What happened to the IEEE?

The International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies has been held every year for the past 19 years, and it has always been affiliated with the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) a professional society self-described as “the world’s largest professional society for the advancement of technology”.

The partnership with IEEE served several purposes:

  • It provided ready access to an existing network of technologists in business, academe, and government concerned about sustainability issues (e.g., green electronics).
  • It provided credibility for scholars seeking to archive their publications in the IEEE library at ieeexplore.ieee.org where other researchers could access them.
  • It provided conference support services that facilitated selection of hotels, budgeting, and collecting registration fees.

However, these benefits came with some costs:

  • IEEE fees are expensive, consuming almost half the symposium budget, with any surpluses being returned to IEEE (rather than carried over by the symposium).
  • The bureaucratic structure of the IEEE was burdensome, requiring multiple and redundant forms, surprising idiosyncrasies, report, certifications and committees.
  • The format of archival paper required by IEEEXplore was also idiosyncratic and burdensome, and the required transfer of copyright to IEEE discouraged some authors from presenting their best work at ISSST.

In recent years, the costs of the partnership have increasingly outweighed the benefits.  A number of irrevocable trends are in motion that the IEEE has been slow to respond, but nevertheless threaten to drastically alter the way that modern professional societies should expect to do business.  These are:

  • Conference organization has increasingly moved away from labor-intensive work modes (such as performed by travel agents) to on-line, data-driven and electronic modes.  IEEE has replaced personal service with on-line modes of communication and interaction, but without a corresponding reduction in fees.
  • The group of technology professionals interested in sustainable systems and technologies has expanded well beyond the profession of electrical engineering, and grown within electrical engineering.  There are now several conferences that purport to cover similar topics as ISSST, including another one sponsored by IEE.  However, the IEEE network no longer reaches a broad enough interest to serve the intellectual agenda of ISSST.
  • Digital technologies now present a serious challenge to traditional models of scholarship.   Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the translation of science to, but also in the peer-review, curation, and dissemination of science.  The IEEEXplore has failed to keep pace with advances such as scholar.google.com, Mendeley or other novel approaches to indexing scholarship.

The following video from Manuel Lima illustrates some of the changes that are taking place in the way that knowledge produced, organized, and shared that call into question the old institutional structures.

However, merely breaking away from the IEEE does not guarantee success for participants in ISSST.   While the symposium does need the flexibility, efficiency and adaptability that shedding the IEEE constraints allows, it must devise new approaches to accomplishing the necessary tasks of a professional symposium, including the dissemination, curation, sharing, and production of knowledge.

This blog is part of a new digital strategy for establishing a model of collaborative scholarship in sustainability that is appropriate for the 21st century.  This strategy won’t be mapped exclusively by the symposium leadership.  It must engage a broad community of scholars, government employees, NGO’s, business organizations and other stakeholders.

Your comments will help create this new community of practice.  Click here to leave a reply!.

I just finished an email exchange with a Conference Services Meeting Planner at IEEE who was curious to know why we decided to leave their organization, and I realized that I left some of the esoteric details out when I wrote the post above. I’ve copied our brief email exchange here, as an addendum to the post. I’ve listed the conversation in chronological order.

On 11/19/2012 12:47 PM, [Name redacted] wrote:
Thank you for informing that ISSST 2013 is not returning to IEEE Computer Society for financial sponsorship. May I ask why the conference is not returning? Which organization will financially sponsor the conference?

Thank you,
Conference Services Meeting Planner
IEEE Computer Society

Dear [Name redacted]:
A combination of things have led to our decision to leave IEEE. These include:
1. The loss of sponsorship from the Computer Society, and the necessity of finding a new bureaucratic home within IEEE.
2. The increasing administrative and financial cost of working within the IEEE bureaucracy.
3. The creation of a new IEEE conference in an overlapping intellectual space.
4. Difficulties with IEEExplore.
5. The increasing evolution of the conference beyond the boundaries and membership of IEEE.

Thanks Thomas for these great and detailed points.

Clarification on the first point. Yes, the TC was sunset, so another TC was assigned, but the sponsorship was never lost.

Nonetheless, these are good points to take attention of so the processes can be improved to provide better experience for and service to the organizers. Thank you for your honestly.

Thank you,
Conference Services Meeting Planner
IEEE Computer Society

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>