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October 22, 2001
Volume 79, Number 43
CENEAR 79 43 p. 64
ISSN 0009-2347
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Determining member needs and acting on them is a topic of great importance. Earlier this year, I commissioned one of the leading online survey firms--Greenfield Online--to conduct an electronic poll of ACS members in April 2001 with the purpose of identifying what is important to current members, their level of satisfaction with ACS membership, and what they expect from ACS into the future. The intent is to provide members of ACS governance with data to aid them in making the most informed strategic choices for resource allocation in this ever more diverse and challenging climate for chemistry and chemists.

The poll ran for three weeks, and 80,000 ACS members for whom ACS has accurate e-mail addresses were invited to participate. Greenfield Online verified that the overall poll response rate of 9.7% combined with a demographic cohort response rate statistically equivalent to the overall ACS member population is statistically representative of overall member opinion. In addition, the more than 9,000 write-in responses provide ACS with a rich direct data set of member input. At the conclusion of the poll, I commissioned a task force, chaired by Judith Giordan, former member of the ACS Board of Directors, to analyze the data overall and by demographic cohort. The task force members--chosen to represent a broad array of ACS demographic cohorts--were Margaret A. Cavanaugh, D. Richard Cobb, Nathaniel Gilham, Ned D. Heindel, George E. Heinze, Thomas H. Lane, Zaida C. Morales-Martinez, and David H. Wohlers. Pamela Ayre was the staff liaison. The task force analyzed the data by various demographic cohorts: gender; years of ACS service/age; degree level; and nature of business--academia, government, and industry--and reported its findings to the ACS Board and Council in Chicago at the annual meeting. The executive summary of the report can be found at http://chemistry.org/presidentialpoll.

Overall, most important to members are topics that impact them directly and are traditional areas of emphasis of the society. Seventy-five percent or more of the responding members found five issues to be "extremely" or "very" important, with differences by demographic cohort:

  • Science literacy of students and a quality education in the chemical sciences (statistically higher importance to female and academic cohorts).
  • Funding for the chemical sciences (statistically higher importance to female, younger chemists, government, and academic cohorts).
  • Career development services and programs (statistically higher importance to female, industrial, younger, and B.S./M.S. cohorts).
  • Technical information access with a focus on publications (statistically higher importance to the academic cohort).
  • Improving the recognition of and professionalism in chemistry (statistically higher importance to older, academic, and Ph.D. cohorts).
  • Despite the high importance ratings for these topics, a large percentage of members either aren't aware of or assign a low importance to many programs that the society currently offers to address the topics. Of lowest importance to members are topics that either impact only a small group or deal with the mechanics of the society. They are
  • A different method for calculating dues (statistically lower importance to the industrial cohort).
  • Member insurance programs (statistically lower importance to academic and middle-age cohorts).
  • A credentialing process for chemists (statistically lower importance to Ph.D. and older cohorts).

More than half--50.7%--of the respondents reported they are "extremely" or "very" satisfied with their membership, and satisfaction is highest for older, academic, Ph.D. level, emeritus and/or retired, and males, but lowest for females, young to middle age, industry and government with B.S. and M.S. degrees. Nearly 74% would definitely recommend membership to others, and the verbatim comments most often cite journals and print materials as the reasons.

When asked about level of involvement, 67.5% responded "not very" or "not at all" involved and 24.4% "somewhat involved." The remaining 8.1% responded "extremely" or "very involved," with the largest member demographic cohorts over 55, Ph.D.s, academic backgrounds, 21+ years of membership, and retired. The least involved members are younger, B.S. degree, and from industry. "More germane topics" (16.3%), "more information on programs of interest" (24.1%), and more "employer support" for participation (22.5%) reportedly would improve member involvement. Only 2.2% said "nothing" would make them more involved.

As an organization, ACS is rated higher on attributes such as professional, knowledgeable, well organized, and reliable, but lower on issues of personal direct impact to each member--helpful, member-service oriented, responsive, and reasonably priced. Write-in comments indicate that ACS is perceived as "elitist" with "in groups" that are "hard to break into," and statistically, younger members rate ACS lowest on all attributes.

The raw data of the poll amounts to more than 500 pages. The task force made extensive qualitative recommendations to the ACS Board of Directors and Council, which can be summarized as

  • Focus on the topics that are of most importance.
  • Communicate by letting members know how successful current programs have been at addressing important topics and by implementing processes to continuously listen to members and address needs.
  • Satisfy members with greater responsiveness and helpfulness and by eliminating the perception of elitist and in groups.

What will happen now? My next ACS Comment will deal with the process of how to make sure that this poll will be followed up quickly with actions and will not gather dust as have a dozen surveys carried out during the past 50 years.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Board

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