The Society for the
Study of Social Issues


SPSSI Strategic Plan
Adopted by Council on January 31, 2009

Appendix A: Rationale and Procedure for Development of the Strategic Plan

According to multiple indicators (e.g., membership, reputation, highly-regarded products, financial bottom line), SPSSI has achieved a high level of success.  To ensure our ongoing success and to become even more effective as we move forward, SPSSI periodically takes a careful look at where it is and where it is going, with a goal of making the wisest use of our resources and taking full advantage of our credibility and influence.  The last time SPSSI underwent a formal planning process was prior to our moving the Central Office from Ann Arbor to Washington, DC, in 2001, and prior to our purchasing property for our office space in DC in 2002.  Once the Central Office was operating smoothly and we were fully transitioned from Ann Arbor to Washington, DC, SPSSI’s leaders recognized the need to undertake a planning process to further clarity on the Society’s purposes and optimal strategies to achieve them. In 2007 the SPSSI Council voted to begin a strategic planning process and, in doing so, to have the assistance of Dr. Doug Easterling, an organizational development consultant, who has extensive experience in working with non-profit organizations that are dedicated to improving the social good.

The process began with a 2-day retreat (June 28-29, 2007) in Charlotte, NC.  Executive Council members, other active SPSSI members who had held senior leadership positions in the recent past, SPSSI’s Executive Director, and Doug Easterling explored SPSSI’s past successes, strengths, and challenges. The product was a draft set of goals for improving the organization’s performance and impact.  These draft goals led to subgroups within Council preparing reports on strategies for achieving them.  The draft goals combined with the subgroup reports provided a framework for a second retreat (February 1, 2008) involving the full Council, other SPSSI members (e.g., finance committee, some committee chairs), and Dr. Easterling. The retreat was held in Winston-Salem, NC, and participants collectively discussed the draft goals from the June 2007 meeting, and then delved into a few key strategies judged to be instrumental in moving SPSSI forward as an effective organization.  At a third meeting held on May 21, 2008, in Pinnacle, NC, President Dan Perlman, President-Elect Susan Opotow, Secretary Treasurer Sally Shumaker, Executive Director Susan Dudley, and Dr. Doug Easterling reviewed the materials to date and produced a draft version of this document, which summarized the findings from the two prior retreats.  This draft was circulated to all members of the SPSSI Council for their comment, changes were made and a June 9, 2008 draft of the plan was posted on the SPSSI website.  All SPSSI members were invited to submit comments. A dozen did so.  Next, a town hall meeting was held during the 2008 SPSSI Convention in Chicago, Illinois to discuss the plan.  Over 40 members participated in person and via a web-based audio connection. Drawing on the feedback from members, President Susan Opotow, Past-President Dan Perlman, Secretary-Treasurer Sally Shumaker, and Executive Director Susan Dudley did a further revision of the Strategic Plan.  This final draft of the Plan was reviewed and approved by SPSSI Council on January 31, 2009.  Subsequent Councils will be charged with deciding on which strategies to pursue. 

The point of a strategic plan is to provide an organization with clear guidance as to how resources should be allocated and where planning, program development, program implementation, and organizational-development activities should be focused.   It is a tool for aligning an organization’s members around a common purpose and shared priorities.  While it was certainly important for SPSSI to move deliberately toward the creation of a final Strategic Plan, we did not want to lose sight of the fact that the process of strategic planning has its own distinct benefits.  First and foremost, strategic planning is a clarifying exercise.  It points out where the members of an organization are and are not in agreement.  In addition, the planning group is “forced” to face explicitly the hard choices that arise in determining what is important to the well-being of the overall organization (as opposed to what is preferred by individual members or constituents).  Accordingly, the draft plan was viewed as an interim product designed to provoke critical analysis and consensus-building on two key questions: 1) What is SPSSI’s underlying purpose? and 2) Which subset of possible opportunities should be pursued?

Appendix B: Promotive Energies within SPSSI

For a number of issues, SPSSI’s members and leadership have taken different positions along a continuum of perspectives.  For the most part, perspectives fall within the mid-range of these continua, and the productive tensions resulting from these different perspectives help to animate the work of SPSSI in thoughtful and positive ways.  To fully understand and appreciate SPSSI and its history, ownership and acknowledgement of these different perspectives is important. We identified the following productive tensions:

• Research/academic v. policy/application. Some SPSSI members believe that we should base policy positions on careful analysis of evidence, and take stances only on issues where sufficient scientific evidence is clear and directly applicable.  Others want SPSSI to take a stance on a wider range of issues and act more rapidly when issues arise even if it may mean supporting positions with less than optimal and thoroughly conducted scientific analysis. How does SPSSI optimally balance timeliness of response with our desire for scientific rigor? When does waiting for evidence delay action beyond the most opportune time for influence?

