DEI Special Interest Group call recap: Decolonizing STEM

CSCCE Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are member-led groups focused on specific topics of scientific community management within CSCCE’s community of practice (request to join). You can find out more about CSCCE SIGs here. The CSCCE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion SIG is convened by Cassandra van Gould, Arielle Bennett-Lovell and Kate Baker, with significant support from an organising committee and the wider community. Community members can join the Slack channel #diversity_equity_inclusion_sig to get involved. 

On the 24th of November the first session of the CSCCE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Special Interest Group (DEI SIG) took place. In this guest blog post, Esther Plomp and Arielle Bennett-Lovell, who co-convened the session, recap the meeting. You can also watch the three presentations in full. 

During the session, we considered the concept of decolonisation and how it can be put into practice by both researchers and scientific community managers. Decolonisation is both a reflection on the academy’s relationship to lands and people occupied by colonial powers, and the process of reconsidering how this relationship is manifested in a way that restores an equitable power balance. It is not a single action, or a programme, but a long term process requiring input and engagement from everyone. 

To gain a better perspective about the issue, we invited three speakers to show their perspective on decolonising science, and to offer some solutions to ensuring that the scientific research ecosystem is equitable. Below follows a summary of the talks given by Dr. Kate Baker, Dr. Thomas Mboa and Dr. Felicia Fricke. 

Kate Baker

Watch Kate Baker’s talk in full.

Dr. Kate Baker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Water Systems at the University of Exeter, began the session reflecting on her fieldwork experience as a PhD student in Brunei. While there, the involvement of local guides and residents in her research led to her asking questions about how contributions from indigenous communities are reflected (or not) in Western science publishing. Often, a substantial amount of local knowledge and support is required to help researchers collect data and conduct experiments in the field, but there has previously been little conversation about involving indigenous communities in developing the research or acknowledging their critical role in its production by having them included in author lists. As discussed after the talk, disciplines such as geography and ecology have histories tightly interwoven with colonialism, which makes it particularly difficult to introduce new perspectives. 

However, this discussion is becoming more widespread across different disciplines, with researchers such as Anne H. Toomey proposing new conceptual models of scientific research. Rather than the traditional model of “scientific research” as separate from society and culture, with a largely one way flow of information, she has argued researchers need to consider science as part of the overall space, with local knowledge, science, and decision makers as overlapping and intertwined spheres. 

With a different conceptual model, new questions arise about scientific communication between spheres: if the audience for research beyond our immediate colleagues, are scientific papers (artifacts of the research process) the best way to communicate with wider audiences? Videos such as Indigenous perspectives on research and other media, can offer a broader range of channels for all those involved in knowledge production and dissemination to communicate and have input into the process, while funders could do more to support the translation of research into local languages to enable communities to read it. 

For community managers, there are a lot of actions in our sphere of influence which can directly support the involvement of different groups in research programmes. These can be operational, (e.g.,considering the accessibility and stability of platforms such as Zoom, norms for meeting schedules, or helping contributors access travel funds to attend conferences. But community managers may also be able to influence larger issues, such as changing authorship conventions to recognise group contributions over author ordering or including a co-creation stage with local communities to build trust and understanding before research begins.

Thomas Mboa

Watch Thomas Mboa’s talk in full.

Next up, Dr. Thomas Mboa, visiting researcher at the University of Quebec and organiser of the molecular biology hackerspace “Mboa Lab”, discussed the different aspects of coloniality which still prevail in scientific research communities across the globe. 

