About the project

This project has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It has been led by Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Dr Michael Jubb, Director of the Research Information Network (RIN). Our aim has been to share good practice and to support learned societies in the humanities and social sciences as they seek to develop and implement strategies to sustain and enhance their activities and services for the future. The study was triggered by the uncertainties and risks as to levels of future income that many learned societies in the humanities and social sciences perceived as a result of the changing world of scholarly publishing and changing attitudes to membership.

We have, through desk research, a focus group, an online survey, and detailed interviews

  • built up a detailed picture of the range of learned societies in the humanities and social sciences in the UK, their activities, finances, and modes of operation;
  • examined their current approaches – as well as barriers – to the development of strategies and plans; and assessed potential risks to their activities and services, as well as opportunities to respond and adapt to changing circumstances; and
  • drawn heavily on these findings to provide online guidance to stages in formulating and implementing a strategy, including questions to ask in the process, together with a summary ‘toolkit’.

We have sought active engagement with learned societies throughout the project, and we are particularly grateful to those which have provided us with detailed information in the form of interviews and case studies. In drawing up this guidance we have drawn on all the information we have gathered in the course of the project, but we have identified individual societies only where the information is in the public domain via their websites, or otherwise with their express permission. We also wish to thank the members of the project Steering Group, chaired by Professor Philip Ogden, for their help and advice during the project.

A full account of our methodology and our findings is available in our final report to our funders. We recognise, of course, that only a minority of societies have been through a process to determine a strategy. We document in the report the numbers and characteristics of those that do and do not have written strategies and plans. We also identify the lessons that the societies that do have written strategies have learned during the processes of determining and implementing their latest strategy; and some of the reasons why those societies that do not have a strategy have not embarked on the process.

This guidance will remain live, hosted by the Royal Geographical Society, until December 2018. If you have any suggestions as to additions or amendments to it, or wish to submit a case study illustrating one aspect of your development as a learned society, for the benefit of others, please refer to the contacts page.