Understanding what works in promoting exposure to innovation

www.nesta.org.uk/report/opportunity-lost-how-inventive-potential-squandered-and-what-do-about-it/understanding-what-works-promoting-exposure-innovation/
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Our scan of 'invention schemes' found very limited evidence of outcomes and impact. Only a minority of interventions publish evaluations or impact data, and those that do tend to measure student satisfaction rather than outcomes.

If we want to create a more diverse pool of potential innovators, we need to know much more about what works in delivering effective invention schemes. We reviewed existing literature to see what lessons could be gleaned from research on invention education and related activities such as efforts to engage under-represented groups in STEM.

Helping young people develop innovation skills

The evidence base on how to help young people develop innovation skills is relatively small, but the research we found offers some guidance on effective approaches to developing innovation skills and ability:

  1. Cross-curricular, open-ended, student-led projects: Previous Nesta research suggests that giving students the opportunity to explore subjects in depth and make connections across subject and knowledge areas encourages creative thinking and risk-propensity (two fundamental skills for innovation). Project approaches are especially effective when students are able to lead on them themselves in the knowledge that they won’t be formally assessed.[29]
  2. Adults need to facilitate, rather than teach innovation, so that young people have the freedom to develop their own ideas and concepts.[30] Providing a space where young people’s ideas are valued, and where they are given the time and space for experimentation with these ideas, is key to building an effective innovation learning environment.
  3. Taking a socio-cultural approach: the literature on how young people develop capability and intention to innovate emphasises the importance of social and cultural reinforcement. For example, providing positive role models and opportunities to develop networks - both with adults and amongst peers - supports the development of innovative skills and increases the likelihood of sustained participation.[31]
Young inventor of the 'Trolley for the Elderly'

This young inventor got the idea for his adjustable ‘Trolley for the Elderly’ from seeing his own grandmother struggling with her grocery shopping. Credit: Primary Engineer

What makes a good role model?

The ‘lost Einsteins’ study finds that role models need to be relevant for effects to be seen: growing up around female inventors affected girls’ propensity to invent, whilst growing up around male inventors had no effect, with the inverse observed for men.[32] This corroborates Microsoft’s recent study on girls and women in STEM across 12 European countries, which finds that girls are more interested in STEM, find it easier to imagine a career in STEM, and are more inclined to seek out further support, when they have a female role model: the most influential role models are women working in STEM, above real non-STEM figures and fictional characters.[33]

The Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), meanwhile, has found that STEM role models in particular work best with disadvantaged groups when the interaction is more informal, subject-specific, and based around experiential learning.[34] And more generally, the Behavioural Insights Team has found that when delivering programmes to improve access to higher education, role model stories are more effective than simple presentations. This is down to the added “heart” elements of sharing one’s own experience (combined with the “head” elements of facts about fees, career prospects etc). [35]

Engaging under-represented groups in STEM

There are some common lessons from the research on engaging under-represented groups in STEM and achieving effective and equitable practice:

  1. Strong relationships with communities make for better outreach schemes: Research from the Wellcome Trust found that consulting members of the target group in the design, planning and delivery of programmes leads to more effective programmes and sustained participation.[36] In 2013/14, for example, Scottish Science Centres trialled a participatory approach to community engagement. Community engagement officers helped the Centres to build relationships with deprived communities and get them involved in developing programmes. A year in, 2,000 people from deprived communities had participated in Science Centre programmes, and 80% of all participants were from the top 15% most deprived areas in Scotland.[37]
  2. Participation increases when practical barriers like cost are removed and activities and events are held in accessible locations. The Dundee Science Centre operates a Golden Ticket scheme for schools in the most deprived areas of the city, which allowed children and families to attend events at the Science Centre free of charge. The Science Museum’s Building Bridges project develops disadvantaged communities’ relationships with the Museum by first holding events in schools with staff and students, and then inviting families for activity days at the Museum.
  3. Equality and diversity aims and principles need to be reflected in all elements of practice, for example by ensuring that there is diversity amongst the practitioners, mentors and role models engaging with participants, and that this is sustained in printed material, on websites and on social media.[38] In schools in particular, gaining commitment to aims and principles across the staff body and subject departments is important.[39]
  4. Data can help programmes explain the problem and develop solutions: Research emphasises the effectiveness of using data to explain equality, diversity and inclusion issues to students and those in their immediate networks, such as parents and teachers,[40] and to help create learning environments that reflect diversity aims and principles. Practical measures for schools and programmes include tracking the diversity of their personnel and collecting data on participants to inform targeted outreach (or highlight the need to change strategy to reach a particular group). For example, the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum conducts independent entrance and exit surveys to better understand visitor characteristics and reasons for visiting, and uses this information to inform its strategy.[41]
  5. Support and professional development for teachers is important: Teachers or others delivering activities need to have a good understanding of the intervention and an ability to adapt it to their own context.[42]
  6. Length and intensity matter: The EEF found that for interventions aiming to improve science learning amongst students from poorer backgrounds, interventions lasting less than a school year are less likely to be effective. Longer programmes are also more likely to produce lasting effects. Similarly, the most effective interventions are those which are integrated into teachers’ regular practice (on a daily or weekly basis).[43]

Institute of Physics Whole School Equality Programme

The Improving Gender Balance project ran from 2014-2016, testing different approaches to improving gender equality in 20 schools and comparing their effects. The programme incorporates several of the dimensions highlighted above as important for improving equality and diversity.