According to Thomas, decolonisation isn’t an “end goal”. The end goal should be to offer people tools to help them identify the risk of coloniality and find a good balance in their work. Coloniality provided a framework in Thomas’ thesis, building on the work of scholars such as Walter Mignolo, Quijano Annibal, Artuor Escobar and Frantz Fanon. Colonialism is different from coloniality. Colonialism represents only the political dimension of the colonisation process, whereas there are other powerful dimensions that support colonisation that can be cultural and economic in nature: this is what constitutes coloniality. The concept of coloniality allows us to reveal the hidden side of history, independent of the country that you live in: we all live in the colonial matrix of power. This colonial matrix allows the continued exploitation of non-Westerners. Coloniality in scientific communities can be seen in the academic hierarchy and in the coloniality of knowledge, where Thomas’ work focuses primarily on the technocoloniality of knowledge. Technocoloniality is a concept that describes the exploitation of poorer cultures by richer ones through technology. 

The technocoloniality of knowledge is an important concept, especially nowadays when we primarily work online. It is important to be able to capture the impact technocoloniality has on our daily work. For example, the current knowledge that is available online comes primarily from a Western perspective. This can invalidate knowledge from other areas, as local perspectives are overwritten by the experiences of Westerners. To counter this, you should read the local knowledge that has already been produced by researchers from the area, rather than focusing solely on the published papers primarily written by Westerners. 

We live in a society where we think technical solutions can solve all of our problems. In reality this is not the case when there are large parts of the world that do not have access to the internet, which makes it impossible to participate for them. For example, while it may be technologically possible for non-Westerners to contribute to open access publications, in reality this is very difficult. Local knowledge is often barred from publication in ‘high impact’ journals, as publishing fees are unaffordable for most researchers.

Thomas highlighted that next to openness of publications and data, it is important that science is open to society, and it should be open for those previously excluded from knowledge and the academy. However, we should avoid the exploitation of citizens and others that would like to contribute, by thinking carefully about rewards for contributions and the possible applications of new knowledge. 

Thomas’ talk ended with a call for collaboration. We should avoid building technological solutions in one place and then simply transferring it to another location without giving the researchers there full details or giving them the opportunity to collaborate on the solution. Nowadays, researchers often don’t have access to “the black box” of research tools, which makes it hard for them to fix issues or replicate results. Why not improve and adapt these solutions according to reality? This is an issue that societies in the Global South  face on a regular basis. 

A role for community managers in mitigating the effects of technocoloniality is to inform their community about these issues. Community managers can provide support for setting up local connections in order to facilitate collaboration and co-creation. We may also advocate for shifting the importance of publications in journals with high impact factors, to celebrating research outputs that have a real impact in a local context. 

Felicia Fricke

Watch Felicia Fricke’s talk in full.

Dr. Felicia Fricke gave an overview of practical recommendations to facilitate decolonised research based on her own experience of conducting research in the Caribbean. Felicia conducted interviews and archaeological fieldwork (including working with human remains), in order to provide a more complete reconstruction of the Dutch Caribbean’s histories, thanks to the interdisciplinary approach taken. She recently published a book on her research entitledSlaafgemaakt: Rethinking Enslavement in the Dutch Caribbean.

Felicia highlighted that slavery is a sensitive topic and that most of the current narratives are based on a white perspective. There is also some friction between researchers and the local community, as researchers have not always developed relationships with the community and did not keep them informed about the results of the research that they conducted in the past. To counter this, Felicia organised focus groups, workshops, and public lectures to inform the community of her research. 

Felicia also focused on how your own identity may impact your research, highlighting a reflexive approach to estimating bias. Felicia wrote daily diary entries with her personal perspective on the research in order to keep track of her own thoughts during the project.  Felicia discussed several ways to decolonise research: consider where the ownership of knowledge lies and support local stakeholders so that they can participate in research or conduct research projects themselves. It is important to remove communication barriers, as not everyone speaks the same language and not everyone has internet access or an email address. Felicia stressed that science is always political, and we should be aware of that in order to counter negative effects. Science is also always contextual: we cannot assume that research conclusions from one geographical area apply to another.

Community managers could help in ensuring that institutional procedures (such as ethical forms) are more suitable to the context in which they need to be applied, so that the researcher doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel on the spot. They can also facilitate conversations around the difficulties of conducting interdisciplinary research. Community managers may also facilitate better communication of research results and provide coordination of these efforts so that researchers can better connect to the local community. By making researchers aware of their biases and providing them with resources on reflexivity (see below), community managers can ensure that research becomes less biased.


