“HFES: Come for the Science, Stay for the People”
This report is but a brief account of my year as President of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. I took over in October of 2020 and then subsequently relinquished control in October of 2021. It was a wild ride. First and foremost, I was dealt one ‘death’ card but three (count them) three aces in the hole. The evident problem was the pandemic. It had already been raging some eight months by the time the gavel was passed to me, but here came my first ‘ace.’ For I had the great joy and advantage of being able to follow Susan Hallbeck as President of our Society. She was, and is, awesome. I could only marvel at the energy she exhibited and workload that she took on and dispatched. I learned under her tutelage how to cope with a tsunami of everyday demands and not go crazy in the process. One of the primary lines of defense here are your friends and companions. A quick word here about the Presidency itself and how it has changed across the years. This is given from my perspective and so represents only one individual’s viewpoint and opinion. I have the advantage of previously having been President in 2000 and so can compare my experiences. In 2000, the prime dimension of the role was to provide direction and inspiration to the Society. The most prominent duties were to chair the two meetings of the Executive Council (one a mid-year meeting and one at the Annual Meeting itself) and to deliver the Presidential Address. Tradition had it that the latter should concern the aims, goals, and achievements of the Society and directions for its future. As will become evident, the role of President has expanded mightily across the intervening years and that growth, in and of itself, should be an issue for further discussion. For the role now is close to becoming a full-time occupation. If your employer or supportive institution is not aware of this burden, the demands can easily be excessive. In that respect, I was also fortunate in my full-time employer understanding these needs and obligations.
As President you don’t start cold. Rather, you have a year in which to observe your predecessor in action and so some time to get into ‘the swing of things.’ You are formally involved in a number of committees, but your immediate forebear may well ‘loop you in’ to the many threads and issues already in progress. Again, I was lucky in both those individuals who preceded me and who are now following me in line. One of the major activities of President-Elect is to organize and chair the planning day, in which you are able to set out your agenda and indicate the impact you hope to exert. I was all prepared to do this and had even coordinated with a professional in such planning matters (actually an HFES member of evident standing in the area of facilitation). That planning day was to occur just prior to the 2020 HFES Health Care Symposium in Toronto, Canada, at our mid-year meeting in March 2020. Well, we all know what happened next. I was already in Toronto, interacting with the good folks at the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto where I was presenting to their students and faculty, when the blow struck. Future planning collapsed into current survival. We went from normality to emergency in the space of a few days and it is not too much to say that, just for a brief interval of time, the future of the Society was under problematic threat.
Susan Hallbeck should go down in our annals as the individual most to the fore in getting us through those parlous times. I do not mean to say it was not a herculean effort on behalf of multitudes of our volunteers, but the buck stopped with the President, and she rose to the occasion. I was privileged to witness her untiring efforts at close hand. Take it from me we all owe Susan a vast debt of gratitude. Of course, I also did what I could and was among the membership of the ‘rank and file’ trying to adjust and adapt. The rescheduled Healthcare meeting proved a success and provided much needed light in that dark time. Adjustments were made, obligations honored, and we pushed forward. I took over in the period when we were managing to deliver our first ‘virtual’ HFES Annual Meeting. It was a tour-de-force by our Meetings Committee and Emergency Committee alike. Prognostications suggest that even in the future we might now never go back to a pure, in-person event. However, more of that later. The perspective of having previously been President gave some insight into the issue of workload needed on behalf of HFES. I had witnessed in person the dedication and more, the enthusiastic commitment of the staff who had served the Society for so long, our old guard of Santa Monica days. Those individuals in our permanent California-based office readily went ‘above and beyond’ for the good of our community. Now, we were asking a new group to assume those same, and even expanding duties. However, we were clearly not giving them sufficient resource support to do so. I shall not commence to comparing FTE equivalents etc. merely to say the new position was almost untenable. So now here comes my second ‘ace.’ In association with Susan, I pushed for us to have Steve Kemp devote 100% of his effort to HFES. It is a decision I am more than glad to be associated with. For Steve, like other talented and dedicated individuals before him, now runs our day-to-day concerns. He oversees a number of further associated professional colleagues whose collective actions are to our great benefit. Just how much, I was to experience during my year.
