A warm welcome to our new Peer Review College members

Futuristic geometric pattern made of glass

Expert review is at the centre of the work of AHRC. Our Peer Review College should reflect the full diversity of the community we support.

Peer review is the critically important assessment of excellence in all its forms to support the best possible allocation of our research funding. We are fortunate to have a large group of knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated volunteers whom we can ask to assess applications for funding.

Peer review has to be rigorous, but it also has to be fair and it has to be imaginative.

In 2022 we are proud to announce that we will be welcoming an additional 425 members to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Peer Review College (PRC). This will help us ensure we are able to support diverse, inclusive and wide ranging projects from across the UK and beyond.

Supporting excellence through diversity

AHRC supports a broad research community, in terms of background, disciplinary focus and in terms of the use of innovative approaches such as practice-based and embodied research methods.

As UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Chief Executive outlined in the introduction to the consultation on UKRI’s draft equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy:

Excellence is critically dependent on valuing, welcoming and engaging constructively with difference and disagreement.

The inequalities and under-representation of the current system prevent both people and the research and innovation endeavour from achieving their full

Put simply, if our PRC membership does not reflect the full diversity of our community, there is a risk that this could undermine our mission to identify and fund the best research.

By failing to include diverse perspectives in the expert review process, we could miss out on the opportunity to recognise and fund the broadest range of excellent research and innovation projects.

Diversity of AHRC’s PRC

As our Executive Chair Christopher Smith laid out in his blog a fresh vision for arts and humanities research, it is central to AHRC’s vision to continuously seek to improve our approach to EDI. As part of this process of becoming a more inclusive funder we set out to improve the diversity of our PRC.

In 2021 the PRC had around 900 active members. In this recruitment we aimed to add a further 400 to bring us back up to a total of 1,300 with a focus on seeking applications from those who were underrepresented, stating:

Applications across our disciplinary remit are strongly encouraged from persons who identify as an ethnic minority, persons with disabilities, persons of diverse gender identities and expressions, and persons identifying with other groups who are currently underrepresented.

In addition, the list of priority areas for expertise for this recruitment call was thematic and cross-cutting. It emphasised contemporary challenges and novel approaches, with the intention of recruiting members with a broader range of arts and humanities knowledge and expertise.

We also wanted to go further, focusing on a number of actions we could take in order to proactively recruit a diverse cohort of members:

  • we asked applicants to self-nominate, only accepting direct applications from interested individuals and shifting away from a peer-nomination model which can act as a barrier to access
  • we used a competency model for eligibility criteria with the aim that anyone who could evidence that they met the competencies could join the PRC, opening up membership to the widest cross-section of people
  • we encouraged applications from individuals with expertise in EDI. 40% of all applicants indicated expertise in this area
  • we ensured that all applications were assessed by researchers with strong discipline and EDI expertise
  • we prioritised applicants from demographics that were underrepresented in the current PRC. This was made clear at the application stage and is allowed for under the Equality Act 2010
  • we stated up front that travel and subsistence expenses incurred in attending our induction training sessions would be reimbursed and provided the option to attend virtual sessions if that better suited the individual.

We received a hugely positive response from the research community, and we were grateful to receive applications from 580 individuals. Of this, 425 were invited to join the PRC and invited to attend inductions which ran in-person and online between March and April this year.

The new PRC cohort

Headline EDI statistics for successful applicants compared to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) statistics for the arts and humanities community
Characteristic Successful applicants HESA
Female 64% 51%
Under 35 13% 25%
Under 45 56% 55%
Declared disability 17% 5%
Ethnicity (Black, Asian, mixed) 17% 7%
Recruitment priority area: professional experience and expertise Successful applicants declaring this expertise (applicants were able to declare against as many areas as they felt were relevant, resulting in a total number larger than the size of the applicant pool)
Industry experience, particularly within the creative industries, cultural institutions and archaeological, conservation and heritage practitioners who may or may not be lab-based 164
Galleries, libraries, archives and museums experience, including but not limited to: researchers, librarians, archivists, curators 166
Practice-based research, including but not limited to: art, music, dance, fashion and textiles 137
(In)equalities, including but not limited to: diversity and inclusion, modern slavery, decolonisation 187
Public engagement, including but not limited to: co-design and knowledge exchange as well as impact-led public engagement initiatives 266
Partnership working and co-design, including that which crosses multiple sectors (public, private, third) or has policy-driven outputs or outcomes 187
Cross-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work within our remit and that which intersects the remits of other UKRI research councils 330
Experience in emerging methodologies, including but not limited to: gamification and digitisation 127
International collaboration and collaborators, including those based outside the UK (including in low and middle income countries), and those with experience reviewing applications in an international context 280
Health, including but not limited to: mental health, health-related service design and architecture, social prescribing, digital health, cultural contexts of health and wellbeing 88
Environment, including but not limited to: landscape, climate change, adaptation, arctic, blue humanities 94
Ethics and law, including but not limited to: bioethics, digital and artificial intelligence, history of technological regulation 53
Experience applying for and managing doctoral training awards, for example: doctoral training partnerships, collaborative doctoral partnerships and centres for doctoral training 132
Work that intersects with the above list and relates to the Sustainable Development Goals, where a clear arts and humanities contribution can be made 109

We saw a strong increase in PRC membership across all underrepresented groups at a top level, bringing us much closer to our initial target of mirroring the diversity of our community.

This is an excellent result and we are grateful that so many people came forward to volunteer their time and energy to contribute to AHRC’s mission. This is not the end of the conversation however and we recognise that there is still further work for us to do.

We saw the smallest increase in applicants who self-identified as being of Black ethnicity. Building on our work in celebration of the UN Decade for People of African Descent we are committed to the promoting the themes of justice and recognition and engagement with researchers of African descent, report on AHRC funded research networks (PDF, 7MB).

We will work with the community and other parts of UKRI to identify barriers to participation that are specific to this group, and to establish actions we can take to increase participation.

The arts and humanities research community is not yet as diverse as UK society. Working with our partners in the sector, we will continue to push for both the research community and the PRC to reflect UK society in all its diversity.

Just one step in our journey

Changing our PRC is just one step in our journey towards becoming a more inclusive funder.

We are working on ways to make our funding more accessible to groups who are historically underrepresented across our portfolio. This includes making changes to our assessment processes to make them more inclusive.

We want to use our position as a funder to encourage positive change in the sector and we view every funding call as a potential opportunity to improve diversity.

It’s important for us continuously to evolve to meet the needs of our community and we believe that we can only make meaningful progress in partnership with the sector and community we serve.

We are always open to engaging in discussion to help inform our approach to EDI and how we can continue to make improvements in our assessment processes.

If you would like to get in touch please contact us at peerreviewcollege@ahrc.ukri.org

Top image:  Credit: tomograf, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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