Finding Association Relevance in Connected Communities

Scientific and engineering societies are creating connected communities for immersive learning, knowledge sharing and global presence to maintain their future relevance.

Signature i LLC, identified this path to future association relevance through a recent environmental scan and benchmarking study to kick-off the 2015 CESSE CEO Midwinter Meeting February 9 in Mobile, AL. Signature i scanned existing futures research by CESSE member associations, crafted 29 statements of change, and surveyed 200 CESSE CEOs about their association’s level of response to these changes. After an exclusive release within CESSE, Signature i can now share this report to help other associations with their environmental scanning and benchmarking.  

Many CESSE associations are striving to become always connected immersive communities. Scientists, engineers and other professionals have to engage in continuous learning to keep up with changing knowledge and skills. They seek learning and professional networking onsite, on-demand and through virtual experiences. Offering webinars and virtual conferences is only a beginning. Associations can help members establish their own personal learning ecologies and engage in immersive learning. This immersive learning will need to be accessible anywhere, functioning much like a  virtual answer desk or mentor and coach always available in those random moments when people need to connect, learn or relate to others.

CESSE organizations are also pursuing global diversity as a top strategic opportunity. They are capitalizing on the global democratization of education and research opportunities to establish new relationships with scientists, engineers and other professionals. They are also experiencing growing diversity among their members with the diversifying US population and access to education opportunities.

The top challenges facing CESSE associations are challenges to their essential business model:

  • Many information & knowledge sources are accessible and inexpensive via search & sharing strategies.
  • Return on investment on conference attendance is no longer assured.
  • To continue to rely on volunteers for their talent and expertise, they must offer more ad hoc and microvolunteering opportunities.
  • And they are reassessing their growth strategies to dominate their field and entertaining the potential of a niche strategy.

Signature i also probed the changes facing the members of CESSE organizations. They are coping with being part of an increasingly contingent and virtual workforce; they are doing more collaborative research; and they struggle to differentiate their professional identity and value with the rising importance of interdisciplinary science and engineering.

The lower priority changes in the scan were characterized as emergent changes that might be more important for some associations than others. The three lowest rated changes may have seemed unlikely to the CESSE CEOs. However, these would be real gamechangers if they do occur: total customized member experience; STEM interest via the maker movement and citizen science; and crowdsourced standards and guidelines.   

Associations can use this report to foster strategic conversations about change and benchmark their own sense of priority.  While this research focuses on scientific and engineering societies, connected communities and global diversity are viable paths to relevance for most associations.  And some of those emergent changes the CESSE CEOs didn’t prioritize might need to be at the top of your list today.