Why I’m Optimistic About the Future of Association Governing

Written by Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE on February 21, 2019

In my new eBook, Foresight is The Future of Governing: Building Thrivable Boards, Stakeholders and Systems for the 21stCentury, I argue that associations must create a different future of governing by focusing the work of governing on the future. As I explain:

Associations need their boards, with the support of their staff partners and other

contributors, to focus their attention on understanding, anticipating and preparing

for a complex and uncertain future for their organizations and stakeholders, as well

as the broader systems of connections, exchanges and relationships in which they

participate and through which they also derive value.

This way of thinking requires a fundamental shift away from association management’s orthodox beliefs about the role of the board and the nature of its work, and toward a future-ready perspective on what governing can become. Despite the clear challenges that associations will confront in making this shift, I am optimistic that it can be done for three reasons.

  • New awareness— There is a growing realization among association boards and chief staff executives that powerful forces of societal transformation are reshaping every field of human endeavor and experience. No association is exempt from the long-term impact of disruption and more staff and voluntary decision-makers are taking seriously the need to prepare their organizations and stakeholders for a full range of plausible futures. As my colleague, Veronica Meadows from the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB) writes, “Our board considers the duty of foresight part of their fiduciary responsibilities, and key to their mission of stewarding the organization.” As societal transformation intensifies in the months ahead, I’m optimistic this mindset will spread throughout the association community.
  • New directors— The arrival of younger directors is already making an impact on association boards. These 40 and under directors want to make full use of their talents to deliver meaningful outcomes through stewardship, not simply perform the traditional activities of governing because “that’s what we’ve always done.” Not only are these new directors younger, they are also far more diverse, which is a game-changing opportunity on which associations must capitalize. “You can have a board that is wholly curious and open to learning, but if the members are homogeneous they are likely to have the same blind spots. It’s important to have members on boards of different ages, cultural experiences and educational backgrounds,” writes my colleague, Nabil El-Ghoroury of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). I’m optimistic that the number of association boards embracing this view is on the rise.
  • New technologies— Accelerating technological progress is delivering a profound impact on our society, and it will be transformative in the boardroom as well. The application of artificial intelligence and related technologies will simplify board work, enhance board decision-making and enable directors to focus their energy and attention on building the human capabilities required to steward their associations into the future. These capabilities include empathy, collaboration, learning and what my colleague, Alicia Skulemowski from the Global Business Travel Association calls “radical candor.” As she writes, “Radical candor is about keeping disagreement healthy. It helps your board to broaden their mind collectively and have a more rounded perspective when decision making.” I’m optimistic that associations are on the verge of integrating human and machine intelligences to strengthen board performance.

To have a chance of thriving in the 21st century, associations must create a different future of governing. I’m optimistic that we will, and it will require all of us who believe governing can become more than it is right now to work together to create that future today. Will you join us?

Jeff spoke in the “Foresight is the Future of Governing” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.