Planning in a Pandemic
In February 1994, as newly elected Chair of the RSA Board, Professor Mark Hart (Aston University) introduced the principle of development planning. Since then, the Association has had six Development Plans.
These documents are important to us. They set the direction of travel for both the Board and importantly for the staff team, but currently we are actually, for maybe the first time since our early days of planning, without a written plan. How has this happened?
It is not a secret that learned societies globally, but more particularly in Europe, are facing pressures on their business model. At the time that we should have been writing our new Development Plan the challenges for the RSA were:
- VAT related challenges to an international conference programme
- A shift in publishing paradigm from a subscriptions model to an open access model
- Brexit (now resolved)
Now of course we can add a fourth …
Covid has impacted every area of the Association’s business, but most directly it has seen us adapt our face to face meeting programme to online webinars, and now in April 2021 it still remains far from clear when larger in-person meetings and international conferences will be able to safely restart. We have published two blogs in March addressing just this issue – go to RSA and post-pandemic “new normal” for conferences Part 1 and Part 2 for more information.
In a system with so many moving parts is it going to be possible to publish the new Development Plan in 2021? We think so. Writing has started, based on almost three years of thinking, strategizing and calculating. We know that the future is very uncertain but there are also a number of opportunities for us. The existential threat remains open access and the security of quality and income from our five international journals. We know that European VAT will continue to put our current conference model under pressure. We can see that Covid is far from over at the global level and the much repeated phrase “no one is safe until we are all safe” carries more weight than ever.
In this context of Donald Rumsfelt’s fistful of known knowns, through to unknown unknowns, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns ) what we do know is that our planning needs to cover uncertainty, opportunities, risk and change. And this is what we are planning for. We are currently thinking about and inviting your views on a range of topics and questions:
- To what extent will the world turn to (and accept) open access?
- Can we sustain a hybrid model where we offer OA and sell subscriptions to geographies that still want this?
- How do we support our editors and referees at a time of unprecedented stress in higher education?
- How do we sustain the quality of journals in the face of the push to open access volume publishing?
- Do we do enough to promote the work of our authors through article level marketing – could we do more?
- How do we ensure that we remain at the forefront of best publishing practice with regards to copyright/licensing, open data, publishing ethics etc?
- How do we set ourselves up to embrace innovation in scholarly communication of all kinds, including books, blogs and grey literature?
- What will the long-term impact of Covid be on events?
- Will hybrid events become established? Pleasingly, the shift to virtual has opened the RSA door to whole new audiences and geographies.
- Will HEIs adopt more climate change-based policies on researcher travel and will the airline business quickly bounce back and offer many routes at affordable prices?
- Will vaccines help to keep Covid mutations in check allowing meetings to take place in safety?
Grant Giving –
- Do we give the most appropriate grants?
- Do we fund at appropriate and sustainable levels?
- Do we support researchers to maximise the value of their findings in terms of knowledge mobilisation?
Policy Engagement –
- Do we work most effectively in this area?
- Do we need to consider reprioritising this area of work?
- How do we further internationalise our efforts?
- Do we offer our members what they want?
- How can we better support different segments of the membership?
- Are we as well networked to our member as we’d like to be?
And this list is not inclusive- these points are exemplars of the questions we are asking ourselves as we begin putting pen to paper on the new Development Plan 2021 to 2025.
What it is important to say is that as we move forwards, we move from a position of strength. The future is full of opportunity for us, the regional issues at our core remain pertinent in all parts of the world. Our membership and the wider community are adept at levering policy change; we are both a connected and a welcoming community that crosses disciplines, career stage and geography. We have all to play for as we begin to set priorities for the next few years.
As always, once we have a draft plan, we will share it with our members. An Association is only as strong as its members are active. If you have ideas or opinions, we’d like to know them. If you’d like to be part of the planning for the next five to ten years of the Association’s life, do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.