The UK's computer science community has for some time been discussing the need for a stronger, more cohesive learned society to provide better support and promote the interests of the community.
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Discussions continue about how it should be structured and through which organisations such activities might be co-ordinated.
One recent BCS Thought Leadership debate focused on what a learned society should or could deliver for the community.
One important aspect considered was the demand in the community for more learned society activities and services, and what might encourage members of the community to join in.
The panel - Steve Furber, professor of computer engineering at the University of Manchester Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton Keith Mander, professor of computer science at the University of Kent and Jane Hillston reader in computer science at the University of Edinburgh - gave short informal presentations, which were followed by discussions.
It was thought the focus of a learned society should be essentially academic: it is the locus where the knowledge of the discipline is generated and gathered, as well as an authoritative point of reference for external bodies.
Also discussed were marketing policies and benefits for those affiliated. The current BCS marketing policy is more successful with practitioners than with the academic community, so perhaps a larger choice of "academically oriented" benefits should be available to trade against current ones.
If, for instance, a free subscription to the Computer Journal was a membership benefit, academics may feel more inclined to join and to publish in it, the debate heard.
Editing and running quality publications was seen as fundamental for a learned society to preserve the discipline's body of knowledge. But this does not necessarily mean a learned society must also be a fully fledged publisher.
Several cooperation models with commercial publishers can be designed, where the learned society maintains some rights to the material (for example, free electronic distribution to its members). Alternatively, a consortium of universities could become a not-for-profit publisher, the debate heard.
Finally, as a fundamental part of its function as a reference point for external bodies, a learned society ought to engage with improving school curricula, raising the profile of the discipline with the public, and be active within the government's policy counselling bodies.
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