Fall 2018 Board Meeting Advances Future ASHG Direction and Growth

The Fall 2018 ASHG Board Meeting occurred October 15-16 before the Annual Meeting in San Diego. In addition to oversight and financial management responsibilities, the Board continued setting course for ASHG’s growth and new directions to serve members and the field ever more effectively.

Annual Meeting and AJHG Remain Vibrant Leaders in the Field

Given its proximity to the Board meeting, the success of ASHG 2018 was a major topic. Program Committee (PC) Chair Heather Mefford discussed innovations this year, including inspiration lounges that will better connect leaders and members informally. The Board also discussed the introduction of ASHG’s Annual Meeting Code of Conduct, noting the importance of stressing the Society’s expectation that the meeting should be a productive and welcoming environment for all.

An ad hoc group on the Annual Meeting reported its findings. Charged by the Board last year to explore continued meeting enhancements and chaired by Board member Nancy Spinner, the group comprised active past PC members, including a trainee. The group recommended new approaches to future collaborative programming and that the PC select some committee-generated programming when it thinks warranted, although a large majority of the program will remain field-sourced. The group also encouraged enhancements to small networking opportunities and more exhibit hall engagement. The Board voted to accept the recommendations and concluded the group, with deep thanks for members’ service.

AJHG Editor Bruce Korf reported on many journal successes, and in addition to significant excellent science published this year, he noted his appreciation for the shared interest in building a pipeline of commentary and ASHG-related content in AJHG, especially the new ASHG “Perspectives” series. He also touched on continuing Editorial Board discussions and the implications of external trends in scientific publishing, including open access. He proposed, and the Board approved, a one-year Scientific Publishing Planning Group that will provide input to him in advancing his emerging vision for AJHG and possibly recommend to the Board broader actions to address the changing publishing terrain.

Member Feedback and Board Planning Emphasizes Professional Education and Networking, Diversity, International Access

The Board heard a presentation of the key findings from the recent ASHG member survey and explored how they will inform the Board’s strategic planning session in winter 2019. They discussed key takeaways, which included the clear value members see in the Annual Meeting each year, as well as their desire for greater professional education, field information, member engagement, and networking. As a result, the Board approved continued small-scale experiments in these areas in the first half of 2019 while they assess priorities for more substantial work and investment.

The Board also greenlighted enhancements to ASHG’s commitments to diversity and support for the global community. A new initiative to support the development of early-career human genetics professionals from underrepresented groups was approved for development, and ASHG will be seeking additional financial support to launch and grow the program. Additionally, as part of its commitment to the growing global human genetics community, the Board approved the creation of a new tiered level of member dues for geneticists in low- and middle-income countries, which will begin with the 2020 membership year.

Looking ahead to strategic planning, the Board discussed efforts to ensure robust input from many perspectives. They reviewed planned Annual Meeting events and processes for input from all ASHG committees and a select group of external stakeholders.

Busy Committees Engage on Key Issues for Field

ASHG committee chairs typically meet annually with the Board to get feedback and approval on committee programs. In San Diego, the Board reviewed recommendations from several committees.   On ASHG’s educational focus, the Board met with Information & Education (I&E) Committee Chair Jannine Cody to explore final recommendations from a year-long iterative discussion about educational priorities. At this time, the I&E Committee noted that its single highest priority would be to engage members directly in public education, and recommended reorganizing and relaunching the Genetics Education and Outreach Network in this effort, along with continued leadership on DNA Day Essay content and other DNA Day activity, all in pursuit of sparking excitement in the next generation of researchers and genetically literate citizens.

Regarding field-facing education that builds and supports the professional development of members across the career span, the committee felt that was very important work but that the committee would not have the additional bandwidth to address the very extensive need for strategies and ample implementation. The committee requested that its charge narrow to focus on student and general public audiences, and remove “professionals in human genetics” as an audience for the I&E committee’s work. The Board understood the challenge and approved the request. Overall, the Board encouraged the group to continue to consider and articulate specific goals and metrics for their work with one emphasis on the scale and reach of programs, and the committee agreed.

On social issues, the Board provided positive, final feedback on a planned statement regarding the duty to recontact as well as a short path to the statement’s finalization, and approved a workplan for a new professional guidance document on paleogenomic research. The Policy and Advisory Advocacy Group (PAAG) reported in on a first advocacy activities and an ASHG Perspective regarding race and genetics expected to run imminently in AJHG, and possible additional work on that topic. They were very enthusiastic about Training & Development Committee (TDC) efforts to continue enhancements of Annual Meeting programming and to expand the impact of social media strategies that engage trainees, working with larger Society strategies. The TDC also expressed interest in engaging trainees more actively in public policy and advocacy, and the Board encouraged the group to explore ways to engage with PAAG’s developing strategies.

Financial Stability Important to Future Growth and Innovation

Finally, the Board took seriously its charge to maintain ASHG’s sound financial footing. It reviewed final FY2018 figures and approved several recommendations from the Finance Committee (FC). The FC presented the audited financials, noting a clean management letter this year and the auditors’ recognition that identified past deficiencies were resolved. To maintain the Society’s financial health, the FC noted that after many years of generally flat dues, it was important to continue modest periodic increases that would address the corrosive impact of steady inflation. The Board generally agreed with this observation and 2019 regular dues will increase slightly in 2019 — $10 (5%) to $200, while other categories grow $5.

For 2020 budget planning, the Board voted to restrict increases to regular membership, holding early career and trainee levels steady. They approved similarly small, steady increases in planned registration rates for the same reason. Finally, anticipating strategic planning and investment in new priorities, the Board also reviewed the Society’s investments and determined a responsible annual allocation that could be applied to new member-facing activity. This annual available figure will not exceed 2.5% of a rolling three-year average of the total fund value, ensuring that reserves remain able to protect the Society in the event of sustained economic downturns and can generate sustained resources for investment in the Society’s mission.

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