It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog. However, that’s not to say I haven’t been writing for other esteemed professional fora. Some of my recent posts included:

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Inclusivity, accessibility and equity

I’ve been keeping busy leading the organisation of various flagship researcher talent development activities and initiatives. One in particular, the National Postdoc Conference 2021 (NPDC21) was applauded for its inclusivity. It’s worth noting here, that many of the accessible measures were made possible through the fantastic ideas contributed by various members of the NPDC21 steering group, excellent colleagues such as Erika Loggin and Claire Kidman, and the generous sponsors.

5 key ways (and 41 concrete actions) that helped ensure that equity, accessibility and inclusivity were at the heart of every aspect of the NPDC21 included:

1. Catering to diverse participant needs and preferences:

  • We commissioned professional live transcribers as well as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters as a standard, rather than waiting for any specific requests to come in.
  • The professional transcriptions (including the hard of sight options) accompanied the post-event recordings, therefore ensuring quality and accuracy.
  • All NPDC21 images had appropriate alt-text descriptions, or else were accompanied by downloadable screen-reader-friendly Word text-only descriptive documents.
  • We ensured that we made it clear on all NPDC21 webpages and in our communications that if individuals’ wanted any of the information in a different format to aid accessibility, they could request it via a direct contact.
  • Our detailed briefing notes for all speakers and facilitators included asking them to describe themselves for participants who may have joined sessions by phone, or who were visually impaired.
  • We also provided tips for speakers and participants to keep in mind to ensure optimal accessibility, eg: speaking clearly and loud enough for individuals with minimal hearing impairments to hear what is being said; ensuring slight pauses between speakers and also between a PowerPoint slide transitions to allow the interpreters and any deaf attendees focus.
  • We commissioned an NPDC21 mobile app that provided a range of features to enhance the attendee’s experience, including the ability to search, filter and create a personalised itineraries from the programme and view enhanced session and speaker information. 
  • We developed handy NPDC21-specific guides for novel technologies/platforms that we employed during the NPDC21, such as Kumospace, Online Pictionary and the Codenames Game.
  • We designed the NPDC21 programme to provide maximum flexibility, allowing participants to dip in and out of the programme in line with their interests and priorities. The parallel sessions were bite-sized 45-minute slots, and could all be engaged with as standalone sessions.
  • Recognising the potential global reach of the NPDC21, we made sure all our communications clarified that the conference was planned as per British Summer Time (BST) which is GMT/UTC+1, and linked to this handy Time Zone Converter.
  • We catered to the needs of those who wanted to but were unable to participate in the main event by ensuring all the sessions were recorded and made available afterwards, accompanied with relevant session-specific resources, and an overall visual summary of the NPDC21 in graphical format. We have committed to ensuring that the NPDC21 pages and all resources will remain a freely-available, open-access public website indefinitely.
  • We also didn’t want the learning, discussion and debate to be restricted to just the main event, so we provided a comprehensive virtual delegate pack that included a pocketbook of top tips from across all NPDC sessions; self-reflection logs to enable participants to delve deeper than just ‘what happened’ during the fast-paced sessions; podcasts about insights into individuals’ journeys through the sharing of experiences, achievements and expertise; and a series of blog posts that added more details about specific sessions to help participants chart their own bespoke pathways of engagement with the NPDC21.

2. Creating a sense of belonging and welcoming environment for all:

  • We produced a glossary of common terms and acronyms
  • We distributed a Master pronoun document for all who were speakers, facilitators, chairs, hosts, background assistants or technical helpers.
  • To further ensure that the NPDC21 was an inclusive space for everyone, we repeatedly signposted every single individual engaging with the event to The Academy’s Inclusivity Statement and Code of Conduct for events. It was mandatory to agree to have read the Code of Conduct at the point of registration.
  • We ensured the FAQs and all NPDC21 comms had clear information about what individuals should do if they experienced or witnessed inappropriate behaviour.
  • We also produced a separate Kumospace Code of Conduct for the NPDC21 virtual social space.
  • Additionally, in keeping with the family-friendly ethos of the event, we provided family-friendly activity sheets to help keep children and young family members occupied and enable researchers to have the space to engage.
  • Dedicated child-focused activities were also separately planned during the Networking and Engagement events, including a children’s scavenger hunt during the virtual coffee event and child-friendly activities during the Sustainable Art Show and Supermarket Sweep sessions.
  • We invited community suggestions for a specially-curated NPDC21 playlist that contained motivational and inspiring songs.
  • We shared NPDC21 Zoom backgrounds and even an NPDC21 Bingo sheet so that participants could genuinely experience a sense of belonging and also have fun with their online participation.
  • We also offered a dedicated NPDC21 Connections space via a Padlet which was made available only to registered participants, and which further fostered virtual conversations and connections.
  • Importantly, we conferred regularly with the University’s BAME Network, the Disability Network, the LGBTQ Network and the Female ECR Network.
  • This helped ensure the breadth and diversity of the 150+ speakers and presenters across the NPDC21, and also helped us to prioritise a representative array of the needs and voices of the community for whom the activity was primarily meant, keeping them at the forefront of every aspect of the planning, design and execution of the event. This also ensured the rich range and depth of the programme content reflected in the 45+ sessions. Postdocs representing institutions across the four devolved nations of the UK helped to co-create the programme, and also jointly contributed to the NPDC21 theme of ‘New Realities, Stronger Connections, Successful Futures’.
  • Acknowledging the vagaries the definitions of various research-related roles and identities, we made sure that we clearly signposted which groups each NPDC21 session was relevant for, differentiating between: Early Career Researchers (including Postdocs); Mid-Career Researchers; Managers of Researchers; Research-related Professional Services Staff (including research support administrators, researcher developers and career development professionals); and others eg: stakeholders from industry, funding agencies, policy influencers, editors etc.
  • We sought to galvanise the researcher community before, during and after the NPDC via social media Gif Awards that were designed to recognise and value individuals who engage the hashtag #NPDC21 and shared thoughts, things they’ve learnt, actions they intended to take or impact on their practice.
  • We also wanted to be as transparent as possible for both our strategic partners and postdoctoral-researcher-related stakeholders when it came to the overall event evaluation. We, therefore, eschewed the traditional post-event evaluation survey in favour of asking participants to add their thoughts on post-it notes via a publicly-accessible MURAL page.
  • We are applying the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation to the NPDC21 and will follow up with participants 6 months after an event to explore impacts upon them. We will also encourage participants to revisit the self-reflection and wellbeing logs that they will have completed during the NPDC.
  • We also made personalised certificates of participation and recognition available upon request for any individual who engaged with the NPDC21.

3. Putting Wellbeing at the heart of the activity design and execution:

  • We made every effort to prioritise participants’ overall sense of wellbeing by providing a ‘Wellbeing Oasis’ which consisted of specially curated collections of self-led activities that we encouraged them to engage in before, during or after the NPDC21. These resources included guided meditations, yoga sessions, relaxing music, nature observation, and much more.
  • Additionally, during the main event itself, we purposefully designed wellbeing slots into the programme, in which participants were encouraged to either avail the self-led Wellbeing Oasis resources or otherwise join a professionally-facilitated 10 minute Active Wellbeing session that was delivered by a Leadership Development Coach and Facilitator. These staggered 10-min active wellbeing sessions each focused on an aspect of wellbeing that was most pertinent for the time of the day that it was offered:
    • Session 1 – Begin with the End in Mind: Enabling participants to get the most out of any meeting or event with a simple technique that can help them focus on what they do want rather than what they don’t.
    • Session 2 – 7/11 Breathing: Enabling participants to experience a proven breathing technique that changes the brain chemistry in a few minutes and instil a sense of calm.
    • Session 3 – Out of your head; Into your body: Enabling participants to experience body scanning and learn how it can help reduce stress and tension.
    • Session 4 – Visualising Your Future: Enabling participants to experience a short visualisation practice to help achieve any goal.
  • Recognising that not all individuals feel comfortable in different environments, we made sure to actively signpost their options if at any point it stopped being a relaxing experience, or they felt unsettled or uncomfortable.
  • We provided guidance on combating Zoom fatigue, which included encouraging individuals to turn off their cameras during sessions if not speaking
  • We also provided a visually-appealing document containing 5 NPDC21 top tips around wellbeing, along with reiterating its importance in the NPDC21 Bingo card.   

4. Trouble-shooting and contingency planning:

  • We produced comprehensive contingency planning document that we also shared with all who were helping with the NPDC21 in advance, so they were aware of the backup plans. This covered a wide range of issues, from technical, EDI, wellbeing, communication and unwanted attention.
  • We also generated a set of regularly updated FAQs that were themed for ease of reference.
  • We ensured the team email was responded to within a maximum turnaround period of 2 working hours, and that the email Out of Office contained regularly updated key info and answers to common issues.
  • We had a constantly-manned helpdesk alongside colleagues regularly popping into sessions and responding to comments and queries on social media.

5. Sharing our pride and joy at hosting individuals from all across the globe:

  • We made every effort to spotlight our local Liverpool researchers and students – whether as session chairs and facilitators, or even with the holding music that was played at the beginning and end of headline sessions.
  • We also wanted to give participants the local Liverpool flavour in their browsing experience of the site, so every sub-page of the NPDC21 website has a #DidYouKnow fun fact about Liverpool and/ or an image depicting some aspect of Liverpool’s historical significance. 
  • Separately, to ensure that we reached out to a broad and diverse pool of participants across both research and non-research-intensive institutions and consortia. We galvanised help from colleagues across all work areas and institutions across the country with publicising the NPDC21, and created easy-to-use press packs that included promotional news articles and emails, headline details for newsletters and e-bulletins, suggested social media posts and NPDC21 imagery of varying dimensions and content in which we specified different messaging for different stakeholder target groups.

It was important to us from the get-go that the NPDC21 be optimally inclusive, accessible and equitable to access in every way. Based on feedback that we have received since, from speakers, facilitators and participants alike, I am confident we achieved this ambition. We continue to reap the benefits of this via exponentially increasing participant engagement in all the events we offer, because individuals know how much we respect and value their time, needs and development aspirations.

In all, my top three takeaways would be:

  1. Start as you mean to go: If you want to build inclusivity into your event, have a steering group that represents the various stakeholders whom you hope to include and have regular touch points with them.
  2. Keep in mind that accessibility and inclusivity are very broad-ranging: Every little initiative matters – whether that’s actual accessibility factors, such as BSL interpreters; or design aspects, such as ensuring diversity in the range of speakers; or factoring in concern for individuals health and wellbeing.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Let everyone know multiple times in multiple ways the different steps you’ve taken to ensure they have the best experience engaging with your event.

If you, or anyone you know is planning a flagship development activity, I’d be happy to chat through any queries about my points above, or further share my experiences. You can best contact me via Twitter @SaneeyaQ or LinkedIn – and if you did find value in these points above, drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear about and learn from other inclusive events.