Ryan Watkins
Ryan Watkins
George Washington University
wesharescience pic
Source: Alex Raths / Thinkstock

You don’t have to read tea leaves to see that the knowledge that matters in the 21st century will come from across varied disciplines. It might come from mixing computer sciences and sociology, or maybe from a team of cognitive psychologists, educators, and physicists merging their newest ideas. Yet while we can readily find examples that illustrate this growing mixing of knowledge across disciplines, we don’t know exactly what combinations will generate the next biggest discoveries. So we have to build broad foundations that can help ideas flow across many different disciplines.


But breaking through the silos of traditional disciplines can be challenging. From university department structures and tenure processes, to how most grant proposals are written and reviewed, the academic and research cultures today largely remain firmly grounded within the boundaries of disciplines. Likewise, publishing has traditionally supported these structures since disciplines provide easily targeted markets for books, journals, and even new media products.


Along comes social media. Social media platforms offer new tools and opportunities for supporting the sharing of knowledge. One example, WeShareScience.com is a new platform launched this spring for searching, sharing, or discussing research across multiple disciplines. Building on the popular and user-friendly format of Pinterest (now the third most popular social network), WeShareScience makes it easy for researchers and others to share ideas across disciplines through abstracts, pictures, and videos.


Promoting the sharing of ideas, however, requires more than just a platform. So WeShareScience recently launched an international online science fair. Focusing on short video abstracts of research findings, the science fair offers a unique opportunity for researchers around the world, in varied disciplines, to share ideas. If graduate students, faculty, or other researchers in your professional network would benefit from broader dissemination of their ideas, with the potential win cash prizes, you can direct them to: wesharescience.com/5minute


This move toward more interdisciplinary research is not a new trend of course. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have made significant efforts in helping researchers cross discipline boundaries. Likewise, in their recent ARISE 2 report, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) urges that we push the trend forward; recommending that the next step is to create “An online, visualized network that can reveal unexpected links between investigations in different fields or disciplines, or suggest the deployment of new technology from one field into a different field could create a new research agenda and suggest new collaborative approaches.” WeShareScience is a timely grassroots step in this direction.

    Alice Meadows
Alice Meadows
Director of Communications, Wiley
Coerver Photo casual 1-2011
Source: Harrison Coerver

1. Thank you for talking to us Harrison - please can you start by telling us about yourself and your company, Harrison Coerver Associates?


Harrison Coerver Associates is a solo practice, founded in 1990, and now associated with three other consultants. I have personally been working in the association market since 1985, and I estimate that since then I have worked with 1200-1300 clients. Most of our work is in strategic planning for associations, as well as governance and organization engagements.


2. Your book, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations has been a huge success - in brief, what are those five changes and why do you think they are needed?


My co-author Mary Byers and I believe that the convergence of several trends in the last 10-15 years - including member and volunteer time pressures, technology,competition, an increasingly diverse membership - has irreversibly changed the landscape for associations. This means that the traditional model is no longer effective; in fact, it may well be obsolete.The mismatch between the environment and the traditional association model means that significant changes and improvements are needed in terms of governance, leveraging staff expertise, carefully defining the member market, rationalizing product lines, and bridging the technology gap.


3. You've recently published a follow-up, Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations - what is its main message?


Road to Relevance is a companion and complement to Race for Relevance. It focuses on how associations have to change the ways they think and act in today's competitive environment. This competition is coming from many different sources, both traditional - other associations (new and existing), for-profit companies, publishing houses - and non-traditional, such as the internet, which is both making the competition much more accessible, and helping members find alternative sources of information etc, and social media, which is increasingly used in place of face-to-face networking.


4. What do you see as the three main challenges facing membership organizations in the near and medium term future?


Coming to grips with the fact that what has worked so well in the past is now obsolete is a huge challenge for most associations. Learning to focus their resources on a much narrower and much more competitive product line is another. And there's a third big set of challenges around technology - moving on from face-to-face and ink on paper - which also has financial implications, of course.


5. What about the opportunities?


As well as being a challenge, technology also represents a huge opportunity for societies. Leveraging their brands is another and all associations should be making more of this, because it's so powerful. They need to reposition what their brand promise means and highlight their areas of excellence much more. Last but not least, societies need to capitalize on youth - not just as association members, but as board members. The lack of involvement by young people on boards is the main reason why both association staff and boards are so behind on technology. All boards need a mix of experience and younger members, but most association boards are all veterans and no rookies. Good teams strike a balance of both. Young/early career researchers and professionals are not yet tied to any one system or culture, so they ask “inconvenient” questions and bring a much-needed fresh perspective.


6. What impact - positive and negative - has the move to digital had on associations?


Moving digital is not optional, it's essential. As a professional society, if you want a shortcut to irrelevance then ignore technology!


