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The changer and the changed: Evolving theories and practices of change in ADVANCE calls for institutional transformation

Sandra L. Laursen (Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA)
Kristine De Welde (Departments of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 26 February 2019

Issue publication date: 26 February 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the evolving theories of change of the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ADVANCE program to increase the representation of women on academic faculties in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). ADVANCE supports efforts to transform the cultures and structures of US institutions of higher education by removing gendered barriers to STEM faculty women’s employment, advancement and success, and by developing change strategies that others may adopt.


The empirical study is based on qualitative, longitudinal analysis of nine requests for proposals (RfPs) for the ADVANCE program (2001–2016), complemented by historical analysis of funded ADVANCE projects using public records.


The analysis identifies changes over time that suggest shifts in NSF’s rationale and theory of change for ADVANCE. Increased guidance directs how institutions should best undertake change, document outcomes and share best practices. The RfPs reveal growing attention to equity, rather than simply to representation, and to intersectionality – how gender, race, social class and other identities intersect to produce disparate experiences and outcomes for individuals differently positioned in social systems. Gendered organizations theory helps to place these experiences and outcomes in a structural context. Iterative processes of organizational learning are postulated to account for these changes over time.


While many studies have examined ADVANCE projects’ activities and outcomes, none have examined the premises and design of the ADVANCE program itself. This analysis offers insight into how the ADVANCE RfP has driven innovation and learning about transformative institutional change to advance gender equity in STEM.



This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation through Award No. HRD-0930097. The authors are grateful to colleagues throughout the ADVANCE community for insight and conversation over many years.


Laursen, S.L. and De Welde, K. (2019), "The changer and the changed: Evolving theories and practices of change in ADVANCE calls for institutional transformation", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 140-159.



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