Background

The Prime Minister’s Awards for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievement in scientific research, research-based innovation and excellence in science education. The awards recognize the achievements and success of Australian scientists and innovators, as well as the essential role that science educators play in inspiring and encouraging students to be interested in science and to consider science as a career. To ensure that the awards truly reward the most deserving nominees, it is important that the nomination and selection processes reflect the diversity of the recognized communities. This includes ensuring that communities are empowered to identify and nominate diverse candidates, and that selection processes are aligned with the latest best practices.

Implicit bias

The diversity of recognition recipients demonstrates a commitment to fairness, and most selection committees strive to be fair in selecting recipients. However, studies have shown that unconscious beliefs or assumptions – the phenomenon known as “implicit bias” – can unintentionally influence judgment. [1].

Research has shown that women do not receive academic recognition (rewards and prizes for research) at a rate commensurate with their number in a discipline, or in line with the percentage of nominations [2]. Although many factors likely contribute to this result, research shows that implicit bias is the most important factor. [3]. The following guidelines are intended to reduce subjectivity and minimize implicit bias in the nomination and review process for the Prime Minister’s Awards for Science and Science Education.

Committee members are expected to review this briefing document and other training resources provided by our Dealing with Implicit Bias department annually before considering nominations.

Composition of the prize committees

Several recent studies demonstrate that more diverse groups with a wider range of perspectives make better decisions [4]. Additionally, various committees provide access to a wider set of networks to cultivate nominations. The Department will continue to ensure that Prime Minister’s Awards Committees are gender balanced in line with the Government’s Board of Directors’ 40/40/20 diversity targets, and encourage diversity in other aspects of committees. All committee members are expected to champion diversity, as diversity is not just the responsibility of committee members from underrepresented groups.

Encourage applications

Promote a large and diverse pool of candidates

Recipients of the Prime Minister’s Award are chosen based on the selection criteria set out in the program guidelines. It is therefore essential that the candidate pool contains as many eligible candidates as possible. The department will widely promote the criteria and dates of the nomination period on multiple media channels, including social media and departmental websites. In particular, the department will promote the awards directly to underrepresented groups and their associations using these methods and via email.

Periodic review of eligibility criteria

The ministry will review the eligibility guidelines annually to ensure they remain current and, where possible, remove barriers to miscellaneous appointments. This includes reviewing the language used in the guidelines and requirements of each individual award against best practice.

Publicize award criteria and deadlines widely

The department will draw up an annual communication plan aimed at raising awareness of the prizes among the community in general and the scientific sector. This has the added benefit of increasing interest in the awards and making the selection process more transparent and inclusive.

Selection of winners

The following guiding principles apply to the Prime Minister’s Awards for Science and Science Education Committees to reduce the effects of implicit bias in the selection of recipients.

Discuss process and criteria before reviewing applications

Make sure your list of priority attributes matches the eligibility criteria for the award. Research has shown that implicit bias can enter through an inadvertent “change of criteria” after candidates have been discussed.

List your personal top nominees before hearing recommendations from others

This can help mitigate a member’s undue influence and ensure that the committee’s list of viable candidates will be as long as possible. Take the time to carefully review each application and select candidates for consideration because they meet the merit criteria, rather than finding reasons to eliminate candidates. Committee members will provide the scores and ranking of nominees to the Awards Secretariat prior to committee meetings and before discussions take place.

Ensure that the voice of each committee member is heard

Allow plenty of time to make a decision and moderate selection discussions to include all members. Studies show that implicit biases are reduced when committees have time to reflect and discuss.

Avoid perceived and actual conflicts of interest

Committee members should clarify any connection to a person being considered for an award so that the committee can make a decision about their participation in further discussions.

If a committee member is nominated for an award, they must step down from the committee if they wish to pursue the nomination.

A member of the Awards Committees may find themselves in a potential conflict of interest situation with respect to a particular nominee, due to an existing or prior relationship with the nominee of a professional or personal nature; in such a situation, the member should disclose the nature of the potential conflict of interest to the committee chair as soon as possible and the committee chair should then consult with the program delegate on how to proceed.

Footnotes