The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

   Looking Forward to the Year Ahead
   Allen M. Omoto, SPSSI President

In writing this, my first column as SPSSI President, I am fresh off two successful SPSSI conferences. The SPSSI stand-alone conference was held in Charlotte, NC, at the end of June (see highlights in this issue), and SPSSI also offered an outstanding array of programming at the annual APA convention in Orlando, FL. It is inspiring and invigorating to meet SPSSI members at these conferences and to learn about their research, teaching, and policy interests. I am truly honored to be able to serve as SPSSI President this year. Lest I forget, I thank SPSSI staff Susan Dudley, Anila Balkissoon, Alex Ingrams, and Brad Sickels, for all that they do day in and day out for SPSSI, but also the individuals who worked so hard to create intellectually compelling programming in Charlotte—Demis Glasford and David Livert—and in Orlando—Sean Massey and Justin Hackett. The hard work and vision of all of these individuals is much appreciated and makes SPSSI and its members all the richer.

I thought it appropriate in this column to note some of the priorities that I plan to focus on during the coming year and that I hope you will help with. As many of you know, I have served in different SPSSI governance capacities for several years now. Thus, I come to the presidency with what I believe is a good sense of what SPSSI does, and what it does well, as well as what it aspires to do and where there may be areas of opportunity that we can better exploit.

One of my priorities is to continue the work that Past-President Maureen O’Connor and I began last year to try to improve SPSSI’s efficiency and effectiveness. SPSSI has a very capable and accomplished staff in its Central Office in Washington, DC, but the vast majority of the Society’s work is performed by volunteers on a wide variety of committees. Some of these committees have a clear charge, operating procedures, and timelines for completing tasks, whereas other committees are looser in organization and functioning. This flexibility across committees in structure and functioning is probably necessary. However, SPSSI may be working below capacity because it lacks clear terms of appointment for committee membership, established practices for leadership development within and across committees, or even a way of matching size of committee to scope of work.

One foci of my own research is on volunteerism, including how best to utilize and engage individuals in helping others and causes. In addition, I have practical experience administering a volunteer service organization and serving in governance bodies of professional societies. Thus, I am well acquainted with the frustration experienced by volunteers when their time and energy is under-utilized or poorly coordinated for the tasks at hand. Dr. O’Connor and I, with assistance from SPSSI Council and staff members, have been working to develop a set of practices and expectations across committees so as to enhance their effectiveness and better serve volunteers and SPSSI as a whole. I plan to continue this work this year with the hopes of developing a stronger and more efficient and predictable organization. As a corollary, I would like to find more ways to actively engage SPSSI members in planning and implementing SPSSI activities and programs. To this end, I recently sent out a call on the SPSSI listserv for volunteers interested in serving on SPSSI committees. If you have interest in increasing your involvement in SPSSI, I hope that you will let me know. Although I cannot guarantee ideal committee assignments for everyone, I pledge to do my best to find a way for you to contribute.

My second key initiative revolves around SPSSI’s “external” face. SPSSI is without doubt a well-established and venerated professional society, held in especially high regard by social psychologists for its long history of pursuing work on prejudice, peace, and poverty. (If you haven’t explored it already, visit the interactive timeline SPSSI Was There and the SPSSI website for ample evidence of this impressive history.) Founded in 1936, SPSSI is older than most psychological professional societies, and its journals and other publications have high impact ratings in several different bibliometric indices and classification schemes.

At the same time, however, SPSSI is currently a relatively small society and its professional profile is not as great as it could and probably should be, especially among graduate students and early career scholars across a variety of disciplines. Simply put, many individuals who should be members of SPSSI are not. Many of them belong to any of the large number of more specialized identity, social issue, and topical societies that have been established and grown up to meet emerging professional needs. One of my goals, therefore, is to find ways to reach the many latent (or lapsed?) members and potential members and to encourage them to add SPSSI to their list of must-belong-to societies and professional associations. Moreover, even if they do not belong to SPSSI, I would hope that social scientists interested in social issues would know about SPSSI and the resources it provides, seek to publish in SPSSI journals (JSI, ASAP, or SIPR), and apply for SPSSI grants and awards. To this end, I would like to shine a brighter light on what it is that SPSSI has done and continues to do in support of psychological research on social issues and on the application of knowledge to social policy topics and solutions. I want SPSSI to engage in more aggressive outreach and partnerships with other professional societies, to better inform undergraduate and graduate students about the Society, and also to more fully utilize social media and take advantage of special opportunities and innovation in disseminating its work and programs. Once scholars are reminded or informed about what SPSSI does, as well as the opportunities it affords through its grant programs and journals, I hope that they will come to see SPSSI as a central resource and membership for themselves, their students, and their colleagues.

My third main initiative is to devise and implement new programs aimed at providing SPSSI members at all career stages with skills and experiences to assist them in engaging in policy work and social advocacy. SPSSI is not as large as some professional organizations and does not have the budgetary heft to powerfully and directly influence state, federal, or international policymakers and processes. However, I strongly believe that SPSSI can—and does—fill a special niche in its close ties to researchers and scholars interested in creating positive change in the world. Most SPSSI members I have encountered want to help create change and they are committed to the SPSSI mission that seeks to generate, disseminate, and apply social science knowledge to address the problems of society. They typically possess considerable specialized knowledge, including having conducted original research on specific social issues or human problems. What they may have less of is training and information about how to turn their knowledge and social commitments and passion into policy action. They may not fully appreciate the many relatively simple ways to be an effective policy advocate at many different levels. For example, simply writing an op-ed for a local paper or blog or assisting a community organization in conducting a needs assessment can help address a social issue and create change. Not only is there a wide range of different activities that can be undertaken, but they can be performed in work environments, in organizations within home communities, in regional and state contexts, or even through federal and international venues, not to mention in professional associations and societies.

In short, I plan to work with SPSSI members and staff in exploring ways to help SPSSI members to take action, to fill in skill sets where necessary, and also to provide exposure to a range of social policy contexts and activities, including different career options that incorporate policy involvement. Alex Ingrams, SPSSI’s Policy Coordinator, already has taken up this charge and is doing amazing work to keep SPSSI members informed about advocacy opportunities and in creating policy relevant information fact sheets and tools. In the next year, I will be working with Alex and relevant SPSSI committees to provide training resources and opportunities, both in convention programming and through written and web-based means, to aid the Society in realizing its potential to serve and empower its members to do effective policy work.

In conclusion, in the coming year you can expect to see SPSSI increasing its efficiency and visibility with an expanding array of activities to meet growing membership needs for skills and information on policy engagement. I seek to continue SPSSI’s successful programs and activities, and to build on and expand them in ways that make sense for an organization of SPSSI’s size and resources, and that will ultimately help to increase SPSSI’s membership base and range of supporters. As I noted at the outset, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as SPSSI President. I think that this is an exciting time for SPSSI, and I invite you to be part of it. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas and comments that you have, or send a note to the SPSSI Central Office. I look forward to the year ahead and to working with you and other SPSSI members.

—Allen M. Omoto

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin