|Jonathan F. Fanton
The Academy is more than 5,500 Members strong and the connections between Members across disciplines, institutions, and other divides is just as strong. The Membership Engagement Initiative, launched in 2015 with the generous support of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation, creates opportunities for Members to connect with each other and serve the common good. Since the start of the Initiative, the Academy and its Members have expanded national and international programming, developed a network of Local Program Committees, and promoted civic discourse on timely and important issues.
In March 2017, we sent a survey to all Members to gain a clearer understanding of their experiences with and views of the Academy. The response to the survey was significant and included a good representation of our membership across gender, class and section, and geographic location. I am pleased to share what we have learned from the survey and to highlight some achievements and future opportunities for the Membership Engagement Initiative.
The Membership Survey revealed that more than two-thirds of Academy Members reported a “positive” or “very positive” overall experience with the Academy and 91 percent feel proud of their membership in the Academy. Over half of the Members indicated that they are well-informed about our work, with a majority reading the Academy newsletter and print publications regularly or occasionally. Members also reported that, in addition to the honor and prestige of being elected, one of the most rewarding aspects of membership is the opportunity to gather and interact with other Members. Nearly 60 percent of the Members who responded to the survey said that they would like to be more involved in the Academy.
These are all encouraging signs that the Academy continues to realize the vision set forth by its founders 237 years ago – to promote and encourage knowledge in service of the common good. Other responses to the survey suggest that the Membership Engagement Initiative enhances that vision by creating more opportunities for Members to connect with each other across disciplines, professions, and even geography.
Since the launch of the Initiative in 2015, Member participation has increased across all areas of the Academy. More Members are involved in the nomination and election process and are serving on class committees. Project committees have seen a 20 percent increase in Member participation, and we estimate that nearly one hundred Members will have participated in or led an Exploratory Meeting by the end of 2017. Participation in our governance committees has also increased and these committees are now operating at a level that supports the size and scope of the Academy.
One of the most meaningful ways that Members participate in the Academy is by attending programs and events both in Cambridge and, increasingly, in cities across the country. Since the launch of the Membership Engagement Initiative, the number of meetings held at the House of the Academy has nearly tripled from 18 events in 2013–2014 to 51 events in 2016–2017. Our programming in Cambridge includes Stated Meetings, which date back to the founding of the Academy, Local Fellows Lunches, Friday Forums, and a discussion series initiated by the Boston-Cambridge Committee on “Civic Discourse.” The meetings were warmly received and well attended.
The Academy has also significantly expanded its programs beyond Cambridge. With the support of the Membership Engagement staff, Members have formed more than one dozen Local Program Committees across the country, from Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Diego to Houston and St. Louis, and from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Princeton to New York, Providence, and New Haven. Four additional Local Program Committees are now in formation. These committees have held receptions to welcome and engage new Members and also to plan events in their home cities, such as the San Diego Program Committee’s lecture on Neuroscience and Architecture and the New Haven Program Committee’s Town Hall Meeting on the U.S. Elections.
Our goal is not only to engage Members across the country, but also in other parts of the world. The Academy’s membership includes more than six hundred International Honorary Members, representing forty-five countries on six continents. Just over one year ago, the Academy established a Committee on International Activities, chaired by James Cuno of The J. Paul Getty Trust, to help bring an international perspective to our work and to develop closer ties both to our Members living abroad and to academies located overseas. Over the last two years, the Academy expanded its international programming with meetings in Berlin, Edinburgh, Geneva, Jerusalem, London, Milan, Moscow, and Paris. This fall, I will travel to Abuja, Nigeria, along with John Randell, John E. Bryson Director of Science, Engineering, and Technology Programs, and Francesca Giovannini, Program Director of Global Security and International Affairs, to participate in a meeting of the African Academies.
Opportunities abound to expand our efforts to engage Members in the United States and abroad. This is a high priority, especially given that the survey revealed many Members feel that the largest barriers to their participation in the Academy are time and distance. A few years ago, the Academy developed an online platform, called Member Connection, to encourage engagement beyond traditional meetings and events. And our new live-streaming initiative has enabled Members living around the world to attend, in a virtual sense, the Stated Meetings held at the House of the Academy in Cambridge. Laurie McDonough, Morton L. Mandel Director of Membership Engagement, will continue to work with Members to expand these opportunities in their local areas over the next year.
In 1981, when then President Milton Katz dedicated the House of the Academy in Cambridge, he noted that the “primary function” of the Academy was to “foster the gathering together of individuals absorbed in their respective specialties for their mutual reinvigoration in the common enterprise of understanding, discovery, and expression.” The results of the Membership Survey reveal that a great many Members share this view of the Academy. In the spirit of common enterprise, we look forward to connecting with more Members through the Membership Engagement Initiative and all the projects and programs of the Academy. In these uncertain times, there are many opportunities for the Academy to advance evidence-based research and promote civil dialogue. I look forward to pursuing those opportunities together.