One Take on the Trends Keeping Association Execs Awake at Night

One of my favorite scanning shortcuts is to read other people’s scans. You should too. No one can spot all the trends and issues that could be relevant without a network of colleagues and competitors helping you do the job.

On a new scanning project I always look to see if any other scans have been done. Scans from related or competing organizations can save you some work scoping a changing environment. Just pay careful attention to the purpose of their scan and their methodology and you can safely learn a lot from the work of others.

As a futurist with a primary focus on associations, naturally I read all scans purporting to identify trends and issues affecting associations and nonprofits.  Association Laboratory just released a scan report to the association community via the ASAE listserv. In the spirit of those fun TV critiques that start out by saying, “we watch so you don’t have to”, I will summarize the highlights here. If any of these highlights strike you as one of your immediate concerns, do read the report.  You will find that what keeps you up at night is also disturbing the sleep of other association executives.

Association Laboratory lays out its methodology right up front; this is essentially a survey to probe how association execs see their current situation. I would love to know what’s on the 63 potential environmental factors Association Laboratory has on its original list; the report only shares the top five priorities and their implications. This consulting firm promises to continue to do this annual survey. If so, perhaps we can look forward to some longitudinal analysis of how respondents’ priorities are changing across time.

Just to be clear, this scan is asking people to identify what matters now and what the implications are. It isn’t identifying emerging trends and issues that you might not yet be considering. This list is not surprising, so the only surprise is in what made the top five and perhaps in how people are thinking about these perennial challenges.

So here’s the quick recap for people content to let me do the reading for you:

  1. Managing information is the top concern in this survey. Association Laboratory doesn’t use the terms content strategy, content marketing or knowledge management to describe this trend or its implications. From my vantage point with my clients, I can also confirm this as a priority.  The ASAE Foundation Research Committee came to a similar conclusion and is awaiting scan research from an exciting research project on the future of knowledge and learning with the Institute for the Future. This research could move this trend from today’s sleep disturber into a major business imperative for redesign for the future.

  2. Government activity is worrisome. Associations are anxious about increasing regulations, restrictions on federal workers participating in association meetings, and congressional gridlock. They want their members up to speed on their issues and engaged in advocacy.

  3. Workforce is a paradox. Association members are anxious about identifying, attracting and retaining talented people…YET…associations don’t find their members so willing to pay for professional development. Association Laboratory doesn’t answer the obvious question we all should ask: why don’t employers see associations as the solution to improving the knowledge and talent of their workers?

  4. The economy still weighs on associations although the survey respondents report a sense of growing optimism. There’s enough anxiety in the implications to keep association executives on edge about the risks they still perceive.

  5. Globalization, identified as a change driver in a 1998 associations scan, is maturing as a priority. Associations whose members are operating globally are also embracing global operations. Trade associations have an easier time responding to globalization than individual membership societies, no doubt because what happens locally matters more to its members. This is why I’ve always liked the term glocalization to describe the dual tensions of emphasizing both global and local.

Let’s keep sharing these environmental scans as part of our creative commons.  We can learn from our peers and test the value of their findings against our personal awareness of current challenges and our evolving sense of the future.