7. Although many of your clients are trade and professional associations, you also work with some that are more scholarly and scientific, especially in the area of healthcare. Do you see any differences between these two broad types of organizations or do you think the same principles apply to all membership organizations?


One size definitely does not fit all. But having said that, all associations share the same environment, so issues such as technology changes and demographic shifts apply to all societies, even if they are affected differently. So, before we look at how we are different let’s look at how we are the same and share solutions - modifying them as needed. I recently met with some association executives in the Netherlands and, when I asked them what aspects of my approach wouldn't work there, they told me that it all works despite the geographic and cultural differences. I defy you to say that any of the competitive strategies I talk about in Road to Relevance don't apply!


8. What are the main reasons why people join societies, and are these changing?


I don't think the reasons why people join societies are changing. The main reason why societies exist is to produce more competent professionals, and the reason why people continue to join societies is to enhance their performance - to be more informed, more current, and more connected, professionally and personally. But there are a lot of alternatives to associations today so now it's not just a question of "what do I want?" but also "are you the best person to provide it?". There is a lot of competition out there and societies are not just playing in their own sandbox any more. New generations are growing up in an environment with many more options than previous generations. They expect to be able to buy a particular product or service when they want it, and how they want it,rather than in a predetermined bundle. I think of this as being like trying to sell our members albums when what they want is to buy singles, and there are big implications for what this means in terms of how societies package and price their services.


9. Continuing to attract young/early career researchers is critical to the future success of all societies. Do you think this demographic will continue to join associations in future? Why/why not?


They will, but only if associations adapt and respond to their preferences and their needs - if a society is best in class at what they do at an appropriate price and appropriate delivery method. Societies will be in trouble, however, if they treat this generation in the same way as previous generations. We can't force them into our mold - they think differently, learn differently, and socialize differently, etc. I'm not, as a 63 year old, suddenly going to be able to determine how to meet the needs of young members, but if we bring them into leadership positions they'll tell us; and we have to listen. For example, at a recent professional society meeting I attended an older board member was bemoaning the fact that the association hadn't been able to get emails for many of their younger members; one of those younger members turned to me and said, " but we don't use email".


10. Do you think societies as we know them will continue to be relevant enough to survive in future, or will they be replaced by something else?


They will survive but, if they stay on the same trajectory, they will be smaller, aging, less influential, and less relevant. If you still built computers or cars the same way as 10 years ago you wouldn’t be relevant - associations are no different. Changes are accelerating and our ability to acknowledge and respond is slow - every day we fail to do so we are getting further behind. If societies are to survive and thrive, it is pretty obvious that significant changes are needed.

    Alice Meadows
Alice Meadows
Director of Communications, Wiley
society blog pic
Source: Arkadi Bojaršinov / Thinkstock

This spring we met with our European and North American Society Focus Groups to find out more from society leaders about their pain points and challenges – here are the top 10:

  1. Staying abreast of new developments in Open Access and understanding their implications –most senior society officers find it hard to keep on top of new policy developments around the world and what these mean for their journals program (and, ultimately, revenues) both now and in the future.
  2. Presenting information to their boards – helping board members understand the tension between the society’s goal of disseminating knowledge and the need to ensure the future viability of the society.
  3. Proving their value in order to retain members – how can societies demonstrate the value of membership and of the services they offer to members? What metrics can they develop to help monitor this?
  4. Supporting early career researchers – outreach and support for the next generation is critically important. What new products and services can they develop for this group? Can social media help?
  5. Helping them identify and develop new business opportunities/member services – e-learning and online events are among the areas society executives are interested in developing.
  6. Establishing/maintaining a strong brand – making sure the society is directly associated with the benefits it provides its members and with other products and services it offers is essential.
  7. Making their own data meaningful – journal information such as usage and circulation is more meaningful to society executives and their boards when it includes more context about the market, the industry, etc.
  8. Understanding their usage vs that of peer societies/journals – society executives would like to see their journals benchmarked against the competition (ideally at journal and discipline level), and to know what is good and bad usage.
  9. Understanding how content is used, especially by their members - including at article and discipline level. Knowing who is using what and why will help society executives to better understand their members’ needs and behavior.
  10. Data – what role should societies play in data management? Are there other opportunities around data that societies could be exploiting?


Many of these challenges resonate with those which librarians identified in our Customer Advisory Board meeting.

    Charles Young 
Charles Young
Editor-in-Chief, Clinical Case Reports, Wiley 
Source: drorhan / Thinkstock

Case reports are important. Although much maligned over the last decade or so, case reports are now more widely recognised for their significant potential benefits: brilliant vehicles for delivering concise clinical-guidance messages to promote best practice; excellent teaching aids in case-based learning; the foundation for subsequent larger research programs; and a very useful training in the art of how to publish pretty-much anything at all.

However these benefits rely on two key challenges; being able to write the report in a clear and engaging way, and then being able to persuade someone else to publish it. I’ll write a few notes below on my views on report-writing, and then in the next blog in this series I’ll touch on publishing tips and strategies.

As the editor of a new case report journal, Clinical Case Reports, one of the bits of my editor-role I enjoy most is helping authors write and shape their case reports to really drive home their message effectively. My view is that a brilliant report has to be clear, concise and relevant to its audience – like a clinician to clinician telephone referral. The crucial issue about the report’s message, is that it must have one! I read so many case reports which are interesting descriptions, but as the reader I am left thinking… “Yeah, but so what??”. Every case report must set out to tell the readers something they really need to know. This message needs very high external validity – it needs to be practical (people can do ‘it’ if they want to), important (people will see the need to do ‘it’), and generalisable (‘it’ not relating exclusively to only 1 small child in the whole world who has now got better anyway!). And in this last point, I think and hope we are seeing an important evolution in case reports that could have a profound impact on their relevance to clinical medicine. In the past case reports typically had humorous (which was bad), or pseudo-humorous (even worse), titles typically describing a really really rare thing. The rarer the better. Think “The dangers of goat soup”, or the “Rare chance association of Osgood Schlatters disease and pre-tibial tuberculosis in an elderly lady football player.” Two problems here: however hard you try the title will never really be funny; and if the case is truly that rare, why does anyone else need to read about it?

My view is that generalisability is key. The reports which authors should be writing describe important clinical situations which are common, but still cause management problems. Because they are common their message will be relevant to many more clinicians than the once-in-a-lifetime reports, and their important message will make them valuable to read and understand. As we move into a clinical era where practice is increasingly influenced by guidelines and meta-data, if case reports can illustrate how the tricky bits of guidelines or systematic review recommendations can be done in those common situations, then that’s even better still!

3 top tips when writing a case report:


    1. Keep an eye out for challenging cases – they don’t have to be rare.


    1. Select one which has an important message, ideally relevant to lots of other clinicians.


    1. Write the report to focus on the message and present it like the best telephone referral you have ever made.


To see a recent webinar on “How to write Case Reports”, please view this recorded video at: http://bit.ly/videoCR

    Emily Gillingham
Emily Gillingham
Director of Library Relations, Wiley

CAB handsAt the recent meeting of our North American Customer Advisory Board we asked librarians what are some of the challenges they face that they would like help with, and this is what we learned. You can vote for what you think is the number one challenge out of these here.

  1. Setting up access to content so that it’s easier to find and use – Access routes and all the various vendor platforms are a really complex landscape for both readers and the librarians who need to make sense of it all.
  2. Understanding how that content is used in their institution, and by whom – Librarians want to understand usage beyond what the current COUNTER reports deliver, eg. they want to know which articles are being read, in what disciplines, by which type of patron, in which faculty.
  3. Understanding their institution’s usage vs peer institutions – Is the usage their content is getting ‘good’ or ‘bad’ versus other institutions with a similar profile? What should be done to make it better?
  4. Demonstrating how the content they’ve bought has impacted on the outcomes of the institution – How can the library prove that it helped to produce a better student, bring in grant funding, make a discovery, secure a patent? Demonstrating the value proposition to those that hold the purse strings is really critical.
  5. How they can best present the nuances of licensing models to their patrons and upper management – Digital licensing models are complex and explaining these can be difficult to those who are not steeped in them.
  6. Embedding their services fully in the researcher and student workflow – To do this successfully they also need to intimately understand the needs and behavior of their users and the point of interactions with the library service. How do you deliver relevant information at the point of need with a service which makes a real difference to people’s daily lives?
  7. Supporting author/researcher education, especially early career researchers – Librarians are increasingly acting as knowledge consultants within their organizations and are called upon to deliver training to early year researchers which goes beyond the normal research skills training. This might include training on understanding copyright, how to write a grant proposal, how to get OA funds and include them in grant applications, how to get published in the best journals, etc.
  8. Developing their role with research data management tools – Is the library best placed within the institution to support the data curation and research management behaviors of the departments and the labs they support? If not libraries, then who?
  9. Evolving their roles and capabilities as librarians – Supporting the mixed economy of subscriptions plus Open Access and delivering on the expanding knowledge consultancy needs of their organizations requires a reconfiguring of librarian roles in a time of tighter resource.
  10. How should they reconfigure library policies to accommodate the mixed economy and the new realities – If they buy ebooks should they also buy print? How much should be apportioned to demand driven acquisition? Should they be buying textbooks at all? Is it the library’s role to administer OA fees? All these new issues are still being worked out and there is plenty of experimentation still going on.


Do these sound familiar to you? Let us know which of these are your top challenges in our Online Poll.


Many of these same issues were also raised by the society officers at the joint librarian and society advisory board meeting. A further blog post will explore these areas of shared concern.


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