• APA affiliation – strong v. weak: Some members want SPSSI to have close relations with the American Psychological Association.  They see APA as a large organization with much to offer SPSSI members.  Those holding this perspective might also view APA as important to their disciplinary identification and view SPSSI’s relationship with APA as resulting in potential synergies and as conferring scientific legitimacy to their research. Other SPSSI members are less enthusiastic about APA.  APA plays little or no role in their professional identification.  These members may be critical of positions APA has taken on issues (e.g., prisoner interrogation), find APA intrusive in SPSSI affairs, and see APA as just one of many organizations with whom SPSSI might form alliances. How should SPSSI optimally navigate its relationship with APA?

• Fiscal conservation v. resource utilization: Some suggest that SPSSI should endeavor to preserve windfall income and a portion of its annual income in good years to serve as a cushion for rainy days, a resource available to capitalize on when opportunities present themselves and a capital asset, the income from which can be used to support annual activities.  Other members believe SPSSI exists to accomplish goals and that it is best served by more fully spending its annual revenues, setting aside specified amounts each year for quick action as opportunities arise, and more actively striving to utilize capital resources. What is the optimal balance between conserving and expending SPSSI’s resources?  How much is needed to optimally maintain the organization in the long run while making certain it is maximally fulfilling its mission now?

• Reliance on Council and members/volunteers v. professional and skilled paid staff to perform the work necessary to accomplish SPSSI’s goals: While all non-profit associations rely on Boards (Council) to determine organizational policy and direction, the actual implementation of decisions may occur by council members and volunteers, a professional and paid staff, or some combination of the two. For what issues and actions and when should the energies and initiatives reside in SPSSI members versus SPSSI’s salaried staff members? 

• Within the beltway v. beyond the beltway – and global: The beltway refers to the beltway around Washington DC and the decision-making group/culture that exists within that region.  SPSSI moved its office to Washington, DC to be in a center of decision-making.  That decision-making is done largely at the national level.  SPSSI has traditionally been concerned with multiple levels of influence and in recent years has endeavored to become a more international organization.  To what extent should SPSSI concentrate its efforts and resources within the Washington, DC (national) sphere vs. trying to commit energies to local, state and/or international activities? 

• Policy vs. attitudes and behavior: Somewhat related to the within-the-beltway dimension is the question: What is SPSSI trying to influence? In recent years, SPSSI has held Congressional briefings and had an NGO group at the UN.  Is SPSSI primarily trying to influence public debate and decision-making around social issues addressed by political bodies at the community to the international level or is it trying more broadly to foster the use of social science knowledge to enhance the well-being of individuals and groups, in part via impacting on attitudes, behavior, managerial practices, and so on?

• Membership service organization v. doing more and being more proactive:  To what extent should SPSSI use its resources to provide member services and organizational activities in which members engage vs. orienting outward to address policy and other questions?  For example, should SPSSI’s publications be more concerned with their reputation within the academy and reaching academic readers, or should the emphasis be on timely efforts to influence policy even if that orientation would be less well regarded in academic circles? Should SPSSI be using strategies such as allocating funds to commission statements on policy issues?

Appendix C: Participants in the Process of Developing This Plan

Participants in June 28-29, 2007 meeting in Charlotte, NC: Doug Easterling, Facilitator; Ann Bettencourt; Susan Dudley; Irene Frieze; Geoff Maruyama; Allen Omoto; Susan Opotow; Dan Perlman; Beth Shinn [participating in preliminary interviews, but unable to attend meeting]; Sally Shumaker; Alison Snow Jones.

Present at the Council strategic planning meeting on February 1, 2008: Doug Easterling, Facilitator; Janice Adelman; Anila Balkissoon; Elizabeth Cole; Mark Costanzo; Susan Dudley; Susan Fiske; Irene Frieze; Peter Glick; Geoff Maruyama; Rudolfo Mendoza-Denton; Maureen O’Connor; Allen Omoto; Susan Opotow; Dan Perlman; Sally Shumaker; Stacey Sinclair; Alison Snow Jones; Janet Swim; Michael Zarate. 

Present at Pinnacle, NC, meeting on May 21, 2008: Doug Easterling, Facilitator; Susan Dudley; Susan Opotow; Dan Perlman; Sally Shumaker.

Individuals who Commented on the Plan Drafts:
via email: Neil Altman; Faye Crosby; Benjamin C. Graham; Paul Kimmel; Marc Pilisuk; Rachel Ravich; Carole Rayburn; Beth Shinn; Astrid Stuckelberger; Peter Suedfeld; Richard Suinn; Michelle Wittig.

SPSSI Town Hall Meeting, Saturday, June 28, 2008:
A Town Hall meeting was held during the 2008 SPSSI Conference in Chicago to discuss the plan.  An estimated 40 individuals attended in person, and 3 (Paul Kimmel, Ray Paloutzian, and Peter Walker) participated via a web conferencing system.  Roughly 17 people made comments from the floor or via the web connection. 

