December 17, 2017
    THINK: Sea dragons of innovation
    By Jami Lucas | 03/21/2014

    The following THINK column is based on a panel discussion on the Future of New Value Creation at the ACE Symposium. Panelists included Lucas, Larry Sloan of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, and Francesca Dea of the Obesity Society.

    Associations are being asked to do more without compromising current programming or value. They are required to innovate to offer more benefits to a constituency that might not know what it wants or needs. How do you envision a Sea Dragon if you never knew the Sea Dragon existed?

    While it’s easy to presume all this need for innovation stems from our technological advances and everyone’s need to be cutting edge through digital platforms, social media, and big data, these are merely tactics. The need for innovation stems from relevance.

    Associations are changing - from reasons for joining to reasons for volunteering. In the professional association model, we have shifted from members joining for the CV designation, to members assessing value for dues dollars. Members are no longer happy to sit on a committee for three years as part of a larger leadership succession path; they want to know end goals, timelines and travel commitments. Yet when you ask these members what they need, you get radio silence. There is a fear of compromising existing programs to develop new programs. What if I don’t like the new as much as the old? Yet, doing nothing is as risky as doing something. Associations now compete with corporations, technology and even YouTube. What are we good at? What service do we deliver better than others? How do we leverage this as a benefit?

    You need to ask tough questions, such as, “If we were planning our first annual meeting, is this what we would create?” How can you augment and preserve the framework of the annual meeting through digital platforms, for example? Too many folks approach this as a replication challenge. But it’s engagement that is the goal. Finding creative ways to augment existing programming with new tactics and delivery systems helps grow member involvement. The end goal is member benefits platform build out. Focus on what you do well, and do more of that. Don’t undertake programming just because peer organizations are doing it.

    With TED, YouTube and even all the MOOCs out there, video capture of the annual meeting presenters isn’t enough. Rethink the content with the platform capacity with the end user in mind to design a better tool. Use your digital to drive live and vice versa. When we looked at our member data, we affirmed 20 percent of our members participate in our CME. Knowing this, the opportunity to engage a larger percentage of our membership popped to the forefront of our strategic challenges. Does this compromise our existing programs and revenue streams? Probably. But, there is no guarantee those revenue streams will stay constant with no change. If we really consider tactics, what we are good at, and member needs, we can envision the Sea Dragon to see opportunities for expanded member benefits we did not see before.

    Lucas is CEO of the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy/Foundation. Earlier she worked in medicine and biomedical research at the American Physiological Society and the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. Contact her at

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