Special Interest Groups Review – Call for Applications
12 June 2019
BERA currently has 35 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that represent the particular research concerns and interests of groups of members of the Association. SIGs vary in size of membership and the length of time in existence. Most SIGs are primarily concerned to develop, extend and enhance scholarly discussion and research capacity in the area of research interest and to improve networking among membership and associated national and international bodies.
SIGs have been a key part of BERA’s work for a number of years. Initially this work was largely focussed upon reviewing and grouping papers for the annual conference but in recent years this has extended to running other events, communicating with members and bidding for funds.
In the past few years, BERA itself has changed fundamentally. Its membership has doubled in size as has its turnover. It has also become a limited company as well as a charity. The external world has also changed with greater requirements imposed upon organisations such as BERA by the Charity Commission and associated legislation – notably GDPR.
In this climate, the number of SIGs has grown exponentially over the past decade, and the role of convenors has changed. This is not something peculiar to BERA. The funding offered by BERA to SIGs has grown significantly (much of which ends up supporting the SIG Convenors directly in terms of free places and travel costs) alongside a considerable amount of staff time. The balance between supporting SIG activity and implementing the wider strategic work of BERA Council has resource challenges for the BERA office.
While the Engagement Committee conducts an annual review of SIG activity, SIGs do not currently have standards of accountability and the SIG Handbook focusses mainly on the operational side, with the strategic plan referenced only in event proposal forms.
A SIG review was undertaken in 2013 and while this had made some improvement to the way SIGs operate within BERA it has not addressed fundamental questions. Given how much the association had changed in recent years as well as the legal and charitable obligations, BERA now feels that the time is right to undertake a more fundamental review of SIGs. This will include looking at the purpose, status and operations of SIGs.
As part of this review, we wish to gather evidence as to how SIGs currently work, the strengths and weaknesses of that as well as look for lessons (both positive and negative) from elsewhere. This work will report into the Engagement Committee who are overseeing this project. On a day-to-day basis, this work will liaise directly with the BERA office.
- Review the current working of BERA SIGs, talking to a sample of former and current Convenors as well as the BERA office and reviewing relevant paperwork.
- Look at how SIGs (or their equivalent) work in other UK learned societies. This is likely to involve interviews with key staff in a sample of other societies (agreed with the BERA office)
- Look at how SIGs (or their equivalent) work in other educational research associations around the world. This will include EERA, AERA and AARE.
- Based upon this, make some recommendation for areas that should be prioritised in any ongoing review process.
Person Specification and Criteria
We are looking for an experienced freelance writer and/or researcher with the capacity to undertake this work for us.
Candidates should submit their short CV, and a covering letter which particularly sets out their skills for the task by referring to their:
- Understanding of governance and accountability in a charitable setting;
- Understanding of the role and operations of a learned society or their equivalent;
- Understanding of the issues currently affecting those working in Higher Education;