One of the biggest questions running through my mind as I leafed through Here Comes Everybody was, "If organizing groups is now ridiculously easy, what does this mean for associations, which are basically institutional group organizers?" Shirky didn't actually come straight after associations as I thought he might, given the subtitle of his book (The power of organizing without organizations). However, there is a quote I cited in an earlier post that just smacked me upside the head:
"The jury is still out on whether any of the current interest in reforming the US health care system will change anything, but if I had to pick between MoveOn and groups like the self-organized strangers in Dallas for having the more profound effect, I'd bet on the ad hoc groups. These kinds of efforts are unlikely to be long-lived or self-sustaining--no office in DC, no budget from donations--but the unpredictability of that kind of effort makes it a signal of a kind of commitment that is hard for any ordinary membership organization to produce effectively."In an earlier post, I wondered aloud if the world would be better off without associations. By raising this question it is not my intent to issue a value judgment about associations or the people who work for them. I work for one and I am one. This isn't about whether or not there "should be associations" or challenge to association executives to prove their relevance. Nor is it a prediction of their impending obsolescence.
I am questioning whether or not the citizens of our world are well-served by associations given the radical improvements in the way that people can find like-minded folks and get stuff done.
Used to be, if you wanted to cross the ocean, you got in a boat. Now, you fly. The result is the same, the method is different and better. So let's face facts here: Organizations are less important than organizing. Associations are a means to an end. They're an institution created to solve a problem, but they are not the only solution.
Here comes the bald-faced blasphemy: I believe that the trades, causes and professions would, in many cases, be better off without their associations.
As an industry, we assert that associations advance America and the world. What if there were a more efficient and effective way to organize? (Duh, there is!) Do associations advance America and the world? Yes. Do they do it better than an alternative form of organizing? Not necessarily.
Reactions around the `clump to my thoughts on whether or not the world would be better off without associations elicited a few common themes: 1) That associations were somehow more "professional" than other groups, 2) that meeting face-to-face was somehow the exclusive domain of associations, and 3) that ensuring substantial resources to continue operations for the long haul was something only associations could do. The third theme is plausible, but I am thoroughly unconvinced on the first two.
Here's my prediction: As long as people don't really care, associations will survive. We know that, in most cases, a self-forming group is an oxymoron. But now that group forming is ridiculously easy, when people are truly passionate about stuff, they form their own groups and get a lot of stuff done. Shirky demonstrates this. But when people are lukewarm about something, well, that's where associations will thrive. Associations will take care of problems that most people don't really care too much about, but that need to be handled.
Ironically, getting members fired up about or engaged in their professions or trades could actually backfire, if you follow this train of thought to its logical conclusion.
So there you have it. That's my prediction. Am I crazy? Or am I right?
Tagged: Association Management; Associations; CAE; Certified Association Executive