This guidance has been prepared as a key output of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project was led by Dr Rita Gardner of the Royal Geographical Society and Dr Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network, and overseen by a Steering Group chaired by Professor Philip Ogden of Queen Mary, University of London.

The starting point for the project was a profound belief that learned societies in the humanities and social sciences perform a critical role in the ecology of research and scholarship in the UK. But in the current rapidly-changing scholarly and research environment, they face potentially-overwhelming challenges, including the introduction by major research funders in the UK of policies to promote a transition to open access for articles published in scholarly journals.

The aim of the project, and more particularly of this guidance, is to provide support for learned societies as they seek to consider, develop and implement strategies to sustain and enhance their activities and services to support, promote and advance the disciplines and communities they represent. The guidance stems from evidence gathered from societies themselves, in the form of documents, responses to an online survey, and in-depth interviews with officers and senior staff.

Trustees and their responsibilities

Many learned societies and related bodies are registered as charities, and this guidance is intended to help trustees fulfil those responsibilities. Guidance from the Charity Commission on the duties of trustees makes clear that among those duties they must plan what a charity will do, what they want it to achieve in line with its purposes, use  reasonable skill and care in managing  its resources, and avoid inappropriate risks. And the Good Governance Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector, endorsed by the Commission, makes clear that in as part of those duties, the trustees should develop a long-term strategy as well as operational plans and budgets, and monitor performance against those plans and budgets.

Strategies and plans

One of the key messages of this guidance is that learned societies are distinctive, but that there is also huge variety among them. Hence while we hope that the guidance will be useful to a wide range of societies, we can offer no single template for a strategy or a strategic plan. The varying needs and circumstances of different societies, and the risks and challenges they face, mean that while they can learn from each other, the questions they ask, the processes they engage in and the kinds of strategies and plans that result will differ too. Indeed, the relationships between strategies, strategic plans, and  business or operating plans may vary too; and some smaller societies may find that they can proceed from a well-constructed statement of strategy direct to a series of annual business or operating plans and budgets  without an intervening ‘strategic plan’. That is much less likely, we suggest, for medium-sized or larger societies.

The overview toolkit provides an overview of this guidance, which you can use to work your way through the website.