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ACS's Guiding Light

New strategic plan outlines goals and challenges for the society in the coming years

February 23, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 8

December 2003 brought a wave of changes to the American Chemical Society. The society got a new executive director and a new chair of the board. A new president prepared to start his term. And one of the most significant changes to ACS was the adoption of a new strategic plan. This plan--released last week to the society and to the public--will guide the society's actions and outlook through 2006.

A number of themes run through the plan, a streamlined document clocking in at 19 pages. The key concepts of science, the profession, and public underline ACS's continuing educational and service missions, as well as its need to evolve in response to increasingly interdisciplinary chemical enterprises. The strategic plan is available to the public and can be found on the society's website at

"Three core strategies anchor the strategic plan," the introduction reads. They are the following:

  • ◾ Providing state-of-the-art chemical information.
  • ◾ Serving as a premier professional organization for practitioners of chemistry.
  • ◾ Enhancing public appreciation of the chemical sciences and technologies.

"The society is committed to building on and nurturing these core activities," it continues. "At the same time, ACS will pursue a set of development strategies as it endeavors to lead and support the chemical enterprise into the future." The strategies are to transform the definition of chemistry to encompass its true multidisciplinary nature; to create a leading, dynamic, and integrated portfolio of products and services; and to promote inclusiveness throughout the chemical enterprise.

James D. Burke, the new chair of the ACS Board of Directors, says, "This plan is intended to be a template for people to follow in doing what they do as members of our profession." The two key aspects of the plan are "engaging with our science and influencing it."

As such, the plan encompasses a number of important goals for ACS, Burke explains, including accommodating growing amounts of interdisciplinary research, increasing collaboration with allied fields and other scientific organizations, promoting funding for basic and applied research, recognizing the achievements of notable chemists and chemical educators, better providing for the society's members' needs, promoting the chemical sciences, engaging with and educating the public and legislators, and ensuring proper chemical and scientific education.

Other issues the strategic plan emphasizes include maintaining a role as a leading source of scientific and chemical knowledge, promoting diversity within the chemical sciences, and addressing the effects of globalization on chemists and their employment.

"The plan's simplicity belies the enormous amount of effort and thought that went into it," says ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Madeleine Jacobs. ACS periodically reviews its strategic plan, issuing a new one about every three years. Like previous plans, the 2004–06 document was the result of a lengthy collaborative process.

David L. Schutt, chief strategy officer and director of the External Affairs Division of ACS, says the creation of the new plan was more inclusive of all branches of the society than had been the case with earlier plans. "Input was sought from a more diverse pool of chemists. In addition to the executive committee of the board of directors and members of senior staff, leaders from ACS local sections and divisions, in particular the chairs of the Local Section Activities Committee and the Divisional Activities Committee, were invited to planning sessions," Schutt says.

After gathering enormous amounts of information, the hard work began: incorporating the stream of ideas into a cohesive and streamlined vision of ACS and its future.

"Previous plans didn't have the traction that we hoped they would have," Burke says. "They did not sufficiently engage local sections and technical divisions for input into their design. The result was ambiguity and confusion on their part."

BUT THIS YEAR the vision is "more practical than before," he says. "It lays out the issues in ways that are readily grasped and easily understood.

"It's a good plan," Burke adds. "It focuses on what should be done and where it needs to be done, but calls upon individual members and various units of the society to determine how best to implement that."

Burke and Jacobs intend to carry the collaborative process one step further. The strategic plan has already been distributed to the ACS Board of Directors, councilors, local section and division chairs and officers, committee chairs, and ACS staff. The hope is that these ACS leaders will pass the plan along and seek input and advice from members on how best to achieve ACS's vision.

To kick off the society's staff response to the plan, Jacobs has significantly reorganized ACS staff to better align its units with the goals presented in the plan. "The future of the chemical enterprise is boundless," Jacobs says. "With the help of local sections, technical divisions, committees, and all of our members, ACS will be a critical element of the chemical enterprise's ongoing vitality and success."

"For the plan to succeed," Burke adds, "we need every ACS member to take responsibility for implementing it in our volunteer organizations--technical divisions and secretariats and local sections--to the extent possible. Moreover, each of us must proudly share it in our interdisciplinary enterprises and promote it wherever we interact with any public constituency. A core group of talented, devoted members worked long and hard to articulate this excellent strategic plan. Its ultimate success is up to all of us."



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