The EDI cube: A tool for project design, evaluation and teaching

Home > Supporting research > Equality, diversity and inclusion > The EDI cube: A tool for project design, evaluation and teaching

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is an important determinant of who does what work, and how. Our tool helps you to open up conversations with your peers.


Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is not merely an administrative, human resources or moral concern. It is a fundamentally important determinant of who does what work, and how. Thought of in this way, it is a tool for making our research better quality, more relevant and likely to have greater impact. It can help us find new research gaps and improve the questions we ask. Increasingly, taking it into account is also a significant requirement from funders. However, some people find it baffling or do not know how to relate it to their work. There’s also a lot of ‘EDI-washing’ around.

It therefore felt useful to design a tool, based on a simple graphic, to draw together some of the concepts and reduce the complexity of the issues, at least as a way to get started. This tool will not answer all the questions you have – that is the job of your research and is the process of a lifetime of self-awareness, reflection and engagement with your wider community. It will, however, offer a flexible introduction and a way to open up conversations with your peers.

The EDI Cube tool

The EDI Cube combines  concepts by means of a simple graphic, a device that helps draw together the different ways of approaching EDI and, hopefully, highlights the fact that they often interact with each other. This tool briefly introduces the graphic, explains each of the concepts involved and points to some further resources.

Introducing the concepts

You will notice that the graphic has three components: EDI, the protected characteristics and the three Ps, each of which approaches the issues from a slightly different perspective. This section will take you through each component and provide an introductory overview to help you consider EDI more fully in all aspects of your work. It is worth noting, however, that this is a rapidly changing field and so staying informed about how these issues evolve in relation to your work remains important.

Figure 1: The EDI Cube. The top face is about people, process and project and divided into three sections called What do we do? How do we do things? And who is involved? The second face is divided into three sections called Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The third face shows the nine protected characteristics described in the Equality Act of 2010: Age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

What are E, D and I?

EDI is used as an abbreviation for Equity (sometimes Equality), Diversity and Inclusion. Other acronyms are also used and other concepts may be included but, basically, EDI concerns itself with involving a wider range of people, though better processes, in work that has benefits for more people within our research communities and across society.

E is for Equality or Equity: These are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. Equality means that everyone gets the same opportunity in the same way, and equity means that opportunities are shaped to fit with the needs of individual. In other words, equality is about the availability, and equity is about the accessibility, of opportunity. The picture on the left is equality – everyone is treated in the same way but, as you can see, they do not get the same benefit. The picture on the right is equity – people are treated differently, according to their needs, in order to be able to access the opportunity in the same way. You might like to refer to a case study: What does ‘equity’ really mean to effective DEI?Opens in a new tab to think about the differences in more detail.

Figure 2: A man, woman and a child are trying to see the view beyond a wall. Equality: The man can see over the wall, the woman and child cannot. Equity: The woman and child are standing on boxes to allow them to see over the wall.

D is for Diversity: Diversity is about differences, visible and invisible, in colour, ethnicity, class, caste, abilities, age, gender, beliefs, interests, socioeconomic, marital or partnership status, sexual orientation, geographic, academic/professional backgrounds, opinions, thinking, experiences and many other characteristics. Diversity means that everyone should be recognised, respected, valued, promoted and celebrated, whether or not their differences are protected by law. Research showsOpens in a new tab that diverse workforces are beneficial for decision making, innovation and problem solving, as well as economic performance, as people bring a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences and networks with them.

Respecting diversity is about more than tolerance; having a diverse workforce is not enough. People need to feel empowered, have a sense of belonging, and feel safe to contribute their ideas and viewpoints to achieve their full potential. Creating respectful work environments is down to everyone in the team and includes safeguarding; considering working conditions (including flexible and part-time working, as well as the office environment); thinking about institutional procedures (such as funding, recruitment, promotion and dealing with bullying and harassment); ensuring team processes are compatible with the diverse needs of the team (for example, how and when meetings are held, how leave is managed and how work is allocated); and making sure diversity is part of the way the organisation presents itself to the world (in terms of things like communications, language, how opportunities are offered, and how money is spent).

An increasingly recognised area of diversity is neurodiversity, which refers to the natural range of differences in human brain function. The term can be used to describe alternative thinking styles including dyslexia, autism and ADHD. The Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) has a Neurodiversity podcastOpens in a new tab which may be worth a listen.

I is for Inclusion: Inclusion is about a sense of belonging, helping people to thrive at work and feel safe to contribute fully. In an ideal world, inclusion means tackling systemic inequality and creating systems that work for everybody, without the need for additional provisions, as seen in the picture below. For example, we might build buildings or carparks that are fully accessible for everyone rather than adding accessibility features for some people to use, or create menus that most people could eat rather than requiring everyone to have ‘labels’ for their food. Developing an inclusive workplace culture (Green and Young, 2019) means having fair policies and practices that allow a diverse range of people to work together. This involves taking positive action, including measures under the Equality Act 2010 to address past, present and potential discrimination and barriers.

