By Nicholas Higham
At the end of April, SIAM held a two-day strategic planning workshop called ADVANCE. The 25 attendees included SIAM officers and staff, as well as other members of the SIAM community selected to bring a diverse range of viewpoints. The event, which took place just outside of Philadelphia, Pa., was facilitated by consultant and creativity expert Dennis Sherwood (seeaccompanying sidebar).
The impetus for the workshop came from the July 2017 Board and Council meetings, at which attendees recognized that it was timely for SIAM to engage in some strategic planning. The Board duly authorized the expenditure necessary to run an appropriate event. Over several months, executive director Jim Crowley, chief operating officer Susan Palantino, and I developed—in consultation with Sherwood—a set of approximately 30 exercises for workshop use. Each one presented a list of questions on a particular topic and asked breakaway groups of six or so participants to individually and silently write down their thoughts, share them with each other, and then ask, “how might this be different?” The topics included journals, membership, diversity, conferences, fundraising, chapters and sections, new products, and the ways in which SIAM could make use of unlimited funds (a dream scenario designed to encourage new ideas).
The group generated a large number of objectives that SIAM staff, officers, committees, and the Board and Council will take forward, including through discussions at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore., this July. One idea aims to substantially increase SIAM’s fundraising efforts. Others target various aspects of SIAM’s journals programme, especially the utilization of technology; the provision of a vehicle for industrial members to communicate open problems and interesting applications; the enhancement of membership benefits; and an increase in the number of SIAM sections and student chapters.
A recurring theme was the need to better exploit data when making decisions, though participants recognized that the required data is not always easy to obtain. Sherwood pointed out that inadequate data is often an excuse for organizations’ lack of action, and urged that SIAM not fall into this trap.
After two long days of hard work, ADVANCE participants were exhausted but energized by the productive discussions. Several contributors observed that achieving the workshop’s results would have been difficult with the (necessarily) short discussions that occur at Board and Council meetings, and that the group of attendees was even more diverse than at those bodies.
I look forward to working with SIAM staff and volunteers to take the ideas forward over the coming months.