Developed by: All CIRTL AGEP Contributors

We offer several recommendations for consideration by future NICs as they plan their formation and work to establish a culture of equity and engagement.

  1. NICs should use an inclusive, shared leadership model. Welcoming all voices contributes to innovation, efficiency, collaboration, and transformation. Perhaps because of initial relationships and ways of interacting established before the start of our NIC, participants brought different assumptions and expectations to the group regarding how these processes would operate, leading at times to awkwardness, fractured relationships, and institutional and individual departures from the NIC. After changing to a more shared leadership model, we saw the emergence of new voices and energies investing in the process. In our CIRTL AGEP NIC, a shared leadership model helped equalize voices independent of the institutional prestige and the professional position of the member. Shared leadership in collaborations like a NIC can help reduce hierarchies and the potential for exclusion based on previous relationships, while also helping build upon those relationships in the new context.
  2. NICs should define membership in the NIC, including the associated responsibilities and benefits of membership, as well as how member contributions will be recognized and honored, and should devote time to building an inclusive, shared NIC culture. In NICs, membership is a combination of institution and individual. With new individuals in the NIC as well as some continuing from CIRTL came a new culture that needed attention and time to build equitable norms and expectations about individual roles and shared leadership. Additionally, over the span of a multi-year NIC project, individuals within an institution change. Welcoming and onboarding efforts are needed to bring new individuals (even from existing institutions) into the NIC fold, but also important, the NIC culture must be amenable to adapting to its own changing composition and the new ideas that come with new participants. As the Carnegie Foundation notes, “A well conceived and supported NIC builds trusting relationships that allow members to respect the contributions that each brings to the collective effort.”
  3. NICs should have an organizational structure agreed to by all members. Project funding should include support for maintaining and scaffolding the organizational structure, e.g., a project manager. Careful coordination is required for NICs to work well. Our NIC relied on the good will and largely uncompensated efforts of individuals within the NIC to volunteer to take on various administrative and organizational tasks, such as setting meeting agendas, hosting in-person meetings, facilitating virtual meetings, tracking NIC activities, coordinating outreach efforts, etc. Over time, willingness and/or ability to volunteer for these duties diminished. Having a funded project manager for the duration of the project with well-defined duties and responsibilities could benefit the group’s functioning and productivity within a shared leadership structure, including a focus on strengthening inclusive practices.
  4. NICs should articulate mechanisms for conflict resolution, decision-making, data management, onboarding and offboarding, and other processes necessary to provide a transparent, respectful climate required for the types of sharing and learning necessary in a well-functioning NIC. This is particularly true when the different group members are from organizations with different resources. Additionally, such mechanisms will help address the inevitable challenges of individual members changing over the course of a multi-year project.
  5. NICs should wrestle with the challenge of individual members holding different positions in their respective institutions, with varied access to resources and varied levels of influence on levers of change. In some member institutions, key university administrators (e.g., academic deans) with clear budget authority were active NIC participants while in other member institutions active NIC participants were professional program staff experts in program delivery. Budgets and access to partners in each NIC institution varied widely, with some institutions having considerable budget flexibility and many willing campus partners while other institutions’ representatives worked within significant budget constraints and with few, if any, campus partners beyond their own units. At times, such disparities caused tensions within our NIC group discussions. Because grant-funded project budgets are unlikely to be able to equalize such institutional disparities, NIC members need to deal openly with these inequities and agree on productive ways to work together to the best of each institution’s and each individual’s abilities, budgets, and resources.

References and Resources

Noble, C. E., Amey, M. J., Colón, L. A., Conroy, J., Qualls, A. D. C., Deonauth, K., … & Woods III, A. (2021). Building a Networked Improvement Community: Lessons in Organizing to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.