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What is the place of the scientific society in the 21st century?

potter75.jpg December 2011

Last week scientific society presidents, executive directors, and other officers came together to discuss this pressing question: How can scientific societies adapt and thrive given the sociological, technological, and cultural changes that are shifting the role that these societies play today? The event, hosted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, included thought provoking presentations by Race for Relevance author Mary Byers, nonprofit consultant Richard Brewster, and science sociologist Ed Hackett. These speakers shared their expertise and engaged the participants in a dialogue about:

  • The common set of industry specific challenges that all professional sectors are facing and how they need to respond. The scholarly and professional societies that serve biology are not immune to those issues.
  • Long term organizational sustainability and how it involves more than maintaining the status quo. There are six parts to the puzzle of organizational sustainability including measurable success, ability to adapt and respond, and others.
  • How scientific societies evolved to their current role over hundreds of years, and how that informs our conversations about what their role is today. Have we crossed the threshold of societal change that requires us to "re-vision" the very role these organizations serve, breaking the patterns of habit and seeking answers to the hard questions about what these organizations need to achieve in behalf of society and professionals.

The topics resonated with the society leaders present, who represented 22 scientific societies. These individuals were grateful to probe these issues with like minded peers and to begin a dialog about how we can move forward building on one anothers knowledge and experiences. Many topics were identified for further exploration including how the transitional nature of society leadership limits forward movement, how to rethink member services, ways to increase participation of early career scientists, and how to ensure programs are achieving their intended impact. AIBS will continue to explore these topics through community dialogs and provide data from current research that will inform the conversations.

For those of you who would like to learn more, we have put all the speakers slides and audio recordings of the presentations on the AIBS Web site. We invite you to download them and listen to the day's conversations. If you have ideas, questions, thoughts, or would like to be engaged in follow-up conversations, please let us know!

It is incredibly important that as a community we respond to these changes strategically so that we can continue to fulfill the important function and role that scientific societies serve for the science we advance.

Sheri Potter is the Business and Programs Development Manager for AIBS. To contact her, please email her at: spot...@aibs.org

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