The Importance of IDEA in Planetary Science

IDEA In ActionAs you read this, think about who is in your organization, your department, and those who you closely collaborate with. Then ask yourself who is missing from the conversation and who are you listening to? Are you thinking about and acknowledging the hardships faced by different people in your group, and are you working with them to include them in your work?

For decades, sociologists have advised businesses that diverse and inclusive teams lead to innovative work and increased creativity. Studies have shown that a randomly selected group of problem-solvers often outperforms groups only composed of those identified as the “best” in the field. For these reasons, to advance planetary science and astrobiology, the community should embrace the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). But more importantly, beyond wanting to drive scientific progress, IDEA principles are a social imperative. The fair, just, and impartial treatment of all people is a hallmark of an ethical community.

Over the past few years, several resources have been made available that we can leverage to make progress towards a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible community. For the first time, the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey requested white papers on the state of the profession from the community and included those findings and recommendations in the survey report. Beyond the decadal survey, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report providing guidance on “Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Leadership of Competed Space Missions.” Recently, the LPI hosted the Advancing IDEA in Planetary Science conference, which facilitated discussions on ongoing and needed initiatives in the community and provided tangible recommendations in the conference Consensus Report. NASA has also released an Equity Action Plan and a policy statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. Acknowledging the severe underrepresentation of Black and Latinx researchers in planetary science, the LPI’s Planetary ReaCH program, funded by the NASA Science Activation Program, is hosting workshops on Culturally Inclusive Planetary Engagement to provide actionable strategies so that scientists can build authentic partnerships with Black and Latinx audiences.

Learning from these resources can help us all be better allies. We can also take another step by advocating for the recommendations in some of these reports and supporting, participating, and learning from IDEA groups. For example, the Cross-AG IDEA Working Group develops and disseminates resources, findings, and other recommendations associated with IDEA matters for the NASA Assessment/Analysis Groups (AGs). There are also several advocacy groups centering on historically excluded people, such as the Planetary Scientists of Color (PSoC), Women in Planetary Science (WiPS), Queers in Planetary Science (QuiPS), and Disabled for Accessibility in Space (DAIS). A simple, daily task we can all do is to ask ourselves questions, such as those posed at the beginning of this article, to reflect on our actions and improve how we interact with others.

Planetary science and astrobiology are inspirational endeavors that bring awe and wonder to many. As the people leading the discoveries in the field, we are its representatives, which carries with it a responsibility to demonstrate principled work. To quote directly from the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey, “NASA’s aspirational nature, built on the idea of limitless exploration, provides a fitting backdrop to develop initiatives that will seek solutions to the issues that concern the state of the profession.” Advancing an entire field can seem daunting, but we are the community that launched missions to explore the outermost edges of the solar system and learned to overcome extreme environments just for a glimpse of what lies beyond Earth. If each of us takes a step forward, we can take giant leaps together!