Report on International Conference on Structural Change
On 19 May 2017 the International Conference on Structural Change for Gender Equality in Research took place in Prague. The goal of the conference was to explore the various factors that affect the implementation of structural change initiatives for gender equality, including historical, geopolitical, and social factors as well as the organization of R&I system, research funding and evaluation or the gender equality regimes in given environment.
Experience and results of analyses were presented by organizations implementing structural changes as part of EU-funded projects (eg TRIGGER, GENOVATE, INTEGER and PLOTINA), a representative of the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic and experts evaluating the process of structural change implementation.
In the introduction the organizer Marcela Linkova addressed the key issue which framed the whole day and individual papers: To what extent is experience and knowledge transferable among European regions and countries and among various types of institutions? Can we learn from each other and share good practices? Can institutions in “less advanced” countries take the same path as those that are more advanced, as is presumed in European policies?
One of the necessary preconditions for launching changes in an organization is to know it. But this seemingly simple aspect can already pose major challenges due to disciplinary differences. The experience made by the National Contact Centre for Gender and Science for example shows the difficulties encountered during an external cooperation with institutions in the natural or technical sciences. On many occasions the expertise of the gender experts was disputed (it is not a research field but an ideology) as was the social science and specifically qualitative methodology because frequently sociology is not science for natural scientists. The presenters agreed that gender expertise is in any case necessary, not only at the beginning of the process but during the entire implementation of gender equality actions.
One of the examples of good practice mentioned at the conference and which underscores that there is no single path to take, was discussed in the final panel by Helene Schiffbänker from Joanneum Research in Austria: in one project the existence of internal gender expertise worked as a success factor to start and implement actions which was guaranteed by women researchers, professors who were in top leadership positions and directed the project. In another international project in the field of physics, however, it was necessary to enlist external experts who, however, did not have any influence at the institution. What proved to work was to take advantage of knowing the disciplinary culture where emphasis is placed on solving problems. After an initial period when the topic was rejected at the institution, gradual explanation by the experts managed to frame the issue as a problem and at that moment the situation became much simpler because the issue started to be treated as any other problem to be solved. It became a research question.
Another case of using the culture of the institution was presented by Marcel Kraus from the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic in connection with the choice of argumentation that is in line with the discourse of the organization. In this case it was that supporting gender equality bring new research opportunities and innovation potential.
Conference papers invariably pointed out to the important role of disciplinary and organizational contexts. Their knowledge is the first precondition of success. The concluding panel discussed examples of successful strategies and good practices as well as the need to always critically consider their use in a given institution. Knowing the environment of one’s institution and the social context is a first step in the process of change. Without disciplinary cooperation which should be built on a “policy of solidarity” (Warnke 2012), for example the mutual respect and recognition of different methodologies, it is difficult to achieve success. Responsibility for this, however, cannot rest only with the gender experts but also with the leadership and researchers.