Strengthening the Movement to Broaden Participation in STEM


Highlights from NSF’s 2023 Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES National Network Convening

By Carissa Chang Cress and Carise Mitch, Equal Measure, partners in NSF’s Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES Coordination Hub

Earlier this month, nearly 300 practitioners, researchers, students, faculty, and colleagues from federal agencies met in Washington, DC, to accelerate the national movement to broaden participation in STEM education and careers. The 2023 INCLUDES National Network Convening, Sustaining Equity-Driven Systems Change, featured two days of engaging plenary sessions, workshops, discussions, and networking across disciplines, geographies, and roles.

The first in-person gathering since 2019, goals for the INCLUDES National Network Convening included deepening relationships, strengthening connections, and learning about actions to take together—all to sustain equity-driven systems change to broaden participation in STEM.

The INCLUDES National Network Convening offered sessions co-created between INCLUDES National Network members and the INCLUDES Coordination Hub that focused on meeting people where they are in their work to dismantle systems that hold inequities in place and moving their work forward. Speakers from across the INCLUDES National Network addressed the event’s three themes:

  • How We Can Know When We’re Changing Systems
  • Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Organizational Systems Change
  • Strategic Communications and Storytelling to Drive Sustainability

Affinity groups—such as Indigenous STEM, Disability and Accessibility in STEM, and Evaluation—held peer discussions to learn together about shared needs and approaches. Bulletin boards with prompts allowed themes and connections to emerge across skills and interests. A powerful discussion led by panelists from across the Network included shared stories and guidance of how systemic opportunities and barriers can aid or hinder participation in STEM education and careers. And networking opportunities throughout the event, including mentoring conversations and a lunch with representatives from federal agencies, provided spaces for additional collaboration and engagement.

With rich discussions and lessons learned across the event, we share some top takeaways from each theme:

How We Can Know When We’re Changing Systems

Building on collective conversations since the INCLUDES National Network’s inception in 2016 and the INCLUDES theory of change, participants explored shared frameworks and tools to drive equity-driven systems change. A panel presentation included holistic approaches for shared measurement and an overview of a framework for systems change, using FSG’s The Water of Systems Change. Workshop conversations delved into the framework’s six conditions for systems change—policies, practices, resource allocation, relationships and connections, power dynamics, and mental models—to encourage additional thinking for how qualitative and quantitative data can help practitioners measure and advance their broadening participation efforts.

As the INCLUDES National Network’s learning journey continues, participants expressed a desire to continue conversations around approaches, measurement, data, and tools to move equity-driven systems change forward in concrete, collaborative ways.


Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Organizational Systems Change

To put theory into practice, participants explored different ways of understanding and sustaining equity-driven systems change, including through reflecting on their own roles, ideas to sustain systems change, and commitments moving forward. Panelists in the featured plenary session shared challenges they experienced in pursuing systems change and strategies to overcome them. Several examples of approaches included:

  • Creating a memorandum of understanding for invited partners that includes showing progress and adopting a high-impact signature practice, to solidify commitment.
  • Reinforcing partnerships through constant communication—not expecting anything in return, but slowly building trust with industry, nonprofit, and other community partners that reaps benefits over time.
  • Identifying common goals early on, so that partners in broadening participation could identify their strengths and build a unified vision together. One panelist shared how this visioning work happened two years in advance of submitting an NSF proposal.
  • Considering how leadership honors its commitment to principal investigators and senior personnel for a project. Who is accountable for systems change?


Strategic Communications and Storytelling to Drive Sustainability

In a culminating series of panel discussions and workshops, participants shared about their work to broaden participation in STEM through strategic communications. Panelists offered how they used strategic communications to sustain their work and an example of how an INCLUDES Alliance conducted outreach to elected officials. Workshop topics included developing positionality statements as a critical part of engaging in equity and justice work; crafting stories and understanding how such stories and organizational work can intervene in larger systems; and developing “elevator pitches” to persuade, inspire, and inform audiences. These different viewpoints, stories, and messages provided additional ideas and actions to drive support for participants’ work.


Creating a More Equitable Future

INCLUDES National Network Convening participants also had the privilege of hearing from the INCLUDES Initiative’s namesake, the Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson. She reflected on her upbringing in Texas and her decades in the U.S. Congress, including her groundbreaking role as the first African American and female to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Her longstanding commitment to the success of learners of all ages, along with opening and closing remarks from NSF leaders, galvanized us to press forward in driving and sustaining equitable, enduring change across the country.

Participants of the INCLUDES National Network Convening will have access to event resources, including presentations and recordings from plenaries, over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more! Interested in joining the INCLUDES National Network? It’s free to create an account.

Look for upcoming blogs that highlight the last five years of the INCLUDES National Network, authored by Andrea Venezia, INCLUDES Coordination Hub Director, and Seth Klukoff, an INCLUDES Coordination Hub Co-PI; and the levers of systems change, authored by Kathy Booth, an INCLUDES Coordination Hub Co-PI.