October 2017 newsletter – Taking the Society forward

RES Chief Executive Leighton Chipperfield discusses recent developments at the Society and plans for the future.

The last few months have seen a hive of activity as we establish the Society’s new office in Westminster. I have also enjoyed visiting institutions around the country to learn more about what you think the Society should be doing. Last month, the Society’s Executive Committee held an awayday to begin the process of reviewing the Society’s strategy; in preparation for this I held a series of discussions with our trustees and Council members. In this piece, I provide a synopsis of the key points.

1. Credibility and visibility of the discipline
The reputation of economics, and economists, emerged as an issue that the Society should seek to address proactively. There was a real consensus that the Society should act as a catalyst for closer and better engagement with the public and the media. The recent Economics Network/ING survey confirmed the public’s high level of interest in economics, and we should find ways to engage with them. Greater engagement with schools and educators was also viewed as a priority, both as a means of improving public engagement and as a strategy to improve the diversity of those entering the discipline.

Within the discipline, we want to strengthen and broaden the organisation’s links with universities, including economics groups situated within business schools. Because many of these issues relate to communications, we have established a working group to consider how we can ensure our communications activities, including our website, are fit for purpose.

2. Serving economists
Central to the Society’s work is its activities directed towards members — the RES annual conference, our journals, grant schemes, Easter training school, job market, and so on. The Executive Committee felt it important to find ways to assess the impact of these activities to ensure they are providing maximum benefit, and that they are accessible to as diverse a community as possible. Additionally, some early ideas emerged on new activities that the Society could undertake to better serve its members.

3. Professionalising the Society
The Society has a rich heritage, built on the goodwill of members who volunteer their own time to support its work. This support will continue to be vital, though we hope the new office will absorb much of the administrative burden and leave the more interesting tasks for our volunteers! Importantly, we need to consider how to ensure the Society’s governance structure – its Executive Committee, Council and Committees — represents the breadth of our membership and makes best use of its talents.

Though the Society is fortunate to have healthy reserves, we must continue to ensure its financial sustainability. Finding new sources of income in the long-run to mitigate the reliance on journal revenue will be one strategy.

4. Gender balance and diversity
The Society has an active Women’s Committee, and runs a long-established survey on the position of women in economics. But it is reasonable to say that improvements in gender balance have been slow, and there is a desire to increase activity to tackle the issue. Equally, there is a desire to look at diversity more broadly, particularly within the Society's governance structure and in its future public engagement activities.

As we consider how to put these things in practice, we will be launching a member consultation in early 2018. Please look out for it. In the meantime, please do let me have your own ideas by emailing me at l.chipperfield@res.org.uk. I look forward to hearing from you, and to meeting you at a future RES event.