Community is at the heart of any society. The European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) fosters a robust and engaged member community by understanding what their members need. Rebecca Gethen, Communications Manager at ECPR, shares insights into the organization’s priorities.
Q. What are some of the engagement strategies ECPR uses to engage with current members?
A. The ECPR is unusual since our membership is institutional, but all benefits of that membership are aimed at the individuals within those universities, from graduate student level up. Our membership communication strategy therefore should take into account the different roles and needs of the various stakeholders. For example, the individual appointed as ‘Official Representative’ at each member institution has the dual role of being part of the ECPR’s Council as well as a key decision-maker in their university’s renewal of ECPR membership each year. They must be kept informed of governance issues as well as how their staff and students might benefit from their membership. The relationship we have with these c. 340 individuals is vital to the health of the organization and it is our Communications Officer’s job to ensure they are fully supported, informed and engaged through regular correspondence throughout the year. We also have an annual meeting of Council each year at our autumn conference, where members of Council are invited to engage with the Executive Committee (ECPR’s board of trustees) and air any issues or concerns.
However, since the membership benefits are aimed at individuals (or ‘affiliate members’ as we call them), how we communicate with and engage this community is equally as important. Primarily we use email and social media to speak to our affiliates, but the big challenge to us is information overload. We are a large organization and regularly have a lot of, what we consider, important information to share, so we constantly walk a tightrope of keeping people informed so they can fully use the benefits of the membership their university has paid for, and bombarding people with information. We have therefore been working on a strategy over the past 18 months or so, of streamlining communications into fortnightly email bulletins that give a quick concise overview and/or a clear call to action, linking to detail and substance on our website (either through content pages or bespoke news stories). We then supplement this with ad-hoc emails on specific activities as and when we feel it is needed (such as calls for papers, new book releases etc.) to more targeted lists. This is then supported through our social media channels and primarily Twitter, which we feel works best for us (though we do also use Facebook and LinkedIn).
Feedback from our members is important and highly valued, and at an institutional level is channeled through the Official Representative; at an affiliate level, we run surveys after each event which feed into future planning and invite feedback via the website. We have also run large-scale affiliate membership surveys in the past, and recently ran a program of engagement with our members and Standing Groups which helped shape the development of our new Open Access journal, Political Research Exchange (PRX).
Q. Can you share a little about the formation of MyECPR? What role does this community play in your engagement strategy?
A. MyECPR is the cornerstone of our engagement with the community – anyone who takes part in any ECPR activity needs to have a MyECPR to manage their participation. Through this, individuals can manage their subscriptions to our mailing lists and in turn what information they receive from us. The data held in MyECPR is vital in helping us understand trends in engagement across gender, geographies and generations, which in turn helps shape the benefits and services ECPR delivers.
Q. Following your 2016 Gender Study, what are some of the actions you are taking to help engage members and influence gender equality in the organization?
A. Our study (which will be updated this summer) showed that, overall, levels of participation between men and women at the grass roots of our organization are broadly equal but increasingly reduce in favor of men the further up through the leadership and governance of the organization you go. Women are under-represented as Section and Workshop Chairs at our events, as Editors of our publications, as Standing Group Convenors, Official Representatives and on the Executive Committee (the new EC has four female members – the highest number to date). We have also found that the numbers of women submitting to, and being published within, our journals is very low compared to their male colleagues. The new Executive Committee will be developing a strategy over the next year to seek to improve the participation and representation of female political scientists in ECPR and these could include looking at composition of roundtables, plenary panels and lectures at events and identifying methods of attracting more female candidates for editorial positions as and when they arise.
Q. What do you hope to see for your member community over the next five years?
A. There is a growing trend towards open scholarship and increasing pressure from funding bodies for our affiliates and members to publish their research open access, but at the same time limited funds within the social sciences for scholars to meet these obligations. Political Research Exchange (PRX) has been designed to support our community by providing access to this form of publishing at a fraction of the cost of established OA journals and will be seen as a key new membership benefit, which we hope both the institutions and affiliates will find of value.
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