Mapping Our Future: GNSI Strategic Planning Initiative

From time to time, it’s a good exercise for us all to sit back and “take stock”: who we are, where we are, where are we going, where do we want to go? It’s a good exercise for organizations and businesses as well; it gets the fancy (but apt) title of Strategic Planning. The goal is to map the status and health of the organization, and to plan, as much as possible, what needs to be done to keep the group healthy and progressing in our fast-changing world.

To this end, the Board of the GNSI, along with several members-at-large who have recently shared their thoughts and ideas about the future of the GNSI and our profession, has launched a Strategic Planning Initiative. Our goal is to take a good, hard, honest look at where we are, and where we want to be to best support our members and our profession.


We are an incredibly diverse group, which is part of our value and, at times, part of our challenge. Other groups tend to focus on a limited range of artistic disciplines or techniques; our members are all over the map, literally and figuratively. Our membership once peaked at around 1200; it dropped during the recession, then bounced back to 750 in 2013; the numbers have been declining since.

The profession itself has changed substantially since the early days of our group: computer programs and the Internet weren’t available or were in their infancy. High-speed, ultra high-definition photography wasn’t anywhere near the level available today… no GoPro cameras! Most work was done by hand on paper or another physical substrate; traditional techniques reigned supreme. The advent of sophisticated computer programs and the Internet have launched us into a different world, one in which we are all directly competing with artists from around the globe, and with high-tech photography and imaging technology. 

Businesses and research facilities that used to keep a team of illustrators on staff have downsized and now hire out, or purchase images online. Today’s science illustrator must be a jack-of-all-trades in many ways: business manager, negotiator, marketing specialist, illustrator, a computer expert (2D, 3D, animation), social media expert, writer, editor, photographer …the list goes on.


  • Does the GNSI offer us mere fraternity or more? How do our members see the organization? Are we meeting the needs of our membership in today’s world? In many ways we are, by offering what we have always offered: 
  • A superb and unmatched fraternity of like-minded artists, a place to mix and mingle, share and support; 
  • An unmatched repository of traditional and new skills and techniques;
  • The recognition and prestige of belonging to a professional organization;
  • Regular conferences and workshops where we can learn and/or reinforce our skills and knowledge;
  • Regular communication on new ideas, opportunities, skills via Journal, website, listserve, and social media;
  • A source of information on advances and changes in our profession on all levels;
  • A collective voice when legislation or custom challenge our rights
  • and security.


Can we do better to support our members in the changing marketplace? And how do we effectively implement such changes with volunteers, no matter how skilled, dedicated and enthusiastic they may be? 

These are the questions we are addressing in our initiative. We have started with a 2-hour teleconference, during which the GNSI Board and GNSI Strategic Planning Team addressed the issues and challenges at hand and brainstormed many ideas. We compiled a list of proposals and initiatives we feel are essential to develop the Guild into a professional organization that more closely meets the needs of today’s “science communicators”. We will continue to hold teleconferences on a regular basis throughout the coming year. 

To continue the discussion beyond the tele-meetings, the Board and Strategic Planning Team collaborate on Basecamp, an online project management site. Here we post comments and content to see and respond to. Our challenge now is to start focusing in on key ideas and key areas where we feel we need to improve or can best add value for our members, and then begin to figure out how to implement these ideas. 

This is a challenging yet exciting time for the Board and the Guild. Most of you don’t get to see the Board in action unless you attend conferences, and even then the interaction is limited. I can tell you that your Board is active all year long in managing the health and wealth of the GNSI, and is an amazing group of people: dedicated, innovative, and an absolute pleasure to work with.  

We have no timeline; rather, we will spend whatever time necessary to send the GNSI into the future as a vigorous organization that scientific illustrators cannot help but join and support! We will share our progress with you as we move along; and from time to time, we will surely send out a survey or two to get your input.

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