ASCB governance task force report

In 2017 ASCB leaders formulated a strategic plan to improve the Society and make it a vital resource for all future cell biologists. One of the key goals of the strategic plan was the “Promotion of Inclusiveness and Transparency,” defined as the effort to “Further democratize the society by ensuring leadership and decision making reflect the broad range of membership and their interests and priorities.” Specifically, two of the key actions under the goal of Promotion of Inclusiveness and Transparency are to

  • Change nomination and committee recruitment processes to increase transparency, member involvement, and inclusiveness; and
  • Revise ASCB bylaws to enable structures and processes that are open, transparent, and increase opportunities for member involvement.

To accomplish these goals, the ASCB Council requested the formation of a Governance Task Force, a mix of ASCB volunteers and staff who are overseeing the process.

For expert advice in this effort, ASCB engaged the services of Michael Gallery, president of OPIS, a nationally recognized association consulting firm. Gallery has developed a systematic process for evaluating governance and developing solutions in accordance with the art and science of performance improvement. His process entails ASCB leaders discovering our own problems and developing our own solutions (see process illustrated in figure 1).

How Does The Review Process Work?

A task force was appointed to conduct a review of the governance structure and make recommendations for any needed changes. The task force is chaired by Gary Gorbsky and includes ASCB volunteers David Asai, Jennifer DeLuca, Mary Munson, Scott Wilkinson, and Linda Wordeman and ASCB staff members Azra Chughtai, Thea Clarke, Erika Shugart (ex officio), Brian Theil, and Kevin Wilson.

It is important to note that members of the task force did not begin with evaluating our current governance structure. Gallery defines a problem as a critical difference between what should be and what is. To identify problems, if any, with ASCB’s governance structure, we needed to first define the standards we believe our structure should meet.

Gallery refers to this first step as establishing performance specifications. Performance specifications define the standards and principles we believe are important to our members as regards a proper governance structure. The performance specifications developed by the task force to assess the need for changes in the existing governance structure of ASCB are:

  1. Decisions regarding the creation and deletion of committees and taskforces are based on the current needs of the Society and, to the degree appropriate, aligned with our strategic plan.
  2. All committees have specific charges enumerating both the outcomes they are to achieve as well as the deadlines for achieving them.
  3. The governance structure enables inclusiveness and broad participation.
  4. Structures and processes are in place to allow for the divergent views of members to be taken into consideration for all decisions.
  5. The composition of the Council and other leadership positions reflects the increasing diversity of our membership.*
  6. The nomination process for Council and the appointment of committee members is open and inclusive.
  7. Decisions are based on the best data available and are in alignment, to the degree appropriate, with the strategic plan.
  8. Decision-making processes are transparent and systematic.
  9. Requirements regarding term length and term limits for leadership positions are consistent with the goal of preserving institutional knowledge while ensuring fresh input and perspectives.
  10. Budget decisions are aligned, to the degree appropriate, with the strategic plan.
  11. Leadership roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for leadership positions are clearly defined and communicated within the whole Society.
  12. Council and committee members are actively engaged and accountable.
  13. Processes are in place to guide leadership identification, development, and training.
  14. The Council has the requisite skills and characteristics for effectively overseeing the Society.
  15. The governance model facilitates the delivery of value (i.e., solving members’ unsolved problems or meeting unmet needs) to members.
  16. The governance structure enables the effective coordination of effort among the various working units within the membership in order to achieve organizational goals.

*Note: The task force believes that the current demographic composition of the profession does not align with the current demographic composition of the population. Therefore, the task force recommends that the increasing diversity should aspire to reflect U.S. and global adult population demographics rather than the current demographics of the scientific community.


These performance specifications were reviewed and approved by the ASCB Council at its December meeting.

With “what should be” having been defined, the members of the task force then compared each performance specification to our current structure (primarily the ASCB bylaws) and determined whether our structure met the specification. In those cases where the task force believed there was a gap, the group provided a rationale for its judgment. The taskforce identified gaps in all of the performance requirements except for “11. Leadership roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for leadership positions are clearly defined and communicated within the whole Society.”

Once the task force completed the gap analysis, it presented that analysis to the Council for approval during its February call. It is important to note that the focus for the conversation at this point in the process was to focus on problems—NOT solutions. Solutions will be developed now that the Council has reviewed and accepted the task force’s report on the problems identified.

Next Steps

The task force will now develop an overall framework for prioritizing the identified gaps and revising the governance structure to address them. The proposed changes to governance will be shared with ASCB membership for its input. After receiving comments, the task force will add clarification to some of the elements within its proposal or make changes to the proposed structure as warranted, based on this feedback.

The revised structure will then be sent to Council for its approval. After that, the task force will begin the process of revising the bylaws. Changes to the bylaws, which require approval by a majority of voting ASCB members, will then be placed before the total membership by electronic ballot.

About the Author:


Gary Gorbsky is W.H. and Betty Phelps Chair in Developmental Biology, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and adjunct professor, Department of Cell Biology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. He is ASCB Treasurer.
Erika Shugart is the Chief Executive Officer of ASCB.

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