The Women in STEM Ambassador (WISA) is an Australian Government initiative funded by a Commonwealth Grant and hosted at the University of New South Wales. WISA aims to address gender inequities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Led by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, WISA influences and mobilises Australia’s business leaders, educators, and policymakers to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM.
Girls, women, non-binary, and other marginalised groups are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. In 2022, women comprised just 27% of the STEM workforce.
While Australia has hundreds of programs created to tackle STEM equity, there is little evidence showing that they work. It’s not because the programs are proved to be unsuccessful but because few of these programs have ever been formally evaluated to measure their success.
Evaluation of STEM equity programs is a subject of national interest with evaluation as a top priority recommendation of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan. Subsequently, the creation of an Evaluation Portal – to make evaluation easy for program leaders and to create a place to publish evaluations and learn from others – was a key action of the Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM 2020 Action Plan.
Evaluation is essential: If we are going to try to create change, then we need to know actions are working.
To achieve its goals, WISA came to NRI with requirements for a cost effective, fit for purpose portal.
After investigating a number of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms, it became clear that COTS would require significant customisation and could not handle the complexity and changeability of the application, hence it had to be a bespoke solution, built from the ground up.
At the core of the requirements was a portal dedicated to providing more than just an experience, but a tool that will assist WISA to identify and advance programs that further attract, retain, and progress underrepresented groups in STEM.
To address the requirements of the STEM Equity Evaluation Portal, NRI proposed to implement a bespoke web-based portal based on AWS and utilise the highly collaborative process of Human Centred Design. The aim was to realise the Portal requirements in a manner that avoids constraints on the end-user experience and provides a service with minimal operational impacts through leveraging existing hosting arrangements.
NRI was able to design a solution that delivered all the flexibility and decision support smarts that the tool required whilst delivering real value for money and making the solution viable for WISA. NRI and WISA worked closely together to fine-tune business processes to develop a comprehensive tool that provides a solution that satisfies the requirements by leveraging the technology in a way that required minimum technical complexity and offered flexibility for the future to evolve as legislation changes.
To deliver this solution, NRI developed an application using React JS to provide a presentation layer and utilised a responsive framework to support any device profiles as required. As the CX/UX design was a critical part of the solution, appropriate adaptive designs were addressed early on during project execution through collaboration between CX designers, developers, and WISA’s product owners.
The technical or back-end aspects of the solution were based on the use of AWS services to provide a cost effective, scalable, and robust solution. This approach had minimal vendor reliance and was selected for the best functional mix and alignment with WISA’s cloud strategy.
The Portal is a user-friendly tool that enables STEM equity program leaders to evaluate their programs. The Portal is especially unique in that it is a singular, national resource and the first of its kind available to all existing and future programs. It contains standardised and interdependent elements that users can ‘click & select’ to build an evaluation plan and report on findings. It also includes a bank of recommended tools such as surveys, tests, and other instruments that users can choose from for their evaluations.
Thanks to its ease of use, the portal has been widely adopted and endorsed by influential leaders in government, business, and community sectors. It is recommended as the evaluation tool by the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources and was promoted internationally at the United Nations International Women’s Day event on 8 March 2023.
Through its high-level endorsement and broad national and international adoption, the Portal:
- Enables project-level evaluation and demonstrates what works to attract, retain, and progress underrepresented groups in STEM.
- Supports a culture of data-driven accountability and evidence-based practice by enabling activities to be improved based on evaluation data.
- Creates consistency and comparability of evaluation data.
- Publishes and collates evaluation data in a national repository to improve awareness of existing programs and their efficacy, identify and/or address any gaps, and inform decision-making about what works and what should be scaled up and/or funded across sectors.
- Supports and incentivises collaboration between providers of programs within and across sectors to create stronger cohesion and consolidate efforts and resources.
With the portal, WISA is leading the delivery of all three strategic recommendations from the Australian Women in STEM Decadal Plan and delivering an integral part of the Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM 2020 Action Plan.
Since our journey together began in April (2022), the NRI Team have worked extremely hard on this project. They embedded me into the development from the beginning and I appreciate their constant professionalism, proactive nature, and patience. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to our ongoing relationship on this and other Women in STEM Ambassador projects.”