As many parts of the world ready themselves for a rather different set of Christmas and New Year celebrations this year, I am taking the opportunity to introduce myself and to wish you the season’s greetings.
I was honoured to be elected as the 19th elected Chair of the Regional Studies Association at the AGM on 11th November. I would like to thank my predecessor, Mark Tewdwr Jones for his generous spirited handover to me and for offering his support as I find my feet in this new role.
Developing new strategies
This is an interesting time in which to take on responsibility for a global learned society. There is no doubt that this has been a year of challenges with the cancellation of so many meetings, the need to pivot from face-to-face to virtual conferences, and to develop new benefits for members. But this has also been a year of tremendous opportunity. The RSA Board has embraced this and the Association launched two successful webinar series – the Regions, Cities and Industry series showcasing new research and scholarly directions in the field, and, the Professional Development series aimed at early career professionals globally. The Association’s staff have adapted to home-working but have maintained that friendly and warm professionalism both within the team and externally. We have been fortunate as a community to have them working with us.
The RSA’s pandemic response also saw the launch of the new Pandemics, Regions, Cities and Industry grant scheme using money redirected from other grant schemes that work less well in a virtual world. Six projects have been funded and we expect to launch a further one or two funding rounds in 2021 using money applied for and granted from local sources to the RSA office in Sussex, UK. The RSA’s Winter Conference was transformed into a virtual RSA-Global event. This event followed the flight of a virtual balloon around the world visiting different territories starting in Australasia and flying via China, Europe, Russia, Latin America, with a final stop in North America. Organised by local communities, each series of three webinars had a very different flavour and all the sessions were well attended with lively engagement.
The role of technology
In 2020, the RSA launched the RSA Hub. This new mobile app may be downloaded from your app store (for free). RSA Hub offers new value to your membership allowing you to network with other members, access and read the five Association journals, and it will be through this platform that future RSA events are run. I do encourage you to download it and to look at its functionality to see how it can help you to work and network more effectively.
Business as usual?
During the year we published two Policy Expo books and have advertised calls on three new topics. For more information, please click here. The five RSA journals, in line with many others, saw a bulge in submissions in the early part of the year. In 2021, we will be undertaking research to try and understand the underlying patterns of submissions. Early studies suggest that those with caring responsibilities were not able to benefit from the suspension of teaching and working from home. We are keen to see if this is replicated in our journals.
Anti-social or new ways of friending?
The stay-at-home message of governments has put the brakes on physical social spaces but the RSA has tried to offer networking alternatives. The active Early Career Women’s Group meets regularly for zoom-based coffee morning discussions. The alumni of the RSA Europe Summer College also had meet-ups and we have run three online writing workshops – all of which have been oversubscribed and successful. Interestingly, COVID restrictions have given us impetus to find new ways to develop and forge relationality.
What lies in the future? It’s all about community
In the first three weeks of June 2021, the RSA will partner with Economic Geography, FinGeo, LDNet and others to host the Regions in Recovery global e-Festival. This collegiate event will bring together an inclusive and diverse community to discuss the ending of the pandemic, subsequent pressures as well as opportunities for our regions and cities. Prices for this event have been kept low because the RSA will subsidise losses. Registration fee ranges from £45 to absolutely free. You may click here to find out how to get involved by submitting special sessions, offering a paper, chairing or acting as a discussant. The conference will include a well-being strand such as yoga and mindfulness sessions. We hope that you will join us all for this ground-breaking and forward-looking festival of our research, policy and practice community.
The day to day
Through all the excitement and drama of the pandemic, the Association continues its daily business and the delectably well-attended, inaugural AGM reported that we expect to roughly break even on our finances in 2020. Membership prices have been held for 2021 at 2020 prices reflecting the Board’s recognition of the current precarious nature of many researcher careers.
But there was another momentous change at the AGM. The term of office for our President, Professor Ron Martin, came to an end. He was warmly thanked for his many years of service to the RSA by Mark and Sally, but of course we know that he remains a good friend to us. In his place Professor John Agnew, UCLA, was appointed, and I welcome him to the President role.
As always, I must not finish without thanking all those who have worked so hard for our community this year – members of the Board, the RSA Committees and those in our Territories, all our Editors, those who referee, our grant holders and those who have given up their time to talk at and attend our many events this year. I want to recognise our partners in the field both academic and professional, such as our publishers, Routledge. Finally, I want to warmly thank and congratulate the hard-working and professional RSA staff team for their stoic and effective responses to the change in our lives.
I close by wishing you all safe passage into 2021 and season’s greetings,