In this issue

AP-LS has a strategic plan

By Brian L. Cutler, PhD

One of the great benefits of serving as AP-LS President is to take a leadership role on an initiative that moves the division forward in some way. The shape of presidential initiatives has varied over the years. For my presidential initiative, I chose to lead the Society in the development of its first strategic plan. My effort received not only the blessing of the Executive Committee in the early stages, but tremendous cooperation, encouragement, and support from dozens of AP-LS officers and members who had hands in the process. Our efforts culminated in the approval of a strategic plan.

Why does AP-LS need a strategic plan? AP-LS is a healthy professional society. It has about 3000 members and strong representation among students, as always. AP-LS Governance includes an Executive Committee, about 20 standing and ad hoc committees, and about 120 officers and committee members, all volunteers. We have a full-time, first rate administrative assistant. We have an impressive portfolio of publications, including the premier psychology-law journal, a book series, newsletter, and web page. We have programs and grants that support women, members from under-represented groups, early-career professionals, and students. We provide support for research, professional practice, and teaching. We have a fabulous annual conference. Our annual dues cost less than my monthly Starbucks card reload. We have an annual balanced budget and over $1.5 million in reserves. Given all of this great news, one might, on the one hand, ask why change anything? Nothing is broken. What are we fixing with a strategic plan? On the other hand, the size of our organization, our level of activity, and our assets oblige us, as responsible stewards, to articulate our vision, mission, values and develop systematic strategies for advancing our field and supporting our members. In addition, the timing seemed right to develop a strategic plan. APA recently developed its first strategic plan. The plan of our parent organization of course provides useful guidance for our own plan. The healthy status of our Society provided us with the opportunity to plan at a measured and comfortable pace, with no crisis to derail us or drama to distract us.

What was the planning process? We began the process with modest goals. Recognizing that AP-LS is governed by volunteers, all of whom are busy with personal and professional responsibilities, we set out to develop a brief but informative plan that would provide the Society with meaningful guidance. We sought a plan would be short enough that leadership and members might actually read it. We began by revisiting the Society’s mission statement but also proceeded to develop a vision statement, values statement, and set of strategies for achieving the Society’s vision and mission. The planning process involved creating a Steering Committee, which consisted of the President-Elect, President, and Immediate Past-President and the three Members-at-Large. The Steering Committee, which I chaired, provided overall guidance for the planning process. The Steering Committee worked through drafts of the vision, mission and values statements, vetted these statements with the Executive Committee, and eventually obtained approval for the new statements by the Executive Committee. Armed with these statements, we established five strategic planning subcommittees in order to develop strategies: (1) Research, (2) Practice, (3) Teaching and Training, (4) Membership, and (5) Governance (see Box A for Planning Committee membership). The Research, Practice, and Governance planning committees were new. We enlisted the participation of the existing Teaching, Training and Careers and Membership Committees to serve as the respective planning subcommittees. The planning subcommittees worked among themselves to develop strategies for fulfilling the AP-LS mission and vision. The strategy documents were detailed, reviewed by the Executive Committee, and further developed by the planning subcommittees. We posted a draft of the full plan for membership review on the AP-LS web site. We made final revisions and obtained approval by the Executive Committee at the March, 2013 meeting. The full process took a little less than three years (obviously, we were not working on strategic planning full time!).

So, what is the strategic plan? The plan is presented in Box B. The vision statement is appropriately ambitious, speaking to our society’s central role in advancing our science, translating our knowledge into practice, and serving as a uniting force, major catalyst, primary resource, innovator, advocate, leader, and champion of the application of psychology-law to promote human rights, dignity and justice. Mission statements should be short, to the point, and memorable. Ours is to enhance well-being, justice, and human rights through the science and practice of psychology in legal contexts. We endorsed laudable core values, including the pursuit of excellence, reliance on the scientific method, outstanding service, social justice, diversity, and inclusion, and ethical action. Our strategies included about 25 statements describing things that we should be doing in research (e.g., Promote and advocate for federal research funding for Psychology-Law issues), practice (e.g., Develop a section of the website that offers resources for clinicians such as practice documents or links, to practice documents), teaching and training (e.g., Continue to develop and distribute materials that help support and advance innovative teaching and pedagogy), membership (Continue and bolster efforts to attract new members, improve our efforts at member retention, and diversity membership with particular attention to under-represented groups and professions), and governance (e.g., Continually reviews governance operations with the goal of improving effectiveness and efficiency). The strategy list is not exhaustive but is rather meant to be a sample of the important things we should be doing. The planning subcommittees developed more detailed plans for their continued work as ad hoc and standing committees of AP-LS.

What do we do with the strategic plan? Reading it is a good start! First, I mentioned that AP-LS has about 20 committees and about 120 volunteers, but sadly, there are many excellent activities on the strategy list that we are not yet doing. So, the plan provides members who are interested in developing a new initiative to support AP-LS with ideas about how to help advance the Society’s mission and achieve its vision. A member or group of members who wishes to tackle one of these strategies can contact our President and discuss how to get involved. Second, the Executive Committee can use the plan to prioritize the strategies and establish, populate, and task new committees. Third, it is not uncommon for unsolicited proposals to be brought to the EC by members of AP-LS and representatives of other organizations, particularly those seeking financial contributions for their initiatives. Ad hoc requests are often challenging to evaluate. Now, the Executive Committee has a more firm basis for evaluating ad hoc proposals by asking how the proposals fit into our plan.

Many aspects of the plan are already underway. Some of the strategy items on the plan emphasize the work that our committees have been doing and doing very well. Some new initiatives have been started as a result of the planning process. For example, the Practice Planning Subcommittee developed an excellent set of resources (e.g., guidelines, standards, rules, laws) that will soon be available on the web. Many thanks to Casey LaDuke for the excellent work on this project. The Governance Planning Committee has produced a set of terms of reference for AP-LS committees. The plan is posted on the AP-LS web page and provides members of AP-LS, representatives of other organizations, professionals, and the general public with an understanding of the importance and impressiveness of our Society and the outstanding work that we do.

In closing, I once again (and likely for the last time) thank the membership of AP-LS for the opportunity to serve as President and for its support of the planning initiative.