There is a moral case for building fairer and more inclusive institutions but it also has economic advantages, with a potential contribution of £24 billion to the economy (BEIS, 2017). Standards, such as the BSI and ISO human resource management suite, Investors in People (IiP) and Athena Swan provide frameworks within which to make some of these changes. To get you started at a very simple level, here are ten inclusive actions you can takeOpens in a new tab (Maitland and Steel, 2020).

Figure 3: A man, woman and a child are trying to see the view beyond a wall. Equality: The man can see over the wall, the woman and child cannot. Equity: The woman and child are standing on boxes to allow them to see over the wall. For Inclusion, the wall has been replaced with a wire fence, so everyone can see the view.

Remember that effective EDI, even at the project level, is not just about legal compliance and seeks to take an intersectional approach. At an organisational level, if you have such influence, it can add value and should contribute to the wellbeing and equality of outcomes and impact on all employees.

What are the protected characteristics?

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 provides legal protection for nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains the protected characteristicsOpens in a new tab in more detail. This site includes a great deal of support material to help people understand the Equality Act and its operation. Naturally the devil is in the detail in how enforcing the protected characteristics play out in caselaw.

The term ‘intersectionality’ has its roots in black, feminist activism, and was originally coined by American critical legal race scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. The concept claims that people have multiple, overlapping identities that impact on their experience, including multiple axes of discrimination and disadvantage (or advantage). In addition to the protected characteristics, class, caste, socio-economic status, and educational attainment (including the level of education achieved by your parents) are all vital factors in determining a person’s life chances and all play an important role in how people experience the world.

It is therefore important to recognise that a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to managing people does not achieve fairness and equality of opportunity and outcomes for everyone. People have different personal needs, values and beliefs and these should be respected and accommodated whether or not they are a legally protected characteristic. Good people management practice needs to be consistently fair but also flexible and inclusive to support both individual and organisational needs.

An appreciation of intersectionality underpins the notion of structural inequality. People are shaped by their simultaneous membership of multiple, interconnected social categories, and these occur within a context of connected and unequal systems and structures of power (e.g. laws, policies, governments). Structural inequality is the outcome of the interaction between social categories, power relations and contexts. It is important to note that it is the interaction or “intersection” of two or more characteristics with power dynamics within a given context that gives rise to inequality, not just the presence of intersecting characteristics on their own.

Figure 4: Membership of multiple interconnected social categories plus connected systems and structures of power equals structural inequality. Image adapted from the Scottish GovernmentOpens in a new tab

People, process, projects / programmes (who, how, what?)

Another, perhaps more systemic, way of thinking about EDI is to think of it as three intersecting, systemic layers (The Three Ps) [1]:

  • People: Who are the people who do the work? In terms of funding, research, publishing, teaching, and professional services, who is included or excluded, how work is distributed across education and career stages, and how do different people experience the energy research environment? This includes recruitment and promotion and is therefore sometimes thought of as the remit of HR departments but these processes can be influenced by interested researchers. However, this P is also about who we engage with in our research – which communities we include, which stakeholders we involve, and so on. Where our immediate research environments lack diversity, this is one way of broadening them out.
  • Processes: How are things done? What processes, structures, contexts and practices constrain or support EDI (e.g. how research and teaching is undertaken; how funding decisions are made; how disciplines and stakeholders interact; how departments, programmes and meetings are run). Again, some of this is seen as the remit of institutions but researchers control or can influence many processes, for example, by running inclusive meetings, setting up diversified spaces for our research, engaging in non-extractive forms of data collection, undertaking research that has an impact on the circumstances of those involved, etc. It is also worth reflecting on the processes and systems to which we are subject as researchers, and feeding back to those running these, who may not have considered them from all perspectives.
  • Projects / programmes: What is the focus of work; what is being researched or taught (e.g. the content of the work; research focus and questions; what data is collected/ not and reported/not; what methods and theoretical frameworks are used). This is where EDI really comes to life for researchers. For example, thinking about how any, or a combination, of protected characteristics interact with your research specialty may reveal hitherto uninvestigated areas and open up large research gaps. Alternatively, thinking deeply about how equity, diversity or inclusion might manifest in your research, or what it would look like if one of them interacted with one of the protected characteristics, could also reveal new research gaps. Similarly, taking an EDI-informed approach to our methodologies, data collection, writing up and publishing may open up new ways of thinking about how we conduct our work.

There is a chicken and egg question around EDI – does diversity in people and processes result from or cause diversity in the work we do? The answer is, both. In the end, systemic changes are required, both in terms of how we utilise energy and how we research it, and so we need to tackle the challenge from both ends.

