As of November 2019, approximately 94 percent of our Division’s membership hailed from only three continents—North America, Europe, and Asia. Additionally, in the organization’s nearly 70-year history, no ICA annual conferences have ever been held in South America or Africa.
After gathering these statistics and achieving an understanding of the Division’s internationalization progress so far, the Division’s first-ever-elected International Liaison, T.J. Thomson, contacted on Nov. 5, 2019, the six percent of our members who work in under-represented regions. He did so to see how our Division could best support them and what we might do to increase our presence and benefit to scholars in these regions. He posed to them the following three questions and also invited them to our Division’s pre-conference, “Visual Representation and Marginality: Opening New Conversations,” to be held in May 2020 at the Gold Coast, Australia:
- How can our Division best support you? How valuable is an ICA membership to you as a scholar and what could be done to increase its value and make it more attractive to scholars in your region?
- Can you identify for me any other scholars in your region who study or teach visual communication and who might like to learn more about our Division and our efforts to increase its internationalization?
- Likewise, are you aware of any communication programs in your region that we should contact to see if we can establish a relationship and/or membership pipeline?
Selected responses are below and are followed by a list of 10 recommendations and potential action items. You can view the full report here.
Selected responses from scholars working in under-represented regions:
Latin America is facing deep social and economic problems, and without giving financial help, ICA will not have many LATAM members.—Scholar working in S. America
My feeling is that ICA is still too US-dominated and discipline-oriented so, good luck with your endeavour, I sincerely hope that you can bring some diversity (of geographies and ideas).—Scholar working in Oceania
I hope we can all met online sometime and chat or get into groups and get to know each other online. My interest in being part of the division relates to work needs. In particular, I am very interested in getting to know people from the division. Besides the ICA conference, I believe that building a robust online community that can collaborate through common topics or interests is a great opportunity.—Scholar working in S. America
Based on these reflections with members in our Division from under-represented regions as well as those who aren’t currently affiliated with ICA at all, the following recommendations and potential action items are offered, as follows:
- Ensure on our Division’s website and other materials that we are disciplinarily agnostic, if that is the case. Currently, we state on our Division’s web page, for example, “Visual Communication Studies research touches on all other communication fields, investigating such areas as the interaction of the visual with public policy and law, mass communication processes, corporate image and organization, technology and human interaction, elite and popular culture, philosophy of communication, education and the social sphere.” Are we open to other disciplines, such as sociology, art, anthropology, etc. that focus on visual approaches or on visual media? If so, we should be explicit with this in word and in practice.
- Consider how our Division can make itself more affordable and valuable to potential members, especially those from under-represented regions. Regarding the first point, several scholars from both developed and developing countries noted that ICA’s high fees are a deterrent to attending. ICA does already subsidize membership fees, depending on which country the scholar is working in. However, the services and “extras” it offers have also ballooned in recent years. Which of these fringe benefits (e.g., childcare, yoga during conference sessions, a meditation room, a conference app, etc.) does our Division think essential and which might be culled to make way for a more economical and accessible conference experience? Regarding the second point, what can the Division do beyond its annual meeting to provide additional value to members? Can we establish relationships with research centres/institutes/labs and have a VCS exchange program where we send our members to work at it for a brief fellowship or do this virtually via technology?
- Consider selecting, developing, and cultivating an online platform that would allow scholars from diverse geographic localities to collaborate, receive feedback, and share their expertise across institutional and national boundaries. We currently have a forum space provided by the ICA that’s never been used, a recently developed WordPress website (thanks Tim Highfield for this!), and a relatively modest Division Facebook page with 121 members. Several of our members in under-represented regions have expressed the desire to have an online hub where we can connect with others, collaborate on projects, and perhaps also have scheduled research methods or workshopping sessions that various members can participate in through video conferencing. Is Facebook the best platform for this or is there another (perhaps something like an institutional Blackboard/Canvas site/community) that can host this?
- Consider how we can ensure our Division/the overall ICA experience is less overwhelming and more suitable to intimate and productive encounters. This might mean not co-sponsoring socials, for example, with other Divisions/IGs.
- Consider how we can ensure reviews do not incorporate feedback/ratings for factors other than those specified in the criteria/rubric. E.g., preventing comments on the relevance of the research to one nationality or geographic context. Is a “reviewer policy/best practices” bit of text that we have accompany the reviewer interface sufficient or is there a better way to get at this? (E.g., reviewing reviewer comments prior to releasing them back to the author.)
- Ensure that our Division incorporates greater diversity in its composition and, thus, in its reviewer pool. To do so, we could sponsor a travel award for a scholar from an under-represented region if funds allow.
- Explore the Division’s and membership’s interest in investigating the possibility of industry-funded symposia. We would likely need buy-in and direction from the membership on which type of platforms/companies they would be interested in working with and on which topics they would be interested in discussing and helping provide expertise on.
- Explore the Division’s/members’ interest in establishing a system whereby those with accepted papers from under-represented regions can present at/attend events remotely. Does ICA have a policy on this?
- Consider advocating for and promoting awareness of other research ethics review processes/standards beyond the (U.S.-developed) Institutional Review Board (IRB) and ensuring that ICA-affiliated journals are inclusive in the language used regarding these. In the past, some of our members working in non-U.S. locations have encountered trouble during an ICA-affiliated journal peer-review process by reviewers who insisted that the research had to have been reviewed by an IRB or they would not recommend publication. While ethical research behavior is of the utmost importance, not every country has its own system for regulating this or has a system that uses IRBs (or refers to them as such). Thus, reviewing our ICA-affiliated journals for their language re: ethical research review and ensuring reviewers are familiar with ethical review norms in other countries and contexts can assist with our internationalization, inclusivity, and equity efforts.
- Consider forming a task force to review these recommendations and work with the membership to rank and prioritize them. The international liaison can then devote more attention to those particular priorities and provide regular updates on any progress made.
As a result of this initial report, a task force was formed and met initially in December 2020. Notes and potential action items from this initial meeting can be viewed here.