ASPIRE web-based platform for inclusive cultures and environments

  • multicultural people sat drinking coffee. Smiling. Friends. Happy

It is now broadly recognised that the traditional approach to EDI – the mandatory training, the awareness-raising events, the initiatives that have been 'cut-and-pasted' from other organisations − is no longer enough. Over 30 years of significant investment in ‘traditional EDI’ has failed to create a fully diverse workforce - failed to establish inclusive workplace cultures and practices. It is time for a step-change in our approach. A broader understanding of the need for transformational and progressive EDI means organisations are beginning to ask questions, to seek solutions, to look for evidence of change, to measure impact. Our response to this need is the ASPIRE project



Prof Belinda Colston, Alison Mitchell and Dr Mariana Pinho


Dr Udeni Salmon, Dr Julie Bayley and Prof Stephen McKay

"In developing this web-based platform, we hope to provide a really useful tool for organisations to begin - or continue - their journeys towards more inclusive cultures. We have moved away from a diversity-driven model, and created an inclusion-centric model that focuses on the underpinning attitudes and behaviours that drive the inequalities we see. It is always possible to have diversity without being inclusive – but if everything we do is inclusive, then diversity will look after itself"  

About the project

Funded through the EPSRC Inclusion Matters programme (2018-2021), ASPIRE had three main goals:

  • Firstly, to build a logic model - a theory of change - for growing inclusive cultures and environments across organisations
  • Secondly, to build an impact framework to measure changes in attitudes and behaviours; and
  • Thirdly, to build a web-based platform that combines the logic model and impact framework to provide a user tool to effect meaningful and measurable change across the sector.


The project was divided into four phases. A mixed methods approach was adopted for the data collection / analysis.

  • Phase 1: Initial evidence gathering and stakeholder engagement 

    During the first stage of data collection, desk-based research was carried out to review, synthesise and evaluate empirical evidence on EDI-related challenges and key barriers, interventive practices, impact monitoring processes and unmet needs. Publicly available data (e.g. organisations’ websites, EDI strategy documents and action plans) and existing literature on EDI were analysed and reviewed.  

    A total of 135 EDI strategies and action plans from European organisations (mainly located in the UK) were subjected to a thematic analysis, exploring the implicit cultural messages regarding inequality in academia, and the framework in which policies and interventions are designed. Coding and analysis of the data, through full engagement with the text, identified key themes for the model.

  • Phase 2: Stakeholder interviews to assess organisational culture 

    To extend the themes identified, and conduct a more rigorous evaluation of best practice with respect to EDI, 30 in-depth semi-structured interviews (lasting on average 43 minutes) were conducted across a range of stakeholder types (Research Performing Organisations, Research Leaders, Researchers, EDI practitioners, Centres for Doctoral Training, Trade Unions, Publishers, Research Funding Organisations). Interview data were analysed inductively using thematic analysis, and coded based on themes previously identified in Phase 1. The data were also subjected to intersectional analysis, and emergent new themes developed where appropriate. This resulted in further refinements to the core components of the ASPIRE framework. 

  • Phase​​ 3: Model building 

    The ASPIRE model, currently comprising eight pillars that define an inclusive research environment (below), was developed through a theory of change. It provides a whole institution, integrated and holistic approach to building EDI strategies and the mechanism to evaluate change. In principle, each pillar is ‘achieved’ by overcoming a series of challenges through completing intervention activities. Based on the data collected, two levels of challenges were generated. The first is the high-level challenge − the fundamental barriers to change − and the second is the contributory challenge – a series of stepwise challenges that together define the high-level challenge.  In this way, incremental progress can be monitored, measured and evaluated against defined impact indicators.  

  • Phase 4: Platform development

    The ASPIRE model is being translated into a web-based platform that is underpinned by research and designed to grow and adapt to new knowledge and evidence. It allows the user to define its organisational / departmental / research group challenges or goals from an EDI perspective, and measures progress in terms of increasing EDI literacy and changes in attitude and culture.

ASPIRE 8-pillar Model

ASPIRE user tool − the user’s perspective

The starting point of ASPIRE is to establish the user benchmark – how far along the EDI journey are you? This benchmark is used to monitor progress. By defining your goals, the platform leads you through the recommended interventions – complementing the interventions you have already established. You can either reject or accept the intervention, based on an informed choice, and your bespoke strategy begins to build. Each intervention comes with its own change/impact indicators and advice on how to implement the indicators within a monitoring strategy. The platform is designed for the user to self-audit progress against defined goals. 

The ASPIRE platform is due to be launched in 2022

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