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Youth Equity + STEM (YESTEM): Project Blog



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Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Knowle West Media Centre

By s.godec, on 28 April 2022

Making equity everyone’s job

This post was written by Dot Baker, Head of Young People & Emerging Creatives at Knowle West Media Centre.

At Knowle West Media Centre, we are committed to supporting the local Bristol community. We run a range of different programmes, from a tech-focused weekly club for young people, to music workshops, sessions in laser cutting and making for young people, as well as supporting local elderly people with their tech needs.

We have always worked in participatory ways, responding to the young people living in Knowle West. We know that we can’t make a difference in young people’s lives unless we get to know them – who they are, what their lives are like and what they need and want from a space like our centre. We regularly speak to young people and have recently also started a Youth Council, to make sure that we work with the participants in developing our offer.

Equity is a core value at Knowle West Media Centre because young people come as they are, and everyone is different. We know that equitable practice needs to be part of everyone’s job: the front of house team who welcomes the people as they come into the building, the people responsible for social media and communication, and everyone who plans and delivers the sessions.

What makes embedded equitable practice possible is a strong commitment to equity across all teams, but most importantly, our senior leadership. Equity and inclusion are an explicit part of our strategy and part of every step of working at Knowle West Media Centre: from the job interview to ongoing training and annual appraisals.

educators sitting around the table

Knowle West Media Centre staff debriefing with the Equity Compass

In my role as a Head of Young People & Emerging Creatives, I support a team of 10 staff in delivering activities for young people. We ensure that the team is all on the same page by collaborating and co-creating with the young people as well as making sure we are continually reflecting on our programmes to ensure that they remain equitable. We evaluate every session that we deliver, making sure that we reflect on the session as a whole but also on the young people’s individual needs. Through using the Equity Compass, we have a shared language and understanding of how we can maintain an equitable programme and inclusive for all of our participants.

For more details about how Knowle West Media Centre have been embedding equity and using the Equity Compass as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

Equitable youth boards in informal STEM learning

By s.godec, on 24 March 2022

More and more organisations are recognising the importance of actively and meaningfully working with young people they are set up to support. In this blog post, we introduce our new 15-step summary guide for how to set up and run an equitable youth board in your organisation. The guide was developed in partnership with young people and practitioners from informal STEM learning settings.

Young people in a classroom

Direction Board session at Hanwell Zoo

In the YESTEM project, we worked closely with informal STEM learning practitioners in four organisations to develop, test and refine their participatory working (using a Design-Based Implementation Research approach) – through establishing equitable youth boards and developing youth participatory practice.

  • Hanwell Zoo set up a Direction Board (check out their Instagram!) . The young people have already informed a number of conservation and education programmes. As the first Aquarium and Zoo Youth Board in the UK, the Direction Board have been sharing their work with other zoos, such as at the National Youth Symposium held at Chester Zoo, to inspire others to follow their path. A short film about the Direction Board is available at the bottom of this post.
  • Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) started a Youth Council, which has an open-door policy and where young people can join at different times, to ensure that a broad range of voices is heard. The group has influenced the focus on the environment, mental health, and celebrating the community, such as through a recent “ReCREATE Filwood” project, redesigning a local high street. See this short film on how the Youth Council plays a key role in KWMC’s equitable practice.
  • Stemettes created a nationwide Youth Board with participants from across the UK and Ireland – meet their members here.
  • We the Curious have worked with young people in participatory ways first through a Curious Researchers programme (where young people informed and co-developed exhibitions). More recently, We the Curious worked with young Digital Content Creators, who designed and delivered collaborative workshops with underrepresented communities to bring their voices, and produced digital content on the climate crisis. Reflections on We the Curious participatory practice are captured in this short film.

The participatory practice has already made a difference to informal STEM learning practitioners and organisations, helping them better plan the programmes that address the needs of young people better. As one of our project practitioners said “Who knows young people better than young people themselves?”