Much of our planning and delivering of the new forms of meetings was ‘learning on the fly.’ We had some experience with Webinars and other types of virtual delivery vehicles but our stalwart, Ron Boring, bore the brunt of the work in association with Alexis at Smith Bucklin and all the volunteers who underwrote their collective success. For every single thing that was perceived of as going ‘wrong,’ several hundreds had to go right, or be made to do so and kudos to all involved in that now, on-going success. The Society’s business proceeds apace, even in a pandemic and one of the jewels during my own Presidency was the outstanding success of the 2021 Healthcare Symposium. In politics it is traditional for the head of the organization to take the plaudits while not necessarily having carried the water. I carried no water and Tony Andre, Joe Keebler and their confreres are the ones to whom applause is owed. Not the least by me, as we shall see with observations our financial stability. The pressing problem at the start of my Presidency (and it is one that is by no means solved) is membership. From a Society traditionally believed to have been stable at around four and a half thousand members, we were down to around twelve hundred at the start of 2021. Not sustainable. I, and many others, both through formal committees (such as the Membership Committee under Cheryl Bolstad) and through more informal avenues fought to bring that number back up. I personally sent messages, especially to valued colleagues who had dropped their membership asking them to rejoin and explaining the expanding value thereof. As I leave office we have returned to virtually the three thousand members level and there are hopes of more continuing to join before the end of 2021. A comeback of more than 150% membership added is gratifying, yet it is a challenge that Chris Reid, our new President inherits. The reasons for membership numbers fluctuating are certainly not all pandemic-related but involve the very nature of what a scientific and professional society is, and what it serves in our present times. Much of that discussion centers around ‘worth’ and ‘value’ and how we generate and communicate that to the membership without simply flooding their in-boxes or overwhelming their capacity to use the resources that are available – an on-going challenge.
Part of being President is taking the responsibility for both good and bad, even though you personally might not have had much to do with either! In my year we experienced both good and bad, but my final ‘ace’ proved to be an invaluable one. For I am to be followed by Chris Reid who, very much like Susan before, is a tireless champion for our discipline and profession. There were many, many times when I could salve my battered soul with the consolation that our future was already in good hands. Welcome Chris, I know that you will excel! Since the constructive aspects of this document are about positive achievements, I have listed a sequence of them below. But be aware, these are essentially all collective achievements. I am therefore careful and assiduous in observing that certain elements are ones in which I had a hand in some small measure, many I here report as a pleasure of observing the achievements of our vigorous and talented members.
- Our Society survived the waves of the Pandemic that attacked all societies (writ large) around the world. Thanks to Susan’s calm leadership we showed resilience, fortitude, and purpose. I can take only some small portion of any credit since our staff and volunteers are those who succeeded here.
- We turned our finances around and achieved a positive income, as opposed to a net loss. This is down to Susan Kotowski’s stewardship of our resources and the planning with staff. The turnaround derived largely from the Healthcare Symposium, for which Tony, Joe and their associated colleagues are to be recognized. The attracting of 745 registrants was simply outstanding.
- As was my hope and declared aspiration of my revised Presidency, our member numbers grew (back). Fighting against a number of social forces, we managed to increase our numbers across the year by significant levels (150% approx. above baseline). The problem has been lessened but not resolved.
- HFES has provided our membership with COVID resources and held numerous webinars across the year. They have served to disseminate important information.
- The crisis management committee succeeded well beyond that which can reasonably have been contemplated. They have met and defeat a sequence of critical challenges.
- We have impacted public policy at the Federal levels having submitted written testimony to multiple Congressional Appropriations Sub-Committees looking to support science funding and recognition of HF/E.
- HFES has published a Policy Statement on Energy and the Environment.
- HFES has, this year, awarded two grants targeting the intersections of HF/E and anti-racism/anti-bias as part of our on-going action plan to support diversity, equity and inclusion in our Society and beyond.
- Efforts are already underway to leverage the knowledge we gained in putting on the in-person and virtual 65th Annual Meeting (current estimated attendance at both now above 900) in order to facilitate and improve our processes for the 66th Annual Meeting to be held in Atlanta, Georgia.
- HFES published its own Policy Statement on reducing the use of deadly force in law enforcement situations.
- Under the leadership of Chris Reid, HFES has been initiating, negotiating, and completing a number of bi-lateral agreements with a number of like-minded scientific societies and professional associations. These include, but are not limited to INCOSE, SASE, SHPE, NSC, among others. This work continues to progress.
- HFES continues to make further progress on revisions to the HFES 100 Standard on Computer Workstations and has developed and approved the newest HFES 400 Standard on Human Readiness Levels in the System Development Process.
- In the spirit of ever-greater co-operation, together with AIHA, HFES has published a work on Home Health Care Aides: Occupational Health and Safety Challenges and Opportunities.
- We have published our own White Paper on: Assessing Authentic Diversity in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
- And last, but not least, we have a new book out in our Methods Series entitled: Situation Awareness Measurement by former HFES President, Dr. Mica Endsley.
I certainly cannot, and would not want to, take any personal credit for completion of the large majority of these our collective achievements. However, in the midst of a world-wide emergency, it is satisfying to be able to record that HFES continued to move forward and remain committed to using our various skills and insights to facilitate recovery and to foster the improvement of the quality of all life on our planet. May our goals inspire us, may our achievements succor us, may our spirit move the world.
Orlando, FL, October 2021
Back to News Feed