This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 788204.

LifeSciCoP Consolidation Workshop

The LifeSciCoP Consolidation Workshop was set for 18 May 2020 and was planned to be a full day face‑to‑face meeting. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic‑related travel restrictions, the meeting was not cancelled, but the agenda was changed to a three-step online format, with the final goal to set the foundations for the CoP’s action plan.

In comparison to a face‑to‑face meeting, the online version had certain disadvantages regarding the impact of the consolidation workshop. First of all, the online sessions were relatively short and the discussions needed to be very goal-oriented, not allowing sufficient time for extensive discussions and brainstorming. Additionally, the online format did not provide support for building personal relationships between members of the CoP and was limited when trying to develop utopian solutions as part of the future workshop method to stimulate new ideas “out of the box”.

Nevertheless, the commitment of the group was very strong, and all members enjoyed the meeting and felt that we made a step forward in consolidating the CoP.

The agenda of the virtual consolidation workshop was split into three sessions:










Reflection on the CoPs objectives and identification of relevant actions


               Future Workshop (2h)

       18 May 2020




Review of effectiveness of ACT support tools and CoP methodology for institutional change


      Forum discussion (2 weeks period)

 26 May–4 June 2020




Development of Action Plan and assignment of responsibilities


             Group discussion (1.5h)

        2 July 2020





In addition to exchanging good practices and supporting each other in concerns and challenges related to institutional gender equality work, the LifeSciCoP is committed to practice together. Our objective is the following: The LifeSciCoP will specifically promote and apply effective methods to (1) increase awareness for unconscious bias, (2) overcome resistance to gender equality, and (3) include gender aspects in evaluation processes.

The overall aim of the consolidation workshop was to develop an action plan that would allow the CoP to focus and to achieve its objectives. Most important was that the process of developing the action plan that was engaging and inclusive to ensure that all CoP members identify with the plan and commit to it. Regarding the content of the plan, it was important to address the common challenges CoP members face at their research performing institutions and to stay within the scope of the defined CoP objectives.

The Future Workshop method allows analysing a common problematic situation, to create a vision about the desired future, and to discuss which actions will lead to the fulfilment of the vision (see ACT co-creation toolkit). We chose the Future Workshop method to firstly, identify the common and concrete problems we are facing regarding unconscious bias, resistance to gender equality, and evaluation processes in the member institutions; and secondly, to imagine how the optimal situation would look like. The outcome of the Future Workshop was the basis for the development of the action plan, within the scope of the CoPs objective and highly relevant for the participating institutions. During the problem finding part of the session, the facilitator gave the following instructions: “Think about our mission, which conditions or situations in the CoP or individual institutes will limit our impact? Try to be precise. What is the specific problem?”


The group was split into two break-out sessions, and each group worked on a “digital flipchart” ( to document all contributions. In the following joint session, both groups reported about their outcome and the information was collected and grouped by key challenges:

  1. ACT support (e.g. facilitator) will stop after the end of ACT
  2. Engage a specific group of people for gender equality work (e.g. men)
  3. COVID-19 pandemic is hitting women’s careers more than men’s
  4. Missing guidelines for and follow-up of policy implementation
  5. Difficult to keep up motivation and engagement for gender equality
  6. Evaluation criteria do not sufficiently consider gender aspects
  7. Lack of higher management commitment
  8. Resistance / no awareness

After the group identified the concrete challenges that they are facing, the facilitator engaged the whole group in a more visionary discussion to draft the ideal situation, to generate a utopia. The facilitator gave the following instructions: “Imagine all the problems would be solved, how would your institution look like? What is the ideal situation for you?”


The group discussed and developed the following scenarios for the ideal situation in the given institutional setting:

  • Training in unconscious bias would be mandatory for everybody in the institution. The effect would be that all staff would learn and understand that everybody’s behaviour contributes to a cultural change towards gender equality.
  • The institution has a training team (or trainer) that is responsible to teach institutional staff about the different aspects of gender equality.
  • Most importantly, we would have the right teaching material at hand, such as engaging videos. Videos help us to teach even if one is not an expert on the topic or a professional trainer.
  • With a video explaining the cases of research institutes that perform better due to higher gender equality (diversity increases scientific production), we would manage to convince potentially sceptic directors and researchers about the importance of gender equality.
  • In general, we would have more material that would target researchers, convincing them that gender equality is also good for them and their scientific career.
  • We have methods at hand to make people strongly experience their bias (similarly but stronger than Implicit Association Test), e.g. role plays that are an eye‑opener to the participants.
  • We have a respectful environment or institutional culture where people feel free to speak about gender issues, such as pinpointing micro-aggressions and sexual harassment.
  • We have methods at hand to revisit if unconscious bias training has an effect, regular checks if training measures work.
  • Teams evaluate their supervisors and there is also peer assessment as inequality may happen at different levels and hierarchies.
  • Reward system for gender competence is established, e.g. promotion with increased salary or other incentives.
  • We have new ways to evaluate researcher and have thus created a faculty with more diverse members.

The participants, still inspired by the outcome of the Future Workshop session, did the final part of the Future Workshop to develop practical ideas on how to tackle the key challenges as “homework”. The CoP collected and discussed the ideas in session 3.


Session 2: Review of Effectiveness of ACT support tools and CoP methodology for institutional change


In the second consolidation workshop session, we planned to discuss the scenarios suggested by the WP3 consolidation workshop guidelines. Due to the pandemic, we agreed in the CoP not to have more meetings, so the CoP facilitator suggested a forum discussion within two weeks. This would allow all members to contribute when they have time for it, without committing to another online meeting. Additionally, it was a good opportunity to test the forum tool provided by ACT and evaluate if it supports the needs of the LifeSciCoP.

Unfortunately, the forum discussion did not take off as hoped. CoP members appreciate personal contact (even if online) and feel engaged and motivated by the presence and feedback of other members. Building relationships is one of the main tasks during the CoP design phase. Using the forum tool was a difficult compromise between acknowledging the lack of time members had due to the COVID‑19 pandemic and the need to provide feedback to ACT about the usefulness of the tool. Probably, the CoP will use the forum tool again during a later developmental phase, after the relationships, trust and expertise will have grown. Maybe it was not the right moment to test the new tool.


Session 3: Development of action plan and assignment of responsibilities


In the third session of the consolidation workshop, we used the outcome of the future workshop and the subsequently collected ideas for actions to be incorporated into the action plan. As a first step, we assigned a coordination team of two partners for each of the eight key challenges identified in the Future Workshop, who will be responsible for revising the actions suggested by the CoP members, drafting a proposal for a sub-action plan specific for their key-challenge topic, and sharing it by end of July.

The coordination teams are supposed to set priorities for actions relevant to the individual key challenges. They have suggested actions form CoP partners at hand and can also develop new ideas.


Lessons learned and future steps


Difficulties due to the pandemic such as additional caring responsibilities, adaptation to online teaching, and home schooling of children did not affect the commitment of members to the CoP. The amount of time dedicated to the project had to be reduced slightly, but good communication and adaptation to the situation allowed the CoP to advance. Developing an action plan in a co-creation process takes time and is not an easy task, but it will pay off with the engagement of all members and with their satisfaction due to the fulfilment of the set objectives.

The next steps for the LifeSciCoP are clear: finalising the action plan, launching it, and starting the implementation of actions with the focus to ensure the sustainability of the CoP after the end of the ACT project. The CoP will not stay a closed group; it will start to open up step by step, firstly, looking for external collaborations and expertise for implementing actions, and secondly, attracting additional members when the sustainability of the CoP is ensured.


18 May 2020
Virtual meeting