Being part of a youth board also led to positive outcomes for the young people involved, who reported feeling a sense of ownership and responsibility, and feeling that their input was valued: “Being part of the Youth Council means that young people are able to make a difference.”

Young people sitting around the table

A session at Knowle West Media Centre

We focused particularly on how youth boards can be equitable. Below is a list of key things to consider (see more details in this YESTEM Insight: How to set up and run an equitable youth board):

Before you start

  1. Get a social justice mind set
  2. Create a shared vision
  3. Get everyone on board

Recruiting the youth board

  1. Be proactive in your recruitment
  2. Recognise the value and needs of board members
  3. Encourage creative application formats
  4. Give feedback to unsuccessful applicants

Running the youth board

  1. Welcome and care for youth board members
  2. Meet everyone’s needs
  3. Create safe spaces and practices
  4. Work with young people
  5. Value everyone’s voice and contributions
  6. Make the board visible
  7. Give the board power and authority
  8. Make it count – support board members’ futures

For more details about the Direction Board at Hanwell Zoo, see this short film.

Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Hanwell Zoo

By s.godec, on 24 February 2022

Ensuring conservation education reaches everyone

This post was written by Beau-Jensen McCubbin, Head of Birds and Conservation Education at Hanwell Zoo.

For the last ten years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with generous and progressive colleagues in a zoo where we believe that conservation education has huge benefits and is for everyone. Yet, all too often, I’ve seen educational provisions pigeonholed into ‘one size fits all’ offerings, rather than considering how best to engage those who have traditionally been excluded. Creating generic resources and activities marginalises many who already find themselves excluded by the mainstream.

When I first started working at Hanwell Zoo, the pioneering community work led by our Zoo Curator Jim Gregory was in its early, yet fruitful stages. I was supported to continue and extend this work, but as I became more involved with the conservation education sector, it became apparent that not everyone worked in the way we did. It was it clear to me that a large proportion of the sector nested in traditional, less inclusive programmes, although I was warmed to find that there were many individuals pushing for change, supporting and producing their own inclusive practices.

Beau-Jensen McCubbin and Jim Gregory, YESTEM project partners from Hanwell Zoo.

It was around this time that I got involved with the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project. Sure, I was there on my own merit to share my experience and expertise, but I did not anticipate getting much more out of the project than I could ever put in. To kick things off, I hadn’t even heard of the term ‘equity’ in the context of social justice, and in our first meeting I had to put my hand up and ask “Umm… what’s equity?”.

Discussing equitable practices with researchers and other informal STEM learning practitioners not only filled in the missing pieces in my own inclusive pedagogy (another word I learnt), but it helped me to conceptualise it. This project has afforded me the know-how to better evaluate and disseminate my work, keeping the equity focus front and centre. Furthermore, being more prepared to talk about equity in conservation education means that I can help others develop and deliver more meaningful encounters in spaces of informal science learning, as well as make more informed, equitable, decisions in my own work.

Girl and lemur in a zoo enclosure

Ethical interactions between young people and wildlife at Hanwell Zoo, London

Young people with binoculars

Young people from London on a learner lead bird-watching exploration.

The resources produced by the YESTEM project are invaluable to practitioners and will benefit millions of learners – I’m sure of that. The Equity Compass tool is something I use all the time in developing programmes with young people. The tool maps out clear paths for us to follow and highlights areas we can improve on. I also use it in the evaluation and countless other activities, such as social media posts, presentations, provisions within the zoo, and even things like what is stocked in the gift shop. As a member of the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums’ (BIAZA) Conservation Education Committee, I also share these ideas with other professionals in the zoo sector.

I didn’t anticipate how much I would gain from my 5-year journey with the YESTEM project, and my hope is that the results will reach and assist many other practitioners around the world. Being better equipped to reach my objectives means I’m better equipped to ensure my learners, all of them, can realise their potential.

For more details about how Hanwell Zoo have been extending equity and using the Equity Compass as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Stemettes

By s.godec, on 11 February 2022

Challenging STEM Status Quo

This post was written by Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Lucy Cox and Sarah Mehrali from Stemettes.

When Stemettes was approached about joining the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project, we jumped at the chance.  Although we knew that from the onset that youth equity had been at the heart of all our initiatives, we relished the opportunity to formalise and further develop our practices, work with teams to develop a tool to measure our success in the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) space and to document our work as a resource for the partners who support our interventions.

Two women standing by the whiteboard with the Equity Compass.

Stemettes’ Anne-Marie and Lucy using the Equity Compass to reflect on their practice.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE created Stemettes in 2013 to ensure girls, young women, and non-binary young people between the ages of 5-25 know that technical fields are for them. She was joined by Programme Manager Lucy Cox as co-researchers on the YESTEM project. The Stemettes’ mission is to engage, inform and connect young people into STEAM  fields with our ‘Free, Fun, Food’ ethos. As of 2021, Stemettes has reached 55,000 young people across the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe.

Stemettes run more than 50 interventions each year – a mixture of intersectional cohort programmes (including mentoring and certification academies), impactful events and inspirational content shared across platforms. These interventions improve perceptions of STEM, raise awareness of options within STEM, grow the networks these young people have across STEM and improve their self and STEM confidence.

Two girls with a laptop.

Two girls working on a laptop during a Stemettes event.

The development of the Equity Compass as part of the YESTEM project has meant that organisations like ourselves in an informal STEM learning setting can now use the tool at every point of their planning to check that they are developing ideas and strategies in line with equitable practices that they have committed to adopting.  We pride ourselves on our ability to reach out to and connect with minority communities and the Equity Compass has allowed us to identify what we do well and what we can do better. 

For example, we are conscious that many of our programme participants may not have access to a laptop required for a virtual event and therefore build in the offer of a laptop to be posted out into our workflows. Additionally, we offer free industry recognised certifications in cybersecurity, Python coding and agile training courses in an attempt to redistribute access to resources that are often the reserve of sections of society with parents/networks in the know. We seek to broaden what counts as STEM, who can pursue a career in STEM, trying to challenge stereotypes and dominant ways of doing things that have long excluded many women and non-binary people from the field. We also practise what we preach in terms of diversity, inclusion and belonging and the make up of Team Stemette reflects our audiences. However, confidence about what we are getting right does not mean that we are always across our blind spots, so tools like the Equity Compass will act as a torch that shines a light on our oversights and enables efficient development toward equitable practice so that we can support our participants as best as we can.

Three women in a meeting.

YESTEM project meeting

The next steps for Stemettes lie in developing the reach and programmes we have across the UK’s regional landscape, extending the Stemette provision to parents, guardians and teachers (who the Stemettes call Influencers) and powerfully transitioning alumnae into industry powerhouses. This is already happening, but not fast enough. We are confident that the Equity Compass will assist us in meeting our organisational goals, ultimately leading to a more evidence-based approach to analysing our outcomes and considering how equitable they are. This research project has inspired us to begin even more work in this space – we look forward to the legacy of YESTEM!

For more details about how Stemettes have been challenging the status quo as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

For further YESTEM project tools and resources, see the project website.

Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: We The Curious

By s.godec, on 25 November 2021

‘Have fun because the possibilities in this are endless’: from Curious Researchers to future participants

This post was written by Amanda Colbourne, Participation Catalyst at We The Curious.

In 2017, We The Curious began a more purposeful journey to become more accessible, and representative of the city of Bristol. Thanks to funding from the Inspiring Science Fund, we embarked on an exhibition transformation, Project What If, based entirely on the questions asked by the people of Bristol.  We knew our journey also needed to be informed by a deeper understanding of equity, a more participatory practice and new skills. The opportunity to become part of the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project couldn’t have been better timed for us.

An exhibit at We The Curious saying "Who asked the questions?"

