The eleven symposia organized for the 2009 conference of the International Society for Ecological Modelling (ISEM 2009) held in Quebec City, Canada, October 6–9, 2009, included facilitated discussion sessions following formal presentations. Each symposium focused on a specific subject, and all the subjects could be classified into three broad categories: theoretical development, population dynamics and ecosystem processes. Following discussions with the symposia organizers, which indicated that they all shared similar issues and concerns, the facilitated discussions were task-oriented around four basic questions: (1) key challenges in the research area, (2) generating and sharing new ideas, (3) improving collaboration and networking, and (4) increasing visibility to decision-makers, partners and clients. Common challenges that emerged from the symposia included the need for improved communication and collaboration among different academic disciplines, further progress in both theoretical and practical modelling approaches, and accentuation of technology transfer. Regarding the generation and sharing of new ideas, the main issue that emerged was the type of positive interactions that should be encouraged among potential collaborators. The usefulness of the Internet, particularly for the sharing of open-source software and conducting discussion forums, was highlighted for improving collaboration and networking. Several communication tools are available today, and it is important for modellers to use them more intensively. Visibility can be increased by publishing professional newsletters, maintaining informal contacts with the public, organizing educational sessions in primary and secondary schools, and developing simplified analytical frameworks and pilot studies. Specific issues raised in each symposium are also discussed.