Aspire's Theory of Change
The NSF INCLUDES Aspire Alliance (Aspire) Theory of Change articulates our NSF INCLUDES Alliance vision to build a national network with a systemic approach. The theory of change graphic shows that the Aspire Alliance will accomplish its outcomes and vision by working at both individual (attitudes, beliefs, individual practices) and organizational (policies, procedures, and cultures) levels. The Alliance collaborates with faculty, future faculty, and faculty influencers in a shared leadership model to advance broadening participation. The ultimate vision is to have an inclusive and diverse STEM faculty who thrive within inclusive organizations.
We describe our revised theory in three major components leading to our vision of an inclusive and diverse STEM faculty:
Necessary Conditions for Change
Strategies for Systems Change, and,
The Work We Do to Achieve the Outcomes
Necessary Conditions for Change Synergistic Individual and Organizational-Level Change
Aspire’s implementation of individual-level change strategies help shift individual mental models and practices with an explicit or implicit focus to improve organizational conditions. Individual-level work targets URG and ally faculty, administrators, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and professional society leaders. As an example, Aspire works with disciplinary societies to provide faculty professional development on the Inclusive Professional Framework (IPF) and provides mentored experiences at community colleges for graduate students. Similarly, Aspire implements strategies at the organizational-level that improve organizational and institutional cultures. Organizational-level work is focused on 2- and 4-year institutions, professional societies, and national partner organizations. For example, Aspire is working with institutions in the Institutional Change Network to advance policies and practices that result in more inclusive and diverse institutional cultures.
The individual level and organizational level strategies interact to support one another, and both are necessary in order to create transformative systems change.
Collaborative Infrastructure with Shared Leadership
Aspire uses the elements of collaborative infrastructure as described in the NSF Collaborative Framework (shared vision, partnerships, goals & metrics, leadership, expansion, sustainability & scale) to accomplish its intended impacts. Building off of a shared vision with multiple partners, the Alliance fundamentally relies on the collaboration of embedded stakeholders in a distributed leadership model to set shared goals. While this collaboration targets individual and organizational change at institutions, the shared leadership collaboration extends to build a diverse ecosystem of alliance partners who are necessary for larger, systemic change in higher education. This ecosystem of partners supports Aspire’s expansion, sustainability, and scaling.
Engagement of current & aspiring URG and Ally faculty stakeholders
The Aspire Alliance engages current and aspiring faculty as change leaders. Faculty influencers, such as provosts, deans, department chairs, professional/disciplinary society partners, and counterspace participants are also engaged to help pave the way for change leaders and to advance institutional practice and culture change.
Aspire seeks to engage, support, and transform aspiring faculty, current faculty, and faculty influencers, both URG and ally, in their awareness, skills, and actions
Strategies for Systems Change Develop & deliver professional development & resources
Aspire provides professional development for current and future faculty to develop skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy to implement inclusive practices across their teaching, mentoring, advising, colleagueship, and leadership roles. By expanding and strengthening their equity mindset, future and current faculty are better equipped to support success in a diverse student population in both 2-year and 4-year institutions.
Our activities include mentored teaching practicum, Aspire Summer Institute, leadership training with IAspire, Equity in Action online professional development series, mentoring leadership workshops, professional development events, disciplinary society conference workshops, professional society workshops, URG support through IThrive, published articles and Information resources on our website.
Facilitate institutional & organizational culture change
Aspire supports equity-based organizational change across the academic ecosystem. This includes working with faculty, faculty developers, and institutional administration, as well as the disciplinary organizations and professional societies that can have significant influence on faculty and academic culture. In this way, institutional and individual change is reinforced, leading to more durable and transformational organizational change. As academic STEM environments become more equitable and inclusive at all levels, underrepresented groups are better recruited, retained, represented, and supported for success.
Our activities include 2-year college faculty pathway, institutional action plans, institutional self-assessments, disciplinary society convenings, disciplinary society conference workshops, professional society conference workshops, equity-based training & consultation for centers for teaching and learning.
Build diverse ecosystem of partnerships
Partnership engagement and the onboarding of new partners are important elements for Aspire’s future expansion, sustainability, and impact. Aspire works collaboratively with our partners to connect to networks of STEM faculty leaders within their disciplinary context, and several of our partners are within disciplinary societies or organizations that offer symposia and/or conferences for STEM Faculty. Our National Change and Backbone initiatives work together to track and develop new relationships that will enable us to have an impact on the conversations about teaching, research mentoring and advising that take place within disciplines. IChange seeks out partners that can expand institutional leaders’ learning about promising and effective change leadership strategies, and we work with 2-year institutions via regional partnerships between 2 and 4-year institutions to diversify the future 2-year faculty. This diversity of partnerships allows us to impact the ecosystem of higher education.
Our activities include IPF for Disciplinary and Professional societies, 2- & 4-year institutional change teams, partnerships with institutions in NSF’s ADVANCE program.
Conduct and share research
Through our social science research, we learn about IChange’s institutional leaders and leadership culture, Aspire’s collaborative infrastructure and its impact on Aspire efforts, and Aspire’s leadership structure and practices so that we can contribute to the broadening participation literature and knowledge.
