Building for the future

Kate Brennan-Rhodes listens in to the top triumvirate at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference.

Wednesday’s plenary session was an opportunity for the British Psychological Society’s Presidential Team to share their views and vision. In a format that Charles Dickens would have approved of, each speaker took the audience through a certain period of time: President Nicola Gale reflected on the past year, Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa discussed the present and President-Elect Kate Bullen looked to the future.

Nicola began by reminding us why the Society exists: to make life better for people by equipping them with the psychological skills and knowledge they need to navigate a complex world. Over the past year, the Society has done work to be proud of in working with policy makers, raising awareness among parliamentarians of the importance and relevance of psychology. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology, formed last year, is an example of this in action. Other high points of the last year have included collaboration with our international colleagues, such as being hosts of the European Semester of Psychology. We remain European citizens in our capacity as psychologists.

She also acknowledged some challenges posed in the last year. When influencing at a high level, it’s helpful to have a single core message – which is tricky to form in a broad discipline such as psychology. With growth, the culture and governance of the BPS has needed to change; but the new boards and the Senate will help democratise the Society and help charge a new focus on enhancing benefits and increasing engagement with members.

Sarb, the freshly appointed Chief Executive, expressed his delight to be taking the helm at the BPS. Whilst he is not a psychologist by background, he brings a wealth of experience in leading membership organisations, taking them through periods of change and helping them increase the impact they make. His vision for the BPS is to bring psychology back together; echoing the words of the late MP Jo Cox in saying that ‘we have more in common than what sets us apart’. Sarb has committed to deliver a process of change on several fronts. The first involves understanding differing member needs. A professor working at a university needs different things from the BPS than an undergraduate, for example. He also pledged to increase digitisation – which will be welcome news to the Branches – and to trial new changes to see what we can learn.

Sarb then turned to ‘the map of doom’: the member network map. It’s a complicated structure which means that operationally, there’s duplicated work that takes up a lot of time, energy and money – resulting in good work getting lost. To begin to unpick this, we need to ask some key questions: What is the role of the BPS? What would a world without it look like? Early survey results reveal that members want the BPS to change – ‘but not my bit’.

Success, in Sarb’s view, means that the BPS will be an organisation that we are proud to be part of. One that punches above its weight, is intent on delivering services to members, and focused on expertise. It will be a modern and efficient organisation. ‘We know we’re a bit clunky and old fashioned. We want to change that.’

Kate Bullen, President-elect, built on these thoughts by adding her own view for the future. As an academic by experience, one of her priorities will be to serve academic members of the Society. All psychologists have been to university and benefited from an academic education during at least the start of their career. In turbulent times in UK higher education, we need a strong voice and reasoned arguments to influence issues such as student funding. The crisis in mental ill-health among students and academics is an area where the BPS should have an impact. She also highlighted the Society’s focus on equality and diversity, with the need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The BPS is doing this by working towards a Bronze Award with the Equality Challenge Unit, Athena SWAN charter – a tough challenge that’s not for the faint-hearted.

With the presidential team sharing this hefty to-do list and big ambitions to produce a more impactful, efficient and member-focused Society, it’s clear that exciting but challenging times lie ahead.

- You can read more coverage from the Annual Conference online, and in the June and July print editions.

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