It’s easy to look at a task such as “reforming how academic researchers and systems constructed by the Global North interact and collaborate with researchers in the Global South”, throw our hands up, and let ourselves be distracted with the many other things a scientific community manager is tasked with. But, there are practical steps we can take  to make a difference in how people participate in research. 

Each of the speakers at the seminar had different suggestions. Thomas recommended  considering the fact that different geographies have different dynamics and that some of the biggest impact for research can be found outside traditional academic havens. He also highlighted ongoing initiatives such as Africa Arxiv with Jo Haverman, Open Bioeconomy Lab with Jenny Molly (UK, Cambridge), Mboalab, AfricaOSH, and APSOHA.

Felicia suggested that research administration needs rethinking to become more flexible, in particular by allowing ethics processes to take into account situations where the course of research should be determined in concert with local groups rather than mapped out in advance based on a different (institutional) context. She also emphasised the importance of community managers in facilitating communication efforts between researchers, communities, and decision makers. 

Finally, Kate asked us to encourage change through sharing stories of action. Each discipline and department will have their own struggles with this process and take different journeys, and it’s helpful to share and communicate across disciplines. Scientific community managers have a critical role in sharing these journeys as broadly as possible. 

Additional resources

Speakers and attendees have added extra resources below for those interested in further reading or resources on the topic: 

  • Book: Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (see an interview here)
  • Book: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism – Robin DiAngelo (provides some perspective on how to engage and respond in conversations about decolonising)
  • The Uprising: Educational Toolkit – A Guide for Educators to Engage Students in Decolonizing the Mind by Pravini Productions
  • Cite Black Authors – a registry for scientific work by Black authors that you can use to increase the scope of your syllabi
  • The UC Davis Anti-Racism Syllabus: an overview of resources and events on the topic since the murder of George Floyd. 
  • Video: System of Systems (44 min) – Tatiana Mac, a presentation on how systems live in broader ecosystems, the challenges inherent, and how to lean into the good, and resist the bad, to ensure we’re serving all humans in an equitable and ethical way
  • Video: How to be a good ally (6 min) – Ahsante the Artist
  • Resources: Decolonize ALL The Things 
  • Book: Slaafgemaakt: Rethinking Enslavement in the Dutch Caribbean by Felicia Fricke (interdisciplinary research into slavery in Curacao, St Eustatius, and St Maarten – a reworked version of a doctoral thesis with 23 stories based around archaeological artefacts and skeletons)
  • Book chapter:  Mboa Nkoudou, Thomas Hervé. “Epistemic Alienation in African Scholarly Communications: Open Access as a Pharmakon.” In Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access, MIT Press., 2020.
  • Mboa Nkoudou, Thomas Hervé. Les makerspaces en Afrique francophone, entre développement local durable et technocolonialité : Trois études de cas au Burkina Faso, au Cameroun et au Sénégal. Université Laval, 2020.
  • Bezuidenhout L and Havemann J. The varying openness of digital open science tools [version 1; peer review: awaiting peer review]. F1000Research 2020, 9:1292 (
  • Exploration of “local community” terminology and its effects in the Arctic: 
  • These U.S. Principles for Conducting Research in the Arctic may be of interest to the group. They were developed by federal agencies that fund research in the Arctic to promote a standard of conduct. 
  • Three publications on reflexivity:
    • Finlay, L. 2002. Negotiating the swamp: the opportunity and challenge of reflexivity in research practice, Qualitative Research, 2, 209–230.
    • McDonald, J. 2013. Coming out in the field: a queer reflexive account of shifting researcher identity, Management Learning, 44(2), 127–143.
    • And like the whole of this book (even though it is about oral history I think it applies in lots of contexts): Perks, R. & Thomson, A. 2016. The Oral History Reader. 3rd edn. London: Routledge.