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Presidential Blog

Looking back and looking forward

29 August 2018 | by Nicola Gale

Nicola Gale contributes her final blog as Society President.

Traditionally associated with January, but in this case the time of endings and renewal for our Society as we approach our Annual General Meeting at the end of August tomorrow, like Janus the ancient Roman god we pause to reflect on endings, beginnings, transitions, journeys, and the gates through which we need to pass on our way. 

Much has happened in the 16 months in which I have been President of the Society. We have achieved a lot, and some of that is illustrated in our Annual Report, which covers the calendar year 2017. We have spent time building sound foundations for the future. We have made and renewed important external connections to help in our endeavours. We have worked hard on our relationships with our members. 

Reaching out across Europe and Internationally

We have invested in building and cementing our European and international connections. This is an important part of what we do as a Society: learning from others; sharing our strengths; exploring common issues and differences and finding solutions.

As a Society, these connections and relationships allow us to draw upon a global community of professionals in championing the contribution that Psychology can make. Demonstrating this value add is a key focus for BPS.

The first six months of 2018 saw a proud BPS hosting the European Semester of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations.

The stated aim of the Semester programme is to create a common space in which European psychologists can interact and communicate to foster the sharing and transmission of knowledge and expertise between members and, in turn, to stimulate the ongoing development of a European identity among psychologists across Europe. Our theme for the Semester was Psychology Moving Humanity Forward, which encompassed much of our agenda including equality, diversity and inclusion, policy influencing in particular prevention, good science, and psychology education and training to be proud of in inspiring our next generation. 

As part of the Semester, the end of April saw our Society hosting the Presidents’ Council of EFPA, which is an opportunity for all 37 country-members of EFPA to meet, every six months, to consider strategy, direction, ways to collaborate, share news across European psychology, and provide support, resources and ideas to solve problems.

We have engaged significantly with EFPA, having a presence at the European Congress of Psychology in Amsterdam in July 2017, and also representing the UK at the EFPA General Assembly which followed the Congress. 

We are also members of the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS). The General Assembly of IUPsyS was recently held in Montréal and much time was spent looking at how international collaboration in psychology can be made more effective and have greater impact, and how the international structures can facilitate that. This is the next challenge for international engagement and we are talking to colleagues about how we can do this. 

Having impact

We have significantly developed our policy influencing capability across the UK and in the devolved nations. This is core to our Society's objectives as set out in our impact statement:

"People are equipped with the everyday psychological skills and knowledge to navigate a complex world, knowing themselves and others better. Everyone can access evidence-based psychology to enhance their lives, communities and wider society."

I often shorten this informally when speaking to ‘Our Society exists to make things better for people’. A key example of us doing this at Westminster is our long-running campaign in relation to end-to-end reform of the Employment Support assessment, and specifically Work Capability Assessment. Other key priority areas include Psychology at Work (focused on the psychological impact of insecure and unstable employment and enabling strength-based employment for those with neurodiverse conditions), children and young people’s mental health, Dementia, Pre-tertiary Education and the Research Excellence Framework. As the examples illustrate, one of the themes that can be seen in much of our policy work is social justice and inclusion.

Last summer saw the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Psychology (APPG), the purpose of which is to raise awareness amongst parliamentarians and policymakers of the importance and relevance of psychology, with the goal of maximising the impact of psychology on public policy.

The APPG has so far considered topics including work, children and young people, criminal justice, and internet trolling. We also have a policy presence each year at the main political party conferences. Another important development has been the development of the Core Policy Framework, which sets out cross cutting themes for our policy asks such as prevention and early intervention; that policy should be informed by the psychological evidence base; that human wellbeing should be enhanced. 

Over the next few months we will be investing significantly in the capacity of our policy team to drive our influencing agenda forward. 

Now more than ever, too, we need to be talking to policy makers about what psychology offers, about prevention and early intervention, and cost effectiveness, to the benefit of the citizens of Europe and globally. We are talking with our partners about how we can do this together and use our collective strength through EFPA and through IUPsyS to reach the European and global bodies including EU and UN, presenting our evidence and showing them how psychology can help. For example, EFPA has many opportunities to influence the European Commission and Parliament, and, since 2017, has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN.


Our Annual Conference in Nottingham in May was as usual a welcome opportunity to get together with colleagues from across the discipline and share ideas. It showcased particularly our leading work on the open science agenda, including a Fringe Event on 'Moving Psychological Science Forward', where delegates talked openly and challenged the issues around scientific integrity and the implications for research practice. 

A highlight this year too related to the European Semester and building on our international work over the past year, was the attendance of our many international guests, including Telmo Mourinho Baptista EFPA President, EFPA Vice President and Secretary General Robertas Povilaitis, also from Europe Belgium, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and internationally Pam Maras, now President of IUPsyS, and from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. 