For example, schools compared their own data on A-level gender balance with national averages. They also conducted an anonymous survey of all teachers on equality issues, and surveyed students on their associations with different school subjects to elicit gendered assumptions or conceptions. Schools also conducted audits of gender equality in their environment (eg. displays, notices, reporting system for sexual misconduct/gender-based bullying, careers advice) and writing gender balance aims into school development plans. Meanwhile, all teachers underwent unconscious bias training to develop their ability to create equitable classroom environments.

Several positive changes were reported as a result. Teachers changed their teaching style and content to support gender equality, and many reported that the overall school discourse on equality issues was enhanced. Careers support improved in terms of amount provided and focus on careers that counter gender stereotypes. There was some evidence of effects on subject uptake at A-level towards greater gender equality, with girls’ Physics participation trebling.

The IoP developed the following recommendations:

Appoint a gender champion: someone in the senior leadership team who is able to drive change within the school

Analyse progression data by gender for different subjects and discuss what might be driving any gendered patterns

Train teachers to understand unconscious bias and how the experiences of boys and girls may differ because of it

Raise students’ awareness and engagement of the gender stereotypes they face and engage them in addressing them

Review the options process: look at options information and presentations through a gender lens and equip students to engage critically

Consider project-led science clubs to encourage a better gender balance

[29] Chell, E, and R Athayde. (2009) ‘The Identification and Measurement of Innovative Characteristics of Young People Development of the Youth Innovation Skills Measurement Tool’. London: Nesta.

[30] Sebba, J. et al (2009) Youth-led innovation: Enhancing the skills and capacity of the next generation of innovators. London: Nesta.

[31] Chell, E, and R Athayde. (2009) ‘The Identification and Measurement of Innovative Characteristics of Young People Development of the Youth Innovation Skills Measurement Tool’. London: Nesta.

[32] Bell, A, R Chetty, X Jaravel, N Petkova, and J Van Reenen. (2017) ‘Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation’. NBER Working Paper No. 24062, December (2017) The Equality of Opportunity Project.

[33] https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/girls-in-stem-the-importance-of-role-models/

[34] Nunes, T, Bryant, P, Strand, S, Hillier, J, Barros, R and Miller-Friedmann, J. (2017) Review of SES and Science Learning in Formal Educational Settings. A Report Prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society.

[35] Behavioural Insights Team. (2015) Behavioural Insights and the Somerset Challenge. Available at: http://www.behaviouralinsights.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Somerset-Challenge-Report1.pdf [Accessed 4.12.18]

[36] Atkinson, R, and Mason, C. (2014) Experiments in Engagement: Review of literature around engagement with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Wellcome Trust

[37] UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (2014)UK Science and Discovery Centres: Effectively engaging under-represented groups. Available at: https://www.sciencecentres.org.uk/national-impact/uk-science-and-discovery-centres-effectively-engaging-under-represented-groups/uk-science-and-discovery-centres-effectively-engaging-under-represented-groups/ [Accessed 4.12.18]

[38] UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (2014) UK Science and Discovery Centres: Effectively engaging under-represented groups.

[39] Institute of Physics (2017) Improving Gender Balance. Reflections on the impact of interventions in schools. Available at: http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2017/file_69171.pdf. [Accessed 4.12.18]

[40] UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (2014) UK Science and Discovery Centres: Effectively engaging under-represented groups.

[41] UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (2014) UK Science and Discovery Centres: Effectively engaging under-represented groups.

[42] Nunes, T, Bryant, P, Strand, S, Hillier, J, Barros, R and Miller-Friedmann, J. (2017) Review of SES and Science Learning in Formal Educational Settings. A Report Prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Review_of_SES_and_Science_Learning_in_Formal_Educational_Settings.pdf. [Accessed 4.12.18]

[43] Nunes, T, Bryant, P, Strand, S, Hillier, J, Barros, R and Miller-Friedmann, J. (2017) Review of SES and Science Learning in Formal Educational Settings. A Report Prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society.

Authors

Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Head of Inclusive Innovation

Madeleine Gabriel leads international projects that explore how new models of innovation can tackle big social challenges. Her current work includes a study on whether and how the conc…

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Juliet Ollard

Juliet Ollard

Juliet Ollard

Researcher, Inclusive Innovation

Juliet is a Researcher working on a joint project between the Inclusive Innovation and Education teams.

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Nancy Wilkinson

Nancy Wilkinson

Nancy Wilkinson

Senior Programme Manager, Education

Nancy leads Nesta's work on technology and education, overseeing a partnership with the Department for Education to help schools make more effective use of technology.

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