Rediscovering the Communities of Practice or Purpose (CoP).
As described by the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, an Association is “a group of people organized for a joint purpose” or a “connection or cooperative link between people and organizations”. A community is “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. So basically, an Association is the result of a community willing to pursue their goals in a more professional manner.
So how come that today we are hearing all those talks about “transforming the Association world”, “rethinking the goals and purposes of their meetings” and “creating communities”? Wasn’t the community the very base of their union? Have we come full circle?
To answer that, I like to share with you the short anecdote of Professor Leone, which is based on a true story.
Professor Leone is a neuro-radiologist. She was fascinated by radiology during her studies. She found her life passion in studying the functioning of the nervous system. So she decided to learn and know more, to become one of the best. She did her PhD in that field, she became a Professor at University and as an outstanding member of the medical community decided to join the national neuroradiology association.
Her hopes were high: she would join the association to meet her peers, people like her, being passionate about what she likes: brains. She thought that within this community she would be able to engage with others on long, highly accurate and professional conversations on how to solve their own medical mysteries. She also wanted to get to know the big names in the field, but also she wanted to mentor the upcoming future eminences.
The years have passed by and she has seen how this big association has grown to be over- standardized, revenue driven and bureaucracy tangled. Doctors no longer meet for just the pleasure of talking to each other and exchanging opinions. They meet to get credits, to achieve points. Board members multitask, and in that multitasking they lose sight of the core values and purpose of an association. They join the association, not because they want to network, but because they want a certain certificate they can hang on a wall and demand a higher salary or a more reputed title. Professor Leone experiences how the gap between the seniors and the newcomers is becoming bigger and bigger every time. Seniors are in their board chairs; talking about how they can increase the numbers, what venues can they get to impress other seniors.
They are not willing to change their ways and listen to Professor Leone’s point of view. She wants to re-create that community feeling. She wants to give the newcomers an extra reason to join, besides all the certificates and the reputation. She wants them to join, because here in this association, they can give free rains to their geekiness, they can share and discuss. They can create connections that will turn into useful networks of professionals rather than single eminences on their fields.
So, what can Professor Leone do? Not much, you would think.
It takes more than just one person to change the minds and ways of an Association’s Board. It needs a change of mind-set in the whole industry, to open their eyes to new and different ways. Associations need to realise that without communities, there will not be associations.
To go back to a true community of purpose or practice, as an Association, you need to listen to what your members are saying. What do they want, what do they need and what is interesting to them. You need to give them back the power of decision and focus on creating a welcoming environment where they will be happy to share and happy to come back. You have to offer them a sense of purpose and make them feel not only wanted but also needed.
And it goes beyond listening to your members and the one specific, common field of interest. After all, a community starts with several individuals practicing the same interests and the same hobbies.
So if suddenly you realise that your target group is meeting with the purpose of talking about movies, perhaps you could incorporate that into the content-framework of your next gathering. Are they may be interested in gastronomy? Or in environmental causes? Any given person has several interests, not because someone is a radiologist it means that only medical topics will be of her interest. By observing what your members do and like, you will be able to appeal to their interests.
Taking a first step, perhaps next time the Board discusses budget matters, they can swap that president’s dinner for an all-member cinema night. Popcorn included.