How can academic societies continue to be relevant?

We surveyed 2,000 researchers and practitioners about what they want from academic societies; here’s what they told us


Societies continue to play a vital role in the research landscape but need to do more to improve their value proposition, including providing tools that support online collaboration and visibility.

That was the conclusion of an Elsevier survey of over 2,000 researchers and practitioners.

Adrian MulliganConducted by Elsevier’s Customer Insights department, the survey revealed that nearly half of respondents see societies as more relevant today than in the past. Adrian Mulligan, Research Director of Customer Insights, explained:

Society members value the prestige, and overwhelmingly we saw that society members wanted to continue their membership, with over 90 percent saying they’re planning to renew. But members – especially younger members – indicated that societies need to do more to provide good online communities for networking and collaborating. They want to see societies doing more to help increase their visibility.

This is the first time Elsevier has conducted a widespread, systematic appraisal of society members’ needs and wants. As well as understanding the relevance of societies in 2016, the survey sought to evaluate societies’ role and performance in advocacy, information & education and interaction & visibility activities. The survey complements anecdotal and other feedback about society member needs that Elsevier receives on an ongoing basis from, for instance, discussions with existing society clients.

Some respondents criticized the extent to which some societies promoted the interests and viewpoints of individuals rather than supporting members overall. Nearly one third of respondents said they felt that societies needed to be more open and accessible to all levels of their community, a percentage that was even higher for researchers under 36.

The survey indicated that societies already do well at traditional activities such organizing events and providing opportunities to present research. However, the future success of societies depends on their ability to deliver electronic tools and platforms to enable information sharing, networking and collaboration. Across all respondents, 70 percent indicated that providing online communities for networking and collaboration was important, while only 55 percent felt that societies already do this well. Younger researchers who will be essential to the future success of societies want opportunities to interact outside of the traditional events and meetings. For many disciplines, society-owned journals represent the leading titles in the field. Combining a society’s prestige, expertise and branding with the resources, business intelligence and experience of a strategic global partner like Elsevier can help to ensure that these publications thrive in a changing environment.

Stephen Wymbs“When you look at the type of tools Elsevier is developing, it’s clear we have a role to play in helping societies deliver the things that researchers see as important,” said Stephen Wymbs, Society Business Director for Elsevier. “We’ve always been able to deliver expertise in publishing; the emphasis we have placed on technology in recent years means we have the expertise to help societies deliver the services their members want for the future.”

Read a summary of the results


Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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