The image depicts an abstract digital artwork with lines and shapes resembling interconnected nodes or a cosmic network. The background is black, resembling outer space with scattered white dots representing stars. In the centre, there are two larger blue shapes, one appearing like an atom or nucleus with orbiting lines, and the other resembling a swirling vortex or spiral pattern. Slender, glowing blue lines crisscross the image, creating triangular and geometric patterns, connecting the central forms to each other and to the surrounding space. The overall effect evokes a sense of interconnectivity, complexity, and a visualisation of unseen forces or networks in the cosmos.

The What and Why of Inclusion

A photo of the person.
Dr. Anne Collis

The Public Map Platform (PMP) project is possibly unique in both its complexity and its commitment to working inclusively, both within the diverse team and in how activities are designed and delivered.

As evidence of that commitment from the start, I was asked to come on board as an advisor and a resource or - as one person on the team terms it - as a ‘friendly agitator’. It isn’t that I set out to be an agitator, but it is challenging for us all to work out what it means to be inclusive.

We are all still learning more about how to be inclusive - so I will save that for a future blog. For now, let’s think about what it means to work inclusively and why inclusion matters for the PMP project.

I’ve also decided to focus on PMP’s commitment to working inclusively within the team itself. This is because so many people have written about working inclusively with research participants. Less is said about working inclusively as a research team.

What is ‘inclusion’?

Inclusion isn’t a begrudging meeting of legal requirements; inclusion is a celebration of the power of diversity and a space where all belong. It has so many different facets. I was concerned I might miss some. So…

I have a confession: I cheated. I asked to write me a detailed description of the ‘what’ and checked it included all the facets I would have written about. Claude did, and included one more - I’ll let you guess which one I might have forgotten!

Here’s what Claude had to say:

  1. Involvement and Empowerment: Inclusion means ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are actively involved, valued, and empowered to contribute and participate fully.
  2. Sense of Belonging: It fosters an environment where everyone feels welcomed, respected, supported, and part of the whole.
  3. Access and Opportunities: Inclusion involves proactively identifying and removing barriers that may prevent some individuals or groups from accessing opportunities, resources, networks, or experiences.
  4. Diversity Celebrated: It recognises and celebrates diversity as a strength, valuing the unique qualities, experiences, and contributions of all individuals.
  5. Equitable Treatment: Inclusion promotes fair and equitable treatment, ensuring that policies and practices are impartial and provide an equal playing field.
  6. Continuous Process: Building and sustaining an inclusive environment is an ongoing process that requires continuous learning, self-awareness, and a commitment to improvement.

[Thank you, Claude!]

One of the delights for me as an inclusion advisor has been seeing the team recognise the need to work inclusively with each other and not just with people taking part in the research.

Imagine being part of a research team that is working in two languages, across cultures, with multiple organisations, a diversity of academic disciplines each with its own technical language and a range of access needs and different communication styles.

I am amazed daily at the team’s willingness to learn, value differences and work hard to communicate and forgive where miscommunications occur.

Why put in the work?

I’m pretty sure no-one in the team is seeking to make extra work for themselves just for the sake of it. And working inclusively in such a diverse team on such a complex project requires hard work.

So, what are the rewards? Why invest the effort to work inclusively as a team?

I’d like to suggest two reasons.

  1. Combining different academic disciplines, cultural backgrounds, languages and lived experiences can bring unique insights and enrich the research.
    There is an old Hindustani fable about an elephant. No-one could see the elephant; each person could touch one part of it. Consequently, each person described the elephant completely differently. That’s like doing research but only being able to use one academic discipline, one culture, one language, one type of lived experience. Imagine how richer and more accurate the picture becomes when all those individual perspectives are combined. Working inclusively makes that possible. The more perspectives, the richer and more complete the research picture - but the more challenging the task of working inclusively.
  2. Drawing together this diversity of perspectives tends to lead to innovative solutions and flashes of inspiration.
    We certainly need those as we look to the future and the need for green transitions. The maps created through working inclusively have the potential to lead to better decision-making by individuals, communities, and government. Working inclusively reduces the risk of research sitting on a shelf because its value isn’t visible to those outside the academic world.

I included a picture from my doctoral thesis with this blog. It was created by one of the women who collaborated with me on a key part of that research. It is entitled Complexity and Diversity. For me, it summarises what the PMP research team is becoming - a complex ecosystem of individuals, all differently positioned within the research, and each bringing their unique perspective and skills.

If my role helps make that a reality, I will consider the investment in me and of me has been worthwhile.