Richard Taylor (IAM Executive Director)
The week 6th - 10th November is a celebration of what Associations have achieved, how they contribute to society today and what we can look forward to in terms of their role in the future.
Many bodies have long histories: the Institute of Association Management, as an example, dates back to 1933 when it was incorporated as the Institute of Secretaries. After two rebrands, and a complete change in membership focus, the Institute now serves a diverse and modern membership. The change has not happened without a considerable amount of uncertainty and disruption.
Associations have a considerable influence on the way we live and maintain our standard of living. They are often criticised for an unbalanced approach and overemphasis on the pushing of policy based on the needs of a handful of members. I had a fascinating discussion over dinner at an event last weekend at a conference with a Brussels based lawyer turned lobbyist. He indicated that, unlike most people working in his kind of role, he would not take on an assignment which had such a narrow focus that there was no clear ethical or wider benefit to society. On pressing the point, he admitted that what he meant was that sectoral lobbying Washington style, with the frequent sole focus on profits and market sector domination, with little or no concern for wider societal concerns, had no place in his suitcase of interests. I found this view refreshing but, on reflection, typical of the views of most UK associations which I encounter.
This discussion provides the key to what the sector has to celebrate and its often understated success. While associations clearly have to represent their members interests, the only sustainable way to do this and achieve longer term objectives is to match the needs of the sectors they represent with the longer term needs of society as a whole. I think it is fair to say that in most cases the sector has recognised this. It is a constant challenge to devise tactics to meet the needs of a changing world, and not lose sight of our longer-term objectives. However, the association world can celebrate the fact that it has largely managed to navigate this challenging environment and continues to deliver for all its stakeholders, be they members, clients and wider society as a whole.
This leads us to the matter of how we should look at and address the future. Here we should shift our attention to values. One of the great challenges is adapting service and delivery to member expectations. The problem with expectations is that the benchmarks are often set outside the control and parameters of the organisation. And they could arise as a completely unrelated set of circumstances arising from activities in different sectors, where, for example, social media breaks down barriers and increases the pace of changes in expectations.
The problem with meeting expectations is that in meeting them there is the need for limitless resources, and elements of the traditional values of the organisation can be lost through distraction and loss of focus. The organisation has only limited means at its disposal and the priority is to maintain those values and try to meet some of these expectations. As long as the sector remains mindful of these challenges, and associations remain true to their values they will continue to prosper.
In Associations Week, let us celebrate and look forward with confidence.