A Dozen Change Drivers Common to Many Associations

Associations are using foresight to help their members collaborate and coordinate within complex systems, create greater customer intimacy and customization, all while taking greater responsibility for quality outcomes.

I extracted this insight from analyzing common themes and patterns in the scanning research for nine association clients over the past two years. Each client required a different focus using its own language and examples to interpret these changes.  Stepping back from these customized scans, I can see a dozen change drivers that are common to many associations:

1.       Accountability for quality and outcomes. It’s not just healthcare associations that see their members being held to higher expectations about the value they offer. College admission and counseling professionals have to defend why college is worth it. Scientists must connect their research to societal priorities and their research better be reproducible if they expect funders to support them.

2.       Customer intimacy and customization. Customers and clients of all types expect organizations to have the information and tools to “see” and serve their distinctive needs.  Community and relationship building is a critical core competency for associations.

3.       Changing career pathways and places of work. How people prepare to enter a field, what their opportunities to progress within it might be, indeed where they could work are changing. Members need their associations to help them develop the competencies and networks to navigate their careers.  As associations respond to how traditional professions are blurring, they are rethinking who their members could be.

4.       Automation and app-ifcation. Associations should be on high alert about what automation will mean for their members. Some technologies will make jobs easier and more meaningful; other technologies could be the demise of some jobs. Robotics are changing manufacturing, medicine and science. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be performing cognitive tasks that would require professionals several lifetimes of learning.

5.       Global redistribution of enterprises and marketplaces. Globalization has been a major change driver for associations for some time, yet its effects on learning, research and commerce require constant recalibration. Many associations are adopting a strategy that could best be described as establishing global presence while serving a national community.

6.      Digital knowledge exchange. The ease and access we now value in receiving and sharing knowledge has had a profound impact on publishing, knowledge creation, and learning experiences. Digital knowledge can flow creatively across channels and among users.  This shift has propelled interest in collaboration technologies and community platforms and sent associations scrambling to create their content strategy.

7.       Mergers, consolidations, and new business models and players. Some industries are harder hit by mergers and consolidations, like healthcare, but businesses of all types are seeking scale and working to disrupt existing business models. This changing landscape of players can quickly affect membership, especially for trade associations or any professional membership society where employers support participation.

8.       Data analytics. Every field is playing out what it means to work within a data-rich environment and have the computational tools to work smarter and more productively. Associations are providing technical assistance and setting standards to develop this capability within their areas of influence.

9.       Trust and ethics. With everyone operating in a more transparent world, news about bad deeds or poor performance travels quickly. Democratic societies thrive on trust and associations are in the business of making sure the public can rely on its members to do what they promise.

10.   Value creation through connecting. Associations are helping members discover success by creating capabilities to coordinate and collaborate in unprecedented ways. New value can come from the capture of sensor data embedded in working environments. New value also flows from multidisciplinary teams collaborating in areas like science, health or commerce. 

11.    Diversifying demographics. As US society diversifies, many associations find their members or professions struggling to keep keeping pace with these changes. Many fields face an aging workforce. Changing family structures may matter more than associations appreciate. Many associations are anxious about their future because their professions and industries are not evolving with society. They struggle to respond in culturally competent ways that are inclusive and respectful of differences. This is sad because these demographic changes are not a surprise. 

12.   Systems thinking. This is the survival response to increasing complexity. Every association is challenged to help members anticipate risk and design good practices, laws and regulations, and favorable environments to create more secure futures. This is the one unifying attribute within a range of different industry challenges—they cannot be resolved in isolation. They require a deeper understanding of how everything is interrelated and how to work with the key actors who have a stake in improving how the system functions.