Three Unresolved Social Tensions for US Associations

Anticipating the future often requires waiting to see how critical tensions are resolved amid the messiness of social change. In 2018 US-based associations face at least three unresolved questions that will determine the harmony and cohesiveness of organizations and communities.

Divisiveness or Inclusion. Many US associations have made diversity and inclusion a priority. Yet we see that a disturbing number of people, rather than embracing an increasingly diverse society, are retreating into tribalism and polarization. We need institutions that can cultivate social cohesion at the community and national level if we are to have a future.

American Inequality or American Opportunity. American inequality manifests in many arenas: education, employment, housing, healthcare and wealth. Some American associations are inspired to mitigate their own contributions to inequality and work to create access and opportunity. They see American inequality as the grand challenge in our time for associations.

Nonessential Workers or Meaningful Work.  The changes in how and where we work, whether automation ends many jobs, and the degree to which companies rely on freelance or adjunct workers are all areas of critical uncertainty for everyone. If increasing numbers of people find they are nonessential workers, this could undermine our economy unless people find new, more meaningful ways to work and thrive. Associations help their members navigate a changing workforce by providing continuing learning and professional development, and helping them pursue emerging business and employment opportunities.

I share Martin Luther King’s belief that the long arc of history does bend toward justice. But in this moment, what we experience is conflict and messiness.  We often disagree about what the preferred future should be, because we hold different values and principles as our priorities in defining our desired outcome. 

All associations are advocates for their industry, profession or field and they work hard on their identity and public image. Not all associations see themselves as agents of social change. For those that do, these three unresolved tensions will demand their attention in 2018. For all associations, the implications will be inescapable, whether they choose to act or react.