A particularly close relationship for us is with The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), and the conference featured a reprise of our new annual 'Hands across the Water' lecture featuring a BPS and PSI speaker. We also had as an exhibitor the upcoming European Congress of Psychology 2019, to be held in Moscow, much interest including registrations was reported from our delegates.

Conference is on our agenda for a big overhaul starting in 2019 with Harrogate and then moving to a very different model of a larger event every two years. If other psychological societies are anything to go by, we could probably attract getting on for ten times the number of delegates if we get the positioning right. We also want to increase our scientific and practitioner presence at international congresses, such as the European Congress of Psychology and International Congress of Psychology. We are looking at how that might be supported and incentivised by the Society, including a bursary scheme. Do consider submitting, the Society would like to see many more UK submissions starting with the 2019 ECP.

Professional support

The Society has invested in developing and publishing a revised Code of Ethics and Conduct, as well as a significantly redeveloped Practice Guidelines. The latter was a good example of how when we collaborate we achieve a great deal, the guidelines were developed by a working group of some 30 Society networks and expert groups, as well as experts by experience and external bodies and address the emerging and difficult issues that affect psychologists in practice across the range of practice settings. We also published our declaration on equality, diversity and inclusion, and this will again be one of our areas of focus over next year. 

This last year has also seen colleagues in various parts of the Society actively thinking about and sharing ideas and perspectives on the future of our discipline and profession. Part of this has been in relation to workforce planning. The focus is horizon scanning and looking outwards to 2035 at what the needs will be for our profession and what this might mean in terms of the shape and composition of the workforce and therefore of training.

Benefitting from our EFPA membership and links, part of this work included a field trip kindly hosted by the President and Secretary General of the Norsk psykologforening/Norwegian Psychological Association, at which we were joined by German colleagues who are also interested in learning from other countries’ approaches.

A position statement setting out a blueprint for our internal work further to develop our approach to psychologists’ training was developed by the Presidential Task Force on Training. It will be good to see this agenda pursued through our new Education and Training board. People who are coming into the profession are our future and we need to do more to support them.

Please click here to consult the latest briefing paper on the future of training in applied psychology.

We also need to do more to support our current chartered professional members, this has been a theme that has come across loud and clear from you. You have told us you need a ‘Professional Body’. This is actively on the agenda of our Chief Executive and we are also benchmarking with other membership organisations as well as overseas colleagues (we are meeting Australian Psychological Society colleagues as we understand they have an excellent support system in place we may be able to adapt). 

How we organise ourselves

To be a Society people want to belong to, and to be effective and efficient in what we offer and do, we need modern and fit for purpose structures and underpinning infrastructure. We also need processes which allow us to be nimble and agile in our responses, and an enabling organisational culture. This is a key part of the agenda of our Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa, who started in April this year. 

Work has been continuing on the Structural Review now for some time. The aspects relating to governance are now being put in place. The first major change members are about to see is that we are running an interim Senate for 2018, this October. This will be a natural evolution from the General Assembly meeting of the Representative Council (which included a trial of the “debate” function of the new Senate in 2017) and fulfils a commitment by the Representative Council and executive staff to deliver on the Senate in 2018, moving forward significantly in our agenda to engage members democratically in what the Society’s priorities are. 

The review has now morphed into a more wide-ranging Society Review under the leadership of our Chief Executive and resourced including a professional change consultant. We need to press forward with the necessary enabling changes to our governing documents, and this is in hand. We are also on the cusp of launching both our new Public Affairs, and Education and Training boards, to focus and link up our work across these key areas. Changes are being made to the Board of Trustees to focus the trustees on the trustee roles of strategy, governance and risk, and to aid this new sub committees of the Board are now in place. The role of the President has been significantly refocused onto an ambassadorial role and onto our membership, and the other honorary officer roles as they transition out of our governance framework have also been reduced. Further changes to roles and composition are in the pipeline. 

The way we support and structure our Member Networks is of major importance. A collaborative consultation process is now on the road to test out some proposals and get feedback. We need to modernise and be effective and efficient, but in a way which enables, encourages, and facilitates the activities and goals which are the essence of a membership organisation. We know how important member networks are to our members, for many they are the primary benefit of their membership. At the same time, as I have said before, we need to forge partnerships to leverage the benefits of being the unified voice of psychology. 


Tomorrow sees our AGM and I hope many of you are coming. Next year, the Society is arranging for the AGM to be part of the October Senate, which will further our goals of democratic participation as every one of our Member Networks has a presence at the Senate. 

I am enormously grateful to the Society’s Senior Management Team and all our staff for their unstinting support and help. Without them and their skill and dedication, we would not have the Society we have. I’d like to end by wishing my successor Kate Bullen every success in her role as President of our Society, and I’m really pleased to be working with her. I have been delighted too, to work with our Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa in his first few months in office. Members will be seeing and hearing much more from him and he will be starting a new Chief Executive’s blog shortly. 


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