“Just Because You Have Always Done It That Way Doesn’t Mean You Should” —That was the title of one of the best sessions I attended at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Great Ideas Conference in Orlando. In this posting and the next handful after it I plan to highlight thoughts prompted by this session and other events at the Great Ideas conference. Here’s one:
Associations Need to Be Excellent Oysters
The “Just Because…” session was led by Mickie Rops and Amy Smith, each co-authors (along with Jeff DeCagna, Jamie Notter, and Dave Gammel) of We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change. Rops and Smith took a semi-“un-session” approach and asked attendees to choose from a range of possible topics the three that were of most interest. “Association value proposition is information (pushing out lots of content)” took the top spot.
The starting point for the discussion was a recognition that, as a direct result of the Web, people now have access to more information than they can ever put to meaningful use. Associations that see their role as simply pushing out information are not doing their members any favors. Rops argued in the session, as she has before in Knowledgizing Associations, that associations need to filter information and find meaningful ways to add value in the process.
Benkler makes a similar point, though in a broader context, in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (see, for instance “Relevance/Accreditation” in Peer Production and Sharing). In short, filtering is an essential activity of effective knowledge networks—and certainly most associations would like to see themselves as knowledge networks.
Readers familiar with the recent history of the Chesapeake Bay and similar bodies of water may realize why, with all this talk of filtering, my thoughts turn to oysters. Oysters provide tremendous filtration capabilities to the ecosystems in which the live. They are natural masters at removing excess from the environment and preserving ecological balance. As the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sees it “Oysters are a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay, meaning they are one of the key indicators of a healthy Bay.”
I don’t want to push the metaphor too far. The filtering that oysters do is valuable but limited and, well, mindless. As Jeff DeCagna rightly suggested during the session, there needs to be an element of choice to effective filtering in a democratic social system. Still, I like the image of associations as a “keystone species” providing filtering within the knowledge ecosystem.
One point not raised in the Great Ideas session is that associations are now competing with many other potential filters out on the Web—including, in many cases, their own members acting independently. In other words, keystone species status should not be taken for granted. Back to Rops view that not only does filtering need to happen, it needs to produce value for members.
The point is, associations have an important role to play in keeping the knowledge ecosystem in balance—and perhaps producing a pearl or two on occasion.