The cost of getting it wrong

While it is appropriate to focus on the many and obvious benefits of EDI, it is worth taking a moment to consider the consequences of not taking it seriously. Discrimination can:

  • impact an individual’s wellbeing and performance, and may lead to them leaving their job.
  • adversely affect employment opportunities.
  • lead to a lack of appreciation of the skills, abilities, potential and experience of those in your team.
  • result in significant legal costs, compensation and settlements paid to avoid defending expensive discrimination claims.

The main thing in thinking about these issues is to be self-aware and take responsibility for your own learning. This is a journey we are all taking together.

How to use the EDI Cube

The EDI Cube can be used in three ways: as an aid to teaching/ awareness raising in a workshop session, as a prompt during bid writing, and as a project evaluation tool. Here, we focus on the first two of these.

Using the EDI Cube in an awareness-raising workshop/ for teaching

This tool has been delivered in several summer schools and MSc classes to help people think about EDI issues and how they intersect with energy demand. The sessions can be any length but tend to be around 60-90 minutes to allow time for peer discussion and reflection.

Please reference this work as: Higginson, S. (2023) The EDI Cube: A tool for project design, evaluation and teaching, Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), University of Oxford.

The Powerpoint will help you introduce the cube and the concepts discussed above. It also includes a case study for people to work though, to help them practice using the cube in a ‘live’ context. If there is time, you can also give them the opportunity to think about their own work in relation to the cube. This works really well if you have a whole project team in the room, and they can all think about the same project.

Using the EDI Cube as a prompt during bid writing

As outlined above, using the cube to think through different combinations suggested by the three faces of the cube helps people look at things from a new angle, so inspiring the creative process and, possibly, identifying interesting new research gaps, even more so if this is done by a group. Again, this could be done in a workshop format. Below, is a list of some things to think about, stimulated by the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s (NIHR) very helpful tool to help youOpens in a new tab think through how to approach EDI in your proposal or project design.

The tool is divided into eight aspects of the research process, each with questions, additional information and case studies. Their questions are reproduced here and will help you think deeply about EDI in your work:

Research team

  • How diverse is your research team?
  • How culturally competent is your research team?
  • What difference has incorporating diverse perspectives and lived experiences made to your research design?

Historical context and structural inequality

  • Has previous research excluded certain populations?
  • What historic and structural issues might affect how under-represented groups feel about research participation or involvement?
  • How will you navigate these issues?

Selection of participants, sites and samples

  • How generalisable is your sample?
  • Has geographical need informed your choice of site(s)?
  • Are you excluding anyone, if so is this justified?
  • How is data on equality, diversity and inclusion collected?

Budgeting for inclusion

  • What additional costs need to be factored in when designing inclusive research?
  • How might embedding equality, diversity and inclusion extend the timelines of your research?
  • Are there steps that researchers can take to reduce costs?

Public involvement

  • How aware are you of equality, diversity and inclusion issues in public involvement?
  • How will your public involvement strategy enable you to recruit and retain diverse public contributors?
  • How will you support and empower your diverse public involvement group?

Data collection

  • How equitable is your data collection strategy?
  • Do your methods address participants’ protected characteristics, circumstances and needs?
  • What additional steps will you take to be inclusive of ‘seldom heard’ or marginalised groups?

Data analysis and presentation

  • How will you analyse and report equality, diversity and inclusion characteristics?
  • Have diverse perspectives been incorporated to support the interpretation of results?
  • How will you describe participants’ equality, diversity and inclusion characteristics?

Dissemination, implementation and impact

  • Will findings be disseminated via accessible and inclusive formats and channels?
  • How will this research be taken forward to benefit all service users across all settings?
  • Will the most in need be impacted by your research?

Other resources

Although we have called it the EDI cube, we recognise that some people find the cube a bit overwhelming, and so we also provide a couple of alternative graphics in the form of cogs and links. Either way, the concepts are combined by means of a simple graphic, a device that helps draw together the different ways of approaching EDI and, hopefully, highlights the fact that they often interact with each other.

If you find the Cube graphic unappealing, we developed two other options using cogs and chain links as visuals to demonstrate the connections.

Figure 5: Alternative graphics featuring chain links or cogs.

There are many tools available. For example, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has an EDI resources pageOpens in a new tab, which is worth consulting if applying for funding. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Science and Health (EDIS) also has practical tools and guidanceOpens in a new tab.

Short articles/ videos



Examples of how this might be included into academic work on energy

These papers show what is possible when we integrate EDI into our work:


  1. Although it has changed, this framing was originally developed in collaboration with ENREDI colleagues (an unfortunately unsuccessful EDI EPSRC Network+ grant proposal), Karen Bickerstaff, Sarah Higginson, Gesche Huebner, Tom Hargreaves, Kirsten Jenkins, Mari Martiskainen, Tedd Mose, Gbemi Oluleye and Sara Walker.

Banner photo credit: Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern. Photo: Steph Ferguson