APPENDIX D: Potential Strategies to Achieve SPSSI’s Goals

These are some ideas that were originally generated in a brainstorming session by members of Council and others in January 2008 and then further elaborated based on email reactions to drafts of the plan and suggestions made at the town hall meeting at the 2008 SPSSI Convention. None have been fully discussed or adopted by Council at this time. It is, however, expected that SPSSI Council will consider implementing these and other strategies.

1. Foster science

 a. Expand SPSSI award programs and develop fellowships to support young scholars and graduate students interested in socially-relevant research.

 b. Develop a sabbatical program for research, through which people would work with SPSSI scientists.

 c. Celebrate and promote the new journal (Social Issues and Policy Review, SIPR)  and book series.

2. Develop and promote a compelling brand for SPSSI and improve marketing overall.  Unlike SPSSI's name, the brand should communicate SPSSI’s work and what distinguishes it.

a. Determine a brand (e.g., “Social research for social change”) that speaks directly to individuals whom SPSSI wants to recruit as members, especially early-career researchers.

b. Increase visibility of SPSSI through better marketing of programs, history, and purpose.

c. Market and promote the values of the organization ("the SPSSI Ideal").

d. Develop new programs that appeal on the basis of the "SPSSI ideal."
3. Identify themes and focus areas to guide conferences, journals, and policy work
a. Use the themes to define journal and conference content.

b. Use the themes to focus policy-change, education, and advocacy efforts.

c. Moderate on-line forums focused on specific topics—set stage for conference strands.
4. Develop more focused, accessible materials that promote policy change

a. Add policy statements to JSI articles.

b. Commission white papers on topics relevant to current policymaking and court cases.

c. Convene conferences that result in white papers on key topics.
5. Create positions (staff or fellowships) that focus on policy change
a. Build relationships with policy makers (e.g., legislators, staffers).

b. Build relationships with advocacy groups with common interests.

c. Disseminate information to key audiences.

d. Translate research into white papers, briefs, model legislation, etc.

e. Marshall Scholar can take the lead on a paper that summarizes research for policy makers.
6. Enhance existing training programs and/or create new training programs focused on policy change

a. Focus Marshall Scholar's efforts on work directly relevant to policy change.

b. Redevelop the Scientist in Public Interest position.

c. Implement Sabbatical scholar program.

d. Host workshops or summer camp to build skills on advocacy, coalition building, and writing for policy audiences.

7. Connect members to opportunities to influence policy

a. Create a database with members' interest and expertise on policy analysis, policy-making, and advocacy.

b. Develop systems for alerting members when there is an opportunity to affect issues of personal interest.

c. Convene members with a common interest to share information and ideas.
8. Hold smaller, more focused meetings

a. Hold small conferences (attached to larger conference) focused on topics that will attract key participants.

b. Foster regional meetings (panel discussions, social events).
9. Develop New Services for Members and Potential Members

a. Offer New Scholars workshops, providing mentoring and career advice.

b. Promote mentoring of less-engaged SPSSI members by more engaged members.

c. Consider a membership committee that would develop new services that promote involvement in SPSSI.

d. Convene regional affiliate groups.

e. Moderate discussion groups on listserv.

f. “Ask Aunt Academe”—Develop advice column for newsletter featuring answers to career questions submitted by readers.
10. Develop new approaches for recruiting members

a. Offer discount membership rate for an entire department or lab.

b. Offer gift memberships to "SPSSI types" not currently involved in SPSSI, especially senior faculty. 

c. Improve follow-up of conference attendees and those receiving gift memberships and grants.

d. Invite high-yield prospects to write papers for special issues or present at panels at conference.

e. Offer "Ask me about SPSSI" buttons for members to wear to professional meetings (e.g., APA).

f. Coordinate efforts with potentially complementary organizations (e.g., SPSP) to attract members to both.
11. Expand and/or Improve Performance Assessments

a. Do more to assess impact of various SPSSI activities and to identify areas for improvement.

b. Do better accounting of outcomes of grants.

c. Improve follow-up and reporting on initiatives (e.g., diversity activities).

d. Improve tracking to determine how many gift memberships convert.
12. Institute other procedures that lead to more systematic, well planned, strategic decision making

a. Systematically assess possible initiatives for cost and return on investment.

b. Develop clear procedure to follow up on recommendations from meetings (e.g., analysis, decision making).
13. Improve how committees are formed and function, and how they coordinate with each other

a. Standardize terms for committee membership.

b. Develop policies for appointing committee chairs and succession that are consistent across committees.

c. Consider having designated slates for Council members (e.g., two candidates living outside North America to insure
international representation on Council).

d. Consider other, more inclusive approaches to selecting the chair of the Diversity Committee.

e. Recruit committee chairs from the larger SPSSI membership, taking into account interests and diversity of leadership.

f. Develop mission statement and goals for each committee and task force.

g. Identify and reconcile overlap between various committees and task forces.

h. Establish a coordinating committee, task force or person for committees dealing with grants and awards.

i. Reconstitute the Web Committee with reps from other committees to oversee content decisions.

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