Our research


The challenge

Our research confirms that the UK higher education sector needs a deeper and more sustainable approach to equality and diversity.

This applies across the spectrum. For instance, there is persistent under-representation of minority/marginalised groups in academic positions, and universities have failed to engage young people from economically deprived backgrounds. There is bullying that disproportionately affects women, BAME and LGBT+ people and people with disabilities, and sexual harassment and violence experienced by students and staff.

These problems continue, despite a range of initiatives to designed to tackle them – widening participation programmes and charter mark schemes such as Athena SWAN. This suggests that to see real change we need to address the cultural contexts in which initiatives are implemented.

Our solution

Between us, we have over fifty years’ experience in academic research and organisational development. We use this to help institutions understand equality and diversity and related issues dynamically, intersectionally and within an understanding of culture and power relations.

We use evidence-based tools to describe and analyse institutional cultures and help university staff and managers work towards cultural change. As part of this process, institutions are supported to promote equality and diversity and address issues such as bullying and harassment in meaningful, rather than tokenistic, ways.

We have developed our tools through research at Imperial College London and Sussex University. Our innovative Grounded Action Inquiry methodology takes established Action Inquiry approaches and grounds these in a deep understanding of the institutional culture, to engender real change.

Grounded Action Inquiry involves three steps:

  1. Data collection on institutional culture using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods;
  2. Analysis of this data to come up with a description of the institution’s culture and themes for further discussion;
  3. An Action Inquiry process through which staff and students at all levels of the institution come together to discuss the themes and think about/try possible actions.

Action Inquiry is a cyclical process of reflection and action used to strengthen individual and organisational functioning. It supports the development of increased insight, shared vision and practice. It uses collaborative ways of communicating and applying learning.

To understand our research process better, please see our methodology briefing here. Read the public reports from our studies at Imperial College and Sussex here, and find a list of our academic publications here.