Study 1: How a select group of research universities involved in Aspire’s IChange work leverage this connection to advance diversity, inclusivity, and equity in STEM spaces. From the lessons of this study, we hope to better support campus leaders and “change makers” to identify and use effective methods and mechanisms for fostering equity amongst STEM departments and faculties.
Study 2: An examination of collaborative dynamics within the Alliance and its effect on collective impact efforts of Aspire members.
Leadership Paper: To document and provide lessons learned regarding the challenges and opportunities of an INCLUDES Alliance’s leadership system and its evolution.
The Work We Do to Achieve the Outcomes
The necessary conditions for change and strategies for system change are designed to improve awareness, learning, skills, practices/policies, and culture change in order to achieve Aspire’s broadening participation outcomes. These outcomes are directly related to each of our Aspire Goals:
Inclusive STEM faculty in teaching, mentoring, and advising (Outcome for Goal 1)
The underlying process and assumptions to achieve this outcome include the following:
Training for existing and current STEM faculty helps people to turn their learning/awareness into an equity mindset that supports broad action.
When faculty then change their behaviors/actions in concert with institutional structural and policy changes, a more durable and transformational institutional change can occur.
Faculty share their learning with colleagues, departments, and institutions locally and nationally to broaden the reach and impact of Aspire’s work
As a result of many individuals shifting their equity mindsets and practices, in concert with organizational change of policies and practices, classrooms, labs, departments, colleges, and institutions are slowly transformed.
Thus, for this strategy, the work happens primarily at the individual level, but the end result is more inclusive environments that are transformed through individual and collective action.
Organizational transformation of faculty-related practices, policies, and resources and Diversification of faculty through improved recruitment, hiring, and retention (Outcome for Goal 2)
The assumptions and processes for 4-year and 2-year schools are slightly different in how they are approached by Aspire, so these are delineated separately below.
Our assumptions and underlying process for diversifying the 4-year faculty
Institutional representatives conduct self-assessments and create action plans.
Institutions and institutional representatives learn from Aspire, from a national cohort and other network members, and from partners about effective recruitment, hiring, and retention practices for URG STEM faculty.
Institutional representatives then advocate for the implementation of new practices, or revisions or retirement of old practices on their own campuses.
Departments/institutions make changes to practices, policies, processes, and resource allocations.
Departments/institutions have greater success in recruiting, hiring, and retaining URG STEM faculty.
STEM faculty is more diverse
Our assumptions and underlying process for diversifying the 2-year faculty
2-year and 4-year schools partner in regional collaboratives to create pathways into teaching at community colleges for 4-year MS or PhD graduate students from 4-year institutions.
Graduate students are supported in learning about 2-year colleges through informational events. They participate in a multi-month long practicum experience, in which they are partnered with a 2-year college faculty mentor, helping to clarify their decision and also making them stronger applicants for competitive full-time positions. They also learn inclusive pedagogy skills and interact closely with community college students through this practicum.
2-year college departments/institutions have greater success in recruiting, hiring, and retaining URG STEM faculty.
In the future, institutional representatives of 2-year institutions conduct a self-assessment and create action plans to make changes to practices, policies, and resource allocations.
STEM faculty is more diverse.
Equity embedded into faculty cultures (Outcome for Goal 3)
The underlying process and assumptions for this work related to Goal 3 include the following:
Durable changes in faculty cultures require simultaneous changes at the organizational structural (e.g., rhetoric, policy, resources, and accountability) and individual levels.
Faculty culture is impacted by a broad academic ecosystem of students, faculty, colleagues, administrators, research & literature, and professional and disciplinary societies.
Organizations support equity-focused cultures by aligning incentive, reward, and budget structures to prioritize inclusivity as a core value in organizational decision-making.
Organizations that center equity in core decision-making activities are better prepared to support individual equity decisions and actions, and to reinforce equity-focused activities as essential to operations and mission.
Organizations can also enhance equitable cultures by centering the voices and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and other minoritized faculty and students in organizational planning and visioning.
Individuals overcome multiple barriers to behavior change that are both personal and institutional.
Individuals’ behavior changes to be more inclusive and equitable must also be reinforced by the broader academic ecosystem.
Individuals can develop an equity mindset that allows them to implement inclusive practices in their many professional roles and contribute to building an inclusive culture. (Goal 1 feeds this)
Individuals engaged in deepening their equity mindset become champions and advocates with colleagues, departments, and institutions for policies, practices, and processes to be more equitable and inclusive.
Greater inclusion leads to greater diversity amongst STEM faculty due to improved faculty recruitment, retention, representation, and success.
Collaborative infrastructure focuses on equitable, inclusive shared leadership (Goal 4)
Aspire realized that the traditional and hierarchical structure of NSF-funded projects was inappropriate for our work. Therefore, we follow a shared systems leadership model that requires that individuals collectively engage in organizational planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. In the context of Aspire, shared leadership requires individuals to foreground inclusivity and equity. A shared leadership model also requires shifts not only in one’s approach to leadership but also in the distribution of responsibilities and decision-making power over that work. This works in practice by having all of our decision-making and informational sessions open to Aspire members, engaging taskforces and committees to provide recommendations at these meetings, and following a consensus-oriented decision-making process.