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Presidential Blog

Our Society: We’re getting there!

05 April 2017 | by Peter Kinderman

The British Psychological Society is going through some key changes, and change is sometimes stressful.

I wrote recently about how the Society is revising the terms of reference of its key strategic Boards to promote excellence in psychological research and practice and so that policy makers and the public know the value of evidence-based psychology.

Our members want us to act as a learned society and a professional body, promoting the value of psychology, pure and applied. But, we need to become professional ourselves.

One example of this professionalism – and of our embrace of the modern world – is the advertisement for a professional, salaried, blogger to join the Research Digest team (a position now sadly closed, if you were thinking of applying).

I strongly welcome such changes. In my opinion, we still rely too much on an amateur ethos best suited to 1901 (the date of the Society’s foundation) than to 2017. With over 70,000 members and a significant public interest mandate, we need a professional and modern approach.

That doesn’t mean forgetting that we are an academic learned society, but it means leaving behind the idea that our work can best be conducted on a voluntary basis by semi-retired university professors on the weekends and evenings.

I have argued that we need to move much faster and more confidently towards a 21st-century approach.  We need to effectively support the vital work that Members do on a voluntary basis through activities that enable them to contribute their unique psychological expertise without feeling overworked.

We need to look carefully at the way in which members provide psychological expertise so that they do not become overburdened and this may require some radical change. At present, some members are contributing time on operational matters that are best undertaken by salaried staff, so this requires review to ensure that necessary functions are supported centrally.

That, I believe would allow us to move forwards. And I think it’s important we do so.

There have been expressions of great concern, over the past week, over the future of Clinical Psychology Forum.

The tensions there reflect all these wider issues – should we become more professional in our approach (I think so) or should we entirely rely on volunteers to conduct Society business (no, in my opinion, although we must still rely on Members acting in a voluntary basis to contribute their expertise). In line with best practice in employment procedures and recent legal precedents,

I believe that individuals should be paid the going rate for the job, selected and managed using appropriate HR policies and, if already in employment and undertaking key roles for the Society, I think employers should support and release individuals for these important roles – something recently recommended by the House of Lords.

But I must say that it isn’t quite as simple as Twitter (what a surprise) and Facebook discussions imply. Clinical Psychology Forum is a great publication and the team that produces it is outstanding. We do need to sort out the tortuous issue of how our Members contribute to the Society following changes to employment law.

The British Psychological Society has criticised the ‘gig economy’ and zero-hours culture. We can’t inadvertently adopt the same working practices ourselves.

When Uber was ruled to be employing people – by setting up a system by which they were paid for their work – most of my psychology colleagues welcomed this, and pointed out that employers should not merely ‘pay people for working’, but should establish proper legal contracts for employment. So these principles must apply also to the BPS.

The fact that the ‘workers’ are usually also members (and therefore subscribers) to the Society, and that the Society is a charity, makes it complex.

Employment contracts, for instance, involve various important protections (sick leave, maternity leave, redundancy, unfair dismissal, etc). People holding such jobs need to have been appointed in ways compliant with employment law, which is not always the same as our current systems for appointing people to roles (employees are not elected, for example).

Any employed role with the Society has to be on the same terms and conditions as our existing, salaried, staff and fit into our current structures. We have a responsibility to plan these things carefully… and they are not simple.

So, from my perspective, I am absolutely committed to a professional body that delivers for its members, including in the preparation and publication of its various newsletters, magazines and journals.

I absolutely agree that this should be professional, and I absolutely agree that people working for the Society should be paid for their time.

But we have to do that legally and, sorry, these things are complex. That unfortunately takes time. We will still, also, need volunteers, but we will need to make their roles manageable and not make people feel like they are being exploited or taken for granted.

Those are important discussions, and I welcome them. But it’s a lot more complex than a 140-charater tweet saying “Why don't you just sort it?”

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