We The Curious exhibit

We wanted to work with young people from excluded communities through the Curious Researcher project, building new relationships and approaches to support our engagement and reflection. We focused on developing our methodology for facilitating longer-term engagements and understanding how to embed equitable practice across the organisation.

For us, positioning and power-sharing were novel. Initially, it was scary to share power with young people and we were learning to trust and value their input. Shortlisting the publicly submitted questions for Project What If with the Curious Researchers to help create new exhibits was the first moment of trust for us and a pivotal moment in our development. Going through the experience once, and seeing the brilliant results of a more diverse input into our decision making, built our confidence to carry on the process with other partners, including ideas generation and prototyping.

On the whole, the Curious Researchers didn’t just give the learning for WHAT to do, but rather taught us that we needed to know more about this and showed us where there were gaps in our practice and systems. Working with a longer-term process gave us more time to listen and reflect and build relationships through trust.

For us, the learning from not just Curious Researchers but the wider YESTEM research-practice partnership has influenced policy change to support how we create more equitable relationships within our programming.  For example, we have developed rationales and policies for the payment of a living wage to young people for their contributions. Equitable recruitment policies are also now being worked on for young people in programmes, i.e., we seek to involve not just those who are most confident or who get picked by their teachers. We are exploring ideas such as sharing any interview questions beforehand, trying to adjust the language around roles and how we communicate opportunities and who with, including audio and video formats. With further plans to develop in this area, these ideas are moving from youth projects into organisational HR strategy and culture.

A wall at We The Curious with post-it notes from the visitors

We The Curious wall with messages from the visitors

Being part of YESTEM meant being part of a research partnership with three other sites in the UK and four sites in the US. This breadth of practice in very different settings was invaluable, and we could draw on the other partners’ experiences as well as the research findings. This is particularly useful, as we have developed our own practice through a very specific model, but longer-term, we need to draw on best equitable practice from a wider range of engagement models. We have also been able to develop institutional memory around working with schools and young people in historically excluded communities, understanding that these relationships take more time, more effort and totally different ways of working.

We are now exploring how to use the Equity Compass in a range of ways across the organisation as a reflective tool, not just to help frame our young people’s programming, but to embed thinking about equity into all our work.

For more details about how We The Curious has been developing its participatory practice as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.


An opinion piece on the ‘The Equity Compass: A tool for supporting socially just practice’

By s.godec, on 15 September 2021

Dr Uma Patel

In January 2021, a young black poet Amanda Gorman wowed people with her poem The Hill We Climb. Amanda recited “We will not march back to what was but move to what should be”. If you work with young people and their learning experience and want to move towards more socially just practice, in other words, “what it should be”, then read on.

What should be is not what it is now. Research shows that education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are structured by privilege at the intersections of gender, ‘race’/ethnicity and class. Science learning experiences are not what they should be for many minoritised individuals and communities.

Equality means giving individuals and groups the same resources and opportunities. Equity and social justice go further and advocate differential treatment according to need while also recognising and valuing differences between people, and seeking to change the structures and practices that create and maintain inequalities.

The Equity Compass is a tool for framing action that arcs towards equity and social justice. The tool is underpinned by social science research and is designed to support practitioners and others to make decisions, plan, monitor and evaluate progress. The Equity Compass can be applied to events, programmes, spaces, policy and generally projects big and small.

The Equity Compass

The Equity Compass

The Equity Compass is a reflective tool for owning action that is transformative, in the interest of minoritised communities, determinedly asset-based, collectively oriented, and one where equity is mainstreamed and embedded (i.e. foundational, not tokenistic). It is the action that is ‘with’ participants (not ‘to’ or ‘for’ them). It is the action that involves a redistribution of resources.

The Equity Compass tool introduces concepts and vocabulary to anchor equity-focused conversations. As one informal science practitioner reflected: “intuitive understanding and ‘lovely’ doesn’t cut it ….the Equity Compass [Tool] helped us to articulate and find a voice to convince colleagues, funders and the public.”

