Published: 20 October 2021

By Ewen Davies, Civil Service Fast Streamer (previously on a six-month placement with AMRC as our EDI Lead)

As I begin to write this, it strikes me that I have no idea how to start. Thus, I’ve decided to cheat, and start by telling you how hard it is to know how to start. In a way, it’s a microcosm of my entire experience over the last six months here at AMRC. ‘EDI Lead’ was a new position, created just for me.

“Here are some of the problems” they said. “Off you go, have fun!”

Where to begin?

Now, in fairness to my wonderfully supportive colleagues, I will not hesitate to add that I was by no means thrown into the deep end alone – at all stages of my own EDI journey, the organisation has had my back. But EDI is a vast and deep ocean, and it’s full of people who are only just starting to work out how to swim.

EDI – Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion – are three principles which should underline and suffuse work within the health research sector and far beyond, but often do not. This can result in outcomes from the misleading to the downright dangerous. There are research questions not being asked, and entire communities of people not being served by current medical research because of the lack of institutionalised EDI.

Beyond that, there are immense pools of talent not being drawn upon, as researchers (or potential researchers) are excluded from conducting their work on the basis (consciously or otherwise) of their ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, disabilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and so on. This is the so-called leaky pipeline problem, and it undermines scientific and social progress from the day we start thinking about what we want to do when we grow up, to when we start picking our academic pathways, right the way through until we reach the peak of our careers.

Faced with such immense issues, it’s understandable to not know where to start.

Now, I am by no means an expert in this area, so the first step turned out to be to gather some people who knew what they were doing. This was the premise of the AMRC EDI working group I was asked to convene. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of enthusiasm for the idea from members who reached out to me seeking to get involved – clearly this was a topic near and dear to their hearts. We duly set out to answer some nice, easy questions about what EDI data should be collected across the sector, and how exactly it should be used.

Where to start? It transpires that even a small part of the wider EDI issue is itself a wicked problem, with tremendous scope for all sorts of unforeseen challenges, implications, and repercussions. Fortunately, with the aid of the working group, we’ve been able to make some good headway in tackling this issue.

Our second big project has been the AMRC EDI Resource Hub. It turns out that there is a veritable cornucopia of EDI-themed guidance, advice, evidence, and analysis out there. Some of it is wildly specific and some of it is incredibly broad. Most of it is somewhere in between. The challenge is to sort through all of it to find that which is most useful and applicable to you.

The idea behind the Resource Hub is to take some of that burden from our members, by providing a curated selection of the resources we’ve come across while exploring this area. Finding and cataloguing them has been a fascinating process, and vastly expanded my understanding of the landscape. I can’t promise to have found everything, or even to have found the answer to your specific question – but I can tell you there’s a wealth of information there, and if you think we’re missing something, tell us, and we’ll add it!

I’ve sadly come to the end of my time here, and I’m not sure I can claim that either I or AMRC have learned to swim yet. But we’ve understood the basics of some of the strokes. The Resource Hub is part of our attempt to share with you, our members, and supporters what we’ve learned, and personally, I’m rather proud of it. I hope you find it of some use, whether you’re just dipping your toes, treading water, or confidently swimming.