From Authority to Enabler

13 Apr

Association executives are often proud of the role that their association has played as a trusted source of information for their members. And rightly so because associations have developed finely tuned systems for producing excellent content. The trouble with this model of the association is that the internet is radically transforming not only how content is produced and disseminated, but perhaps even more fundamentally how trust is developed and maintained. In the age of social media and crowdsourcing, the notion of a trusted central authority is becoming, at best, quaint.

Does that mean that there is no longer a role for associations? I don’t think that is the case. But I do think that associations have to transition from being authorities to being enablers. This entails understanding what your members are trying to achieve or what they need, and determining if there are ways that you can facilitate that. Since that advice is sufficiently general as to approximate being useless, I thought I would provide some specific examples of what I mean by being an enabler.

  1. eLearning – Most associations have a strong history of helping their members to develop within their professions. If your association serves a profession with both broad and deep technical needs, then it is likely your members are looking for ways to learn new technologies or improve their skills in their area of expertise. For many professions, there will be online course providers who have developed the types of training that your members are looking for. You can be an eLearning enabler by seeking out these providers, licensing course materials, and aggregating them into a cohesive offering for your members. For an example of this, have a look at the ACM’s Professional Development Center.
  2. ePortfolios – For many professionals, the work that we do becomes the intellectual property of our employers. This can sometimes make it challenging for an individual to demonstrate their past achievements. For example, if I have made significant contributions to a particular software package, I would like to be able to show prospective employers that software, but in many cases I won’t be able to because of licensing restrictions. An association can be an enabler in this scenario by creating a trusted environment in which employees could showcase projects that they had worked on. The association would need to work directly with employers so that they would be willing to allow their products.projects to be showcased there.
  3. Mentoring – Another approach to continued professional development is through mentoring. An association can act as an enabler in this situation by creating the infrastructure that would collect information about potential mentors and mentees, assist with the matching process, and provide a forum tracking progress in the mentoring relationship. Additionally, the association could provide online tools for mentors to share best practices, useful documents, etc. Have a look at MentorNet for an example of how such a system might look.
  4. Best Practices – Whether it’s a task that is part of our day at work, or a problem that we’re trying to solve for a project that we’re working on at home, a lot of what people are looking for on the internet are ways to solve their problems. In particular, they are often looking for guidance about the best way to approach a problem or task. An association can act as an enabler in this context by providing an online platform for the exchange of information and the ongoing aggregation of best practices as identified by their members. For example, consider the knowledge base developed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
  5. Local Meetings – Even in a world that seems dominated by the internet and social media, people still like to get together and discuss topics of mutual interest. Have a look at Meetup.com to see just how much of a driving force this remains — at the moment when this was written they were helping to organize 280,000 monthly meetings. And if Meetup.com does such a good job, what role is left for the association? Well, it turns out that there are still challenges in organizing a local meeting, and a significant one is simply finding space in which to hold a meeting. So, an association can act as an enabler in this circumstance by working with the community to build up a library of organizations/companies who have space that they are willing to allow to be used for professional meetings.

That’s just a few concrete examples. If you get to know your members and their needs, I’m sure that you’ll uncover many more. And this is where the future of your association lies — in helping your members achieve their goals. So start looking for those opportunities to be an enabler.

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