Case Study: Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education

Over the summers of 2022 and 2023, as part of the Engaging Environments programme, Dr Cecilia Medupin at the University of Manchester (UoM) developed a pilot study focusing on ‘Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education – a solutions’ based approach’. This came after Dr Medupin’s convening of the Women in Environmental Sciences network through 2018 and 2019, with the following post detailing the aims, methods, outcomes and recommendations of the study.


  • To pilot the practice of illustrating and operationalising the need for connectivity and inclusivity in human interactions, particularly in Higher Education institutions (HEIs), which are essential for growth and development.
  • Illustrate the synergies between connectivity in nature’s ecosystems and the link to human connectedness, thus impacting how we interact and engage with each other.
  • To understand what equality, diversity, inclusivity and accessibility (EDIA) meant to participants and to reveal gaps in practice, knowledge, understanding, interpretation and policy.
  • Highlight the role of EDIA in creating a connected and inclusive place to work and study, and the need for practical application of policy, effective communication, training and strong leadership.
  • Create an EDIA practice framework and operating principles that are based on empirical evidence and good practice.

Methods, Principles & Practice

In modern times and due to increasing human population densities, urbanisation, migration, technological advancement, and high socio-economic disparities, more people live and work in isolated conditions. Institutions and organisations are increasingly siloed with failures in effective engagement, co-ordination and communication.

To investigate and develop potential solutions to ongoing fragmentation, particularly within HEIs, Dr Cecilia Medupin developed this three-part pilot study, using University of Manchester as the prototype. This was with a view to developing more effective networks within institutions and healthy institutional process, ensuring no one is left behind, creating shared responsibility, and implementable coordinated action. In addition, there was a focus on highlighting that academic excellence is equal to professional and personal progress, and the importance of fostering a culture of openness and a safe space for all.

In the third and final part of the study, an additional breakout session was conducted which utilised LEGO® Serious Play as a mechanism to creatively address barriers to EDIA and individual participants’ journeys relating to EDIA in their own organisation. This was well-received by all participants as an innovative method for confronting complex issues.

Throughout each stage of the study, Principles-Focused Evaluation (PFE) was provided by Dr Cindy Regalado of Tekiu Limited. Social innovators and innovative projects often adhere to principles to navigate the uncertainties of complex systems change. However, there can be a gap in terms of systematically tracking their journeys and their decision-making, meaning some learnings can remain tacit and potentially inaccessible or untransferable to similar future projects.

PFE, an approach developed by Michael Quinn Patton, aims to fill this gap by uncovering the principles which underpin innovators’ work and look for effective principles of practice in action. This can build social innovators’ capacity to adapt by making principles visible, communicable, testable, and implementable. More detail on PFE can be found in the outcomes section below and in our accompanying posts.

“Social innovators often find themselves, ‘making the path by walking it’, pioneering and innovating social change, working with high levels of complexity, uncertainty, and limited information.”


A number of outcomes and key messages have been generated over the course of each part of this pilot study and its evaluation. Two full reports have been produced, the first of which summarises the two C&I workshops carried out in 2022, then a final summary report of the third and final part of the study.

Two key lessons from the study came succinctly from speakers Oyebanji ‘Banji’ Adewumi MBE, Director of EDI at University of Manchester, and Professor Monioluwa Olaniyi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Technology, Innovation and Research at the National Open University of Nigeria. These were that, ‘Inclusivity starts with ‘I’’, and ‘To be an agent of change, you need to understand your environment’. The content and outputs from the other elements of the study expand on these key messages, providing practical guidance and innovative approaches towards EDIA in HEIs.

Workshops reinforced the ways in which values and principles of individuals can inform positive change when put into practice, whether challenging a negative status quo or advocating for equity. They also identified the need to incorporate these practices in HEIs and the wider community. A ‘call to action’ followed the workshops, which participants signed up to, to further explore issues foregrounded by these sessions, learn from them, and work towards change.

The knowledge exchange developed through Dr Medupin’s relationships with speakers and panellists has enabled a broader impact in EDIA Policy both at the University of Manchester and the British Ecological Society. Further evidence of these external impacts can be found in the testimonies provided in the reports linked above.

Results from the PFE show that one of the first steps to becoming an agent of change is to take ownership over our responses to situations,  over our actions, to be responsible and answerable to ourselves for those actions. We also need to learn from each other, and each other’s diverse lived experiences, on how issues are addressed in context, understanding similarities, differences, and creating opportunities for genuine improvement.

“Events like these will have a fundamental impact on EDIA in higher education when the right tools for support are provided.”

Further Recommendations

Based on outputs from across the workshops, connectivity and inclusivity could be achieved at UK higher education institutions if the following recommendations are embedded into leadership processes, teaching, research, and operations:

  • Create a welcoming atmosphere where members of the community can be open, share, and connect.
  • Promote open-mindedness and learning beyond the academic curriculum.
  • Advocate for a range of perspectives to be heard.
  • Turn principles into practice across teaching, research, learning, and operations.
  • Provide adequate training in C&I for those in managerial and/or leadership roles, as these skills are essential for effective leadership.

Beyond these, the study also produced an EDIA Principles of Practice Framework, via Dr Regalado’s principles-focused evaluation, focusing on organisational inclusivity, EDIA strategy, inclusive culture, leadership, and accessibility in practice. A detailed version of this can be found in this accompanying post.

Credits & Further Information

Dr Cecilia Medupin, Engaging Environments Co-Investigator, Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester,

Dr Cindy Regalado, Engaging Environments Project Evaluator, Tekiu Ltd

Matt Burrows, Editor, Engaging Environments, University of Reading

Find a full list of contributors to Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education – a solutions’-based approach from environmental sustainability here: