Local networks and letting go

I’m ending my term as a board member for the local chapter of a professional organization. I’m feeling bad, both because I’m pessimistic about the direction I see it taking, and because I no longer have the time or the desire to try and affect that direction.

How this started

The proximate cause of this musing was a pretty bureaucratic one. I’d worked with last year’s treasurer to try and convert the chapter’s financial data from a paper ledger and an envelope full of receipts (it was like something from a tax-time cartoon) to QuickBooks Online Edition. Not that QBOE is the ne plus ultra of accounting, but because it was inexpensive and easily accessible by the other board members. That in place of the all-too-common reality of our chapter: someone who knows software sets up some standalone system in the past, only to have the knowledge, the software, or the data not survive the transition to the next board.

That’s what’s happening now: the new board has a volunteer who knows accounting. He’s going to handle the stuff on local accounting software. I can peer down the road two years and see a new treasurer without that application having to not only reinvent the wheel but wonder whether it needs axles or not.

I’m not up to stepping forward and running for treasurer myself, though. So I’ve documented what we did in QBOE, and why, and sent that to the new guy with my best wishes.

Where this went

In the past eleven years, our local chapter has lost four presidents-elect. We don’t have a vice-president; you run as president-elect and then serve three years: the first as, effectively, vice-president; the second as president; the third as a board member by virtue of being “immediate past president.”

Those loses have been a real blow to continuity — in fact, I became president two years ago without ever having been president-elect. The then-president and a board member asked me to run as president. My hunch, then and now, was that they’d been working down a list, which made me (as the first person not to turn them down) president of last resort.

A missing link (ceci n'est pas une image)I think the local-chapter model of professional association is fast fading. When I first came to Washington, nearly 30 years ago, the local ISPI chapter was strong and vibrant. Members looked forward to the monthly programs; committees had ample volunteers.

Based on conversations with friends (and a spouse) active in similar associations in different fields, my guess is that there are a couple of trends at work, some of them contradictory.

  • Many professionals don’t feel they have much time to give to local professional organizations — either as volunteers or as active participants.
  • As members gain in experience, the things they focus on professionally tend both to vary and to deepen. They’re not as interested in general topics, and it’s harder to identify some specific area that will interest enough to them to make an in-person meeting feasible (in terms of topic, time, place, and cost).
  • More experienced individuals, at least those who are my contemporaries, give or take eight years or so, don’t seem to adopt newer modes of networking. I’d be hard pressed to name three people I know who’ve been members of the local ISPI chapter who have their own blogs or whom I know through Facebook / Twitter / what-have-you. (I knew a few through LinkedIn, but it doesn’t seem to result in much sharing.)
  • For professionals in the training / learning / performance-improvement area who do adopt newer tools for networking, I think the large professional organizations — ISPI, ASTD — seem much like their corporate counterparts: slow-moving, hesitant, and unsure of their ways.

No deep thoughts here, no great solutions. I’m not going over to people’s houses and nagging them into starting blogs or hounding them to do what’s clearly right (as in, what I’d prefer). I think I’m loosening some ties, if not severing them. I feel some regret, but the reality for me is that the local chapter and the international organization are not where I get my professional energy any more.

I’ve found tremendous stimulation and inspiration at the annual ISPI conference — but attending would set me back at least $2,500, and that’s more than I can justify. ISPI’s been offering some “skillcasts” (their name for webcasts). As with the others, the next one (July 9th) costs $49.

The topic? “Giving Away Power.”

“Missing image link” image by Brero / Miguel Librero.

8 thoughts on “Local networks and letting go

  1. Dave:
    Thanks for your contribution to our field and to your local chapter. Leadership in professional associations is a place to learn new or emerging skills and knowledge. The contribution to others in the community is also significant. Leaders develop, nurture, and coach / mentor emerging leadership in the community. However, each of us think about quitting after a lengthy experience that challenges beyond what we think we are capable of withstanding. I hope you rethink your decision. I also hope that you get involved in the international organization, especially around technology opportunities.

    Local chapters enrich members through networking, providing feedback and encouragement when a member takes on a new challenge, be it professional or personal. For example, in one chapter, a member’s family member acquired cancer. Her chapter helped her think through professional and personal challenges so that she could devote more attention to her family member.

    The international association provides standards and establishes a certification process so that those who meet the rigorous criteria have demonstrated skills and knowledge of the field. The international association encourages research and the transfer of research knowledge to practice. I am sure you know about journals and electronic newsletters and electronic connectivity, with podcasts, etc. It helps people develop beyond knowledge to know-how.

    I am the international president-elect for ISPI and serve as the board liaison for: international, academic, K-12 initiative, and budding partnership efforts. The ISPI board of directors supports and encourages many initiative to enhance our products and services to chapters.

    Again, thanks for writing your piece. It is very helpful to express concerns about local organizations.

  2. I identify with this. I think that ISPI is experiencing an identity crisis and we are emulating ASTD with touting workplace development instead of what we do best: system design and improvement based on research.

    My hypothis is that when ISPI went for numbers (cash flow is good, I know) we strayed from the roots that brought us to usefulness. ISPI is now a newcomer’s organization and people drift off after a few years because HPT (what a terrible label) is limiting and after two or three years of HPT 101 their reflex reserve (how about that as a blast from the past) is exhausted.

    Chapter people often are first attending for networking and job seeking and are usually interested in short-term quick-fixes. We have priced ourselves out of the academic market, so those people don’t come to ISPI meetings (save a few stalwarts such as Boise State, Cascarrelli and Sharon, Allison, Jim and a few others.. . . Mariano, with us at the Sonora Institute of Technology, is trying to provide new and basic concepts and tools but a “tie goes to the standard HPT 101” when selecting speakers and defining our “heros”.

    I think we should find ourselves, and I do think that is for research-based concepts and tools even thought it winnows down the customer base.

  3. Darlene:

    Thank you for your kind words. I don’t know that I’ve contributed much to the HPT field. I do know that after my first ISPI conference — around 1979 or so, at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington — I literally quivered with enthusiasm for a pragmatic, data-based, systematic approach toward how people acquire skill and knowledge on job.

    That’s generally been true following each conference I’ve attended — around 10 in all, including one in which I was an encore presenter. But I just can’t justify the expense of attending a conference, and so my professional development has to occur in some other way.

    My experience with the Potomac Chapter over the past two years says that isn’t the way for me, either. I agree that they can enrich members through networking, though my review of our attendance data suggests that isn’t happening here.


    Cash flow is good — if nothing else, it gives you choice. A lack of it, though, sometimes gives you drive you wouldn’t otherwise have.

    I remember an irascible member of the chapter who’d ask speakers, “How do you know that?” Or, as Claude Lineberry put it in the best 99-second presentation I ever saw:

    A. Data are plural.
    B. By the way, where are your damned data?

    Not to say everything ends up looking like a dissertation — Claude also said that nobody in the private sector is going to pay for controlled studies in their training programs.

    I’ve heard you speak about high-level strategy; for most of my career, I’ve worked much further down the totem pole. Often the best I can do is to help my immediate client think of “training” in terms of “learning,” and to convince him that what you, Darlene, and I would call performance support is another way of helping the training transfer.

  4. Excellent post Dave. I let both my ISPI and local ASTD memberships lapse because they also fail to give me any sense of professional energy. My professional development now comes from my online networks and connections.

  5. Janet, I worked as a corporate trainer / instructional designer for some 25 years. Most of that time, I didn’t have a single coworker who also belonged to any professional organization in my field. Despite their experience and skill, most of my coworkers were in some sense artists — doing what they did well but without much exchange with others outside their normal working environment.

    I can be very analytical, and so ISPI’s focus on data and on research appealed to me. I had the good luck to attend, very early on, a workshop on programmed learning that had been designed in part by Geary Rummler and Dale Brethower. Some time later, I learned job aid design, front-end analysis, and instructional design principles from Joe Harless.

    The local chapter had hundreds of members, and provided me a way to learn from and share with people who at least in theory valued a similar, how-do-you-know approach.

    I absolutely believe that in-person exchange is potentially the richest venue… but I also know it’s nearly impossible to make that happen when you’d like.

    This relatively new mode of engaging with others isn’t foolproof, as you know. Clay Shirkey made that point in one of his talks: we’re in early stages, trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

  6. Dave, it’s great to find your blog! I’ve been a member of ISPI and ASTD in the past, but never participated in any networking. I mostly used them for the publications. I can see why you would be frustrated and it’s nice to see potential solutions offered in comments. I do think there are changes happening in the way we organize our personal networks and I’m not certain formal membership in anything long term is the future of learning. I can’t wait to learn more of your discoveries!

  7. You have valid points here, Dave, and I agree with Roger’s comments (I still use his book on Strategic Planning). As a CPT emeritus [didn’t see the value in paying all that money for re-certification] I too see great value in the methodologies developed around ISPI and HPT. However, the world has changed.

    Here in Atlantic Canada we have had several associations and networking groups come and go. The latest iteration is a Social Media Meetup. This group is bringing in people from several fields, such as training, IT, marketing and Web 2.0. I think that the future is bright for associations that decide to collaborate to compete. Join one association but attend meetings of other associations. Cross-pollination is the norm in a networked world. My advice to ISPI is stay true to the research but embrace other groups and work together, before you become irrelevant to the connected knowledge worker.

    Like you, I get much of my professional development through my blog and other social media.

Comments are closed.