou V. Understanding the Athena SWAN award scheme for gender equality as a complex social intervention in a complex system: analysis of Silver award action plans in a comparative European perspective. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2020;18(1):19. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12961-020-0527-x

Sustaining change

We have developed a Sustainability Plan focusing on gender to sustain change beyond the duration of the project, identified internal resources, and applied for funding to implement it.

What we learned

Aligning our actions with the similar ongoing activities to catalyse change has worked best.

Learn more about the Oxford University & NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre team on our partners page.