Transforming our relationship with members: Launching Strategic Plan 2016-2020

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jean-Marc Mangin, Executive Director, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Read Strategic Plan 2016-2020.

Many in the academic community view strategic planning with some degree of skepticism. Either full of motherhood statements and/or written in bureaucratese, many critics do not observe significantly altered organizational behavior and performance from the adoption of strategic plans. The Federation has just completed the execution of its 2011-2015 strategic plan. What has changed? How did we do when compared with our goals? Pretty well, I would venture to say: out of 17 strategic goals, the key operational objectives have been reached for eight, significant progress has been achieved for seven others, and one goal was formally dropped by the Board in 2013. These internal findings were endorsed by a majority of our members and partners during our 2014 and 2015 consultations. Achievements in three major goal areas are summarized later in this blog.

These outcomes offer sound foundations to build upon. Nonetheless, strategic choices still need to be made and the consultation process helped the Board in finalizing our new plan. In particular, we heard that:

  • We need to pay more attention to the specific needs and challenges of the humanities, and underscoring this as a key part of our mandate and membership.
  • We need to regularly inform our members of our policy work and how this work serves our membership. 
  • Our commitment to Aboriginal reconciliation should be a cross-cutting issue across all three pillars of the new plan.

Taking this input at heart, the Board has revised our vision and mission statements and has articulated a specific goal around member engagement. By 2020, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences will have developed with member associations and institutions a more collaborative network that actively promotes the value of social sciences and humanities research and teaching as meaningful contributions to quality of life and the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society.

The 2016-2020 Strategic Plan: Looking forward

Our new plan can be summarized in three words: improved membership engagement. Building on the progress achieved from 2011-2015, we aim to transform how the Federation and its members relate to one another. From a client and service relationship, to being partners in an active and transformational network, where members participate actively to achieve our shared hopes and aspirations. This means better supporting our community of 85,000 researchers in effectively shaping and participating in public debates and, through them, demonstrating our collective contributions to the public good. It means coming to terms with our collective legacy in our relations with Indigenous peoples and shaping—together—a new and inclusive path with Aboriginal peoples in Canada that respects their distinct rights, cultures and languages and in so doing enriches society as a whole. It also means assuming a more visible—and hopefully, more influential—voice in engaging with decision-makers.  This will require that we open up Congress even further to a Canadian public interested in the world of ideas.

The new plan has fewer sub-goals: 9 (instead of 17) built around three strategic directions:

  • Increase our reach
  • Improve our relevance to our members
  • Ensure our sustainability

I invite you to read our new plan and to share it with your colleagues. The plan represents a call for action and will only become a reality through the involvement of our members.

The plan is not pie-in-the sky utopia. The last five years have demonstrated what we are capable of achieving together.

Improved communications with members

We completely redesigned and relaunched our websites, our social media platforms and our monthly Communiqué by adding substantive content based on member input, specifically in the areas of Aboriginal reconciliation and humanities and social sciences (HSS) research impact measurement. We introduced an engaging new campaign (IdeasCan..) that allows us to highlight our collective contributions to the public good. Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences continues to be our signature event—for our members and for the broader public. We have strengthened interdisciplinary programming, and made great strides in opening up Congress to the public. Challenges remain: many participants tend to go home with no further knowledge of the Federation or its other activities and it is still too difficult for participants to access the programming of other associations.

Keeping pace with the times

Since 1942, the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP) has played a vital role in the publication and dissemination of scientific works in HSS fields in Canada. A change in visual identity, a pilot project with York University and extra media relations efforts have raised the ASPP's profile. Furthermore, internal procedures have been revamped, making the program more timely and efficient.

With regard to governance, the Federation underwent important changes over the last five years. In March 2013, after an extensive consultation and study process, the Federation adopted a new structure for its Board of Directors. The old structure, based on a representative model, was large, cumbersome and expensive. The new model is leaner, and based on a search for specific skills to help the Federation more effectively fulfill its mandate. The Federation now has a much more engaged Board of Directors. Since it now seeks directors with expertise in areas related to our mission, their knowledge and networks make for a more engaged Board and allow us to engage with much greater confidence and credibility on issues relevant to our members.

Investing in partnerships that matter

Over the years, the Federation had become somewhat disproportionately focused on Congress, at the expense of our presence in Ottawa and in other public forums. This is changing. The Federation has renewed and deepened its collaboration with other likeminded organizations. That is why it maintains close relations with the Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada), Mitacs, the Royal Society of Canada and the Public Policy Forum, among others. Of course, all Federation activities and programming would be impossible without its renewed partnership with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The Federation has developed new relationships with other federally funded organizations (CIHR, Innovation Canada, CIFAR, Genome Canada, National Film Board, etc.). In recent years, it has also modestly reinvested in international partnerships, such as with the American Council of Learned Societies.

The Federation has taken steps in recent years to promote the benefits of social innovation and engaged scholarship for the common good of Canadians. Top initiatives have been the "Campus Community Collaboration Initiative," a round table at the University of Guelph in 2012, round tables in the presence of the Governor General at the 2012, 2013 and 2015 Congresses, and the holding of a Parliament Hill special event on social innovation in February 2014.

The Federation has made progress in content creation and media relations, including the launch of an active blog on the Federation website, the regular publication of op-eds in The Globe and Mail and The Hill Times, a growing social media presence and attracting national media to Congress. This type of earned media has helped the Federation establish its reputation as a credible voice in discussions that concern research, education and learning in the humanities and social sciences. Lastly, as a national voice for the humanities and social sciences community, the Federation plays a role in making representations to political bodies—through pre-budget consultation submissions, expanding eligibility for civil society organizations such as Mitacs, etc—and maintains a regular presence on Parliament Hill with its Big Thinking lecture series.

Restoring financial stability

Among the many Federation objectives, financial security may seem incidental or obvious. We make it our business to remember that it underlies the success of all our other initiatives. The Federation made enormous progress in this area in recent years, especially with the elimination of its structural deficit through regular cost reviews and more conservative budgeting. By 2015, the Federation was able to restore its reserves to pre-2008 levels and to consider modest investments in its systems, including a new database infrastructure.

Looking forward

The Federation is in a good position to make a contribution to the public good. Although the pressure on our community is real, our future is not gloom and doom.  We need to participate fully in our society, contributing imagination, ideas, empathy and understanding.  It is abundantly clear that the success of our new plan is contingent on the quality and depth of our engagement with members. Membership engagement has been embraced across the Secretariat, and we recognize that this is a two-way street. So, we appeal to you, our members: bring your ideas, bring your passion and together we will occupy that public space!


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