CASE STUDY: IBS – The Power of Transformation

When it was founded in 1947, the International Biometric Society (IBS) was an organization comprised of five regions governed by a council. The organization’s goal: promote the development and application of statistical and mathematical theory and methods in the biosciences. Members include statisticians, mathematicians, biological scientists and other professionals devoted to interdisciplinary efforts in advancing the collection and interpretation of information in the biosciences.

Today, IBS has grown to more than 35 regions, representing 87 countries and more than 6,000 members. Yet its governance structure did not keep pace with its growth and the organization continued to rely on its outdated governance structure. While it had served the organization well for many years, it was no longer viable. It was unbalanced, ineffective and had unintentionally disenfranchised some members.

Bostrom helped IBS diagnose its issues and create a process framework to move forward. Bostrom’s consulting division facilitated a governance review and brainstorming session and then Dee Ann Walker, CAE, IBS Executive Director and Bostrom’s Director of Operations, worked with IBS leadership to manage and guide the process.

Following the initial facilitation, the next step was to create an action plan and a timeline. Given that the governing documents had not been changed in many years, multiple steps were required before the process was complete. And with a global organization with such a large reach and diverse membership, the President and Executive Director were prepared for a lengthy process – almost three years from start to finish. Oneimportant key to success was communicating and then communicating even more – to take the members through each step.

Communications took many forms: emails, surveys, and discussion forums. It was constant. Walker worked with all of the various stakeholders – including the officers in each of the 35 regions — to make sure each was heard. She worked alongside President Kaye Basford, who assumed office in 2010, to get people on board and build consensus.

One of the most challenging elements of the process was reassuring stakeholders that the process would not negatively impact the organization. Rather, it would strengthen and position it well for the future. Another challenge: maintaining focus and moving the process forward.

Walker, Basford and the IBS Executive Committee began the process of updating the governance structure, striving to make it as inclusive as possible. They consulted with a variety of entities within the organization: Council members, Regional and National Group Officers and members of the Club of Presidents.

Transformative Goals

One of the goals of the new governance structure: increase input and decision-making powers at the regional level and include all members in the election of the Executive Board. Additionally, new governance aimed to prevent a single region from exerting disproportionate influence in overall decision-making.
The new governance structure was no less than a transformation. To fully understand the scope of changethat occurred, let’s look at a before and after snapshot of IBS leadership:

Before:

  • 19 regions and 12 smaller national groups each elect their own officers; three networks brought together activities from across several regions and groups
  • A Legislative Council (comprised of approximately 40 members) elected globally with stronger regions having 5 or more members on the Council
  • A six-member Executive Committee, including four officers, elected by the Council
  • Seven standing committees, each with 10 appointed members with the Council’s approval

After:

  • Geographic regions (national groups elevated to regions) elect their own officers
  • A larger Representative Council (65 members) elected locally and based on membership numbers
  • An expanded Executive Board (12 members, plus three officers) elected by the entire membership
  • Seven standing committees (with 10 appointed members per committee), approved by the Executive Board and chaired by Representative Council members

The most significant change was installing an expanded Executive Board to govern and lead the organization, (rather than a smaller Executive Committee) supported by a larger Representative Council, which links the regions and the Executive Board. A larger Board enables greater involvement of all board members in policy and other matters. The Board is elected to represent the membership globally with no one region being overly represented; the Representative Council is more representative of the membership at-large because membership is based on the number of members in each region rather than by popular vote. Each region selects or appoints its representatives. Additionally, the Representative Council has two, new important functions: all standing committee chairs comefrom the Representative Council and members of the Council comprise the nominating committee which presents a slate for the Executive Board election.

Governance in Action: Benefits

Last fall, the elected, 15-person board met to brainstorm. On the agenda: a planning session to outline an operational plan. Coinciding with all of this planning – and perhaps making it easier – was the recognition that IBS was operating from a position of financial strength.

Consistent and effective communications throughout every step of the process was critical to overall success. The IBS President travelled throughout the globe, visiting many regions and meeting with regional leadership and members to discuss the governance proposal.

The new governance structure has enhanced the organization’s culture. Today it is more inclusive; more members represent the organization, extending the president’s reach. Decision-making has improved because a larger group of people are more closely involved in issues and understand the organization’s direction. An elected Council offers opportunities for more people to be involved, learn and assume new leadership roles, which in turn will help cultivate future leaders. For example, one U.S. member, originally from China, returned there and started a new IBS chapter – which now boasts 42 members.

Upcoming Priorities

With momentum from the governance process, IBS is making improvements in other areas, too. The organization seeks to develop more educational programming with a broader reach than its current biennial conference. In addition, it seeks to leverage some of its educational assets across regions.

Other priorities:

  • Engaging the next generation of members – reaching out to students – to develop a member pipeline for the future.
  • Enhancing member benefits – including a new “members only” section on a redesigned website
  • Increasing communications and introducing greater procedural efficiencies
  • Reaching out to other related societies

What began as an initiative to re-tool its governance structure has grown into a broader effort to better position this global organization to anticipate and respond to member needs well into the future.