For more details about the Equity Compass and further explanation of the terminology, see two YESTEM Insights. Working closely with practitioners, we produced the Equity Compass for informal STEM learning (see our resources on yestem.org) and later developed the Equity Compass insight for primary and secondary teachers.

With a will to change – “to move to what should be”, the Equity Compass has the potential to transform practice within the informal STEM learning sector and beyond. This task is not easy, but as Amanda Gorman said, a more just world is possible, but only “If we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it.”


Uma has moved to an academic post at the Centre for Fusion Learning and Excellence (FLIE) at Bournemouth University and can be contacted at upatel@bournemouth.ac.uk.



Interested in STEM but not being ‘served’ by the informal STEM learning sector: insight from the YESTEM survey

By qtnvaux, on 3 June 2021

By Dr Spela Godec

The vast informal science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning sector offers many positive outcomes to people of all ages. Yet, research shows that the sector often perpetuates inequalities, with students from more privileged social backgrounds often participating more. A common “quick fix” response to increasing participation involves making STEM more interesting and fun, assuming that some people do not take part because they are not interested in STEM.

The research from the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project found that participation in informal STEM learning does not necessarily reflect young people’s (lack of) interest. Many minority ethnic and working-class young people in our study reported being interested in STEM and aspired to working in STEM jobs, yet rarely took part in designed and community informal STEM learning offers, while others from more socially privileged (White, middle-class) backgrounds regularly participated regardless of their STEM interest.

We analysed 1,624 survey responses from young people aged 11 to 14 and identified six groupings. Two particularly interesting groups were Served Cultural Omnivores and Underserved Scientists.

Served Cultural Omnivores (the name indicating frequent participation in informal STEM learning as well as other cultural activities) were disproportionately more likely to be White and have high cultural capital. These young people reported an average interest in science and STEM-related careers, yet regularly took part in informal STEM learning (such as visiting science museums). Their high participation seemed to reflect their families’ concerted cultivation efforts and patterns of cultural consumption typical of middle-class families, rather than a specific interest in the subject area.

On the other hand, Underserved Scientists (the name indicating infrequent participation in informal STEM learning and a strong interest in science) were disproportionately more likely to be South Asian and have medium science capital. They reported the highest STEM aspirations of all groups and regularly engaged in everyday STEM-related activities, such as reading books and watching science-related videos, yet participated in designed and community informal STEM learning significantly less than the study cohort’s average.

Examples from our qualitative cohort offered insight into why some young people, despite reporting an interest in the subject, rarely participate in informal STEM learning. Some minority ethnic, working-class young people appeared to be guided by pragmatism and risk-aversion. They spoke about the importance of prioritising school above everything else, including informal learning, in order to be able to succeed in life and improve their current situation: “When you’re young, focus on study … that’s what my dad used to always tell me.” Others struggled to conceive what value informal STEM learning might have for their overall education, seeing more benefits in spending their out-of-school time on activities such as tutoring and revising for exams: “in school, you can learn new stuff. Let’s just say you’re going to a club . . . you’re going to get information but you’re not going to get information more than in school.”

These findings on how some young people carefully weigh up the risks and benefits of their out-of-school activities can be understood as a strategic response to their precarious positions of inequalities. In Risk Society, Ulrich Beck wrote that “like wealth, risks adhere to the class pattern, only inversely; wealth accumulates at the top, risks at the bottom.” Young people from less privileged backgrounds may face greater risks in terms of how they spend their time, or what might happen if they fall behind at school. Currently, informal STEM learning does not offer a good enough return on investment for some of these young people.

In YESTEM project, we have worked closely with informal STEM learning practitioners and organisations to develop more equitable practices and better support minoritised young people’s engagement with STEM. See yestem.org for more project resources.


Interested but not being served: mapping young people’s participation in informal STEM education through an equity lens (Godec, Archer & Dawson, 2021) was published in Research Papers in Education and is available Open Access.


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