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Where do Associations Fit in Today’s World?

By: Amith Nagarajan 01 Mar 2016

Association Information Access

Reshaping the Association Identity with Information Access

Am I the only one who looks back on life 5 years ago and sees myself in a different context thanks to technology-driven behavior?

I bet not.

5 years ago, my favorite social and news apps weren’t headquartered on my phone, and having access to on-demand services like Uber, AirBnb and Upwork were inconceivable.

Relatively speaking, 5 years is not a great amount of time, but it was a very different time, with very different behaviors (of both consumption and communication). Although I happily functioned at the advanced end of the global communication scale, 2010 already feels primitive. Our information access becomes more mobile and more powerful at a very consistent rate, and the way we interact with the world and define our engagement with it has undoubtedly shifted.

Technology’s Grip on History

So what does this mean for our place in history? When we attempt to define this, its meaning is often derived from recent comparative change and how we define ourselves in a global context. These are, of course, very fluid ideas, but emphasizing concrete innovations and watershed moments allow us to tighten our grip on its understanding.

This often leads to a narrative of technological development and social progress in the form of access to global, uncensored information and modern systems.

We must recognize that accessibility has become a key way in which we define ourselves. Not through the romantic lens of ambiguity and culture, but in the self-affirming, definitive changes driven by access to technology and our freedoms to express ourselves through it.

New Systems of Belonging: The Open Garden

And so we find ourselves in the midst of this amorphous place in history. At a time when individual, company and national identities hinge on their practices regarding information technology, security and freedom.

The world has become an “Open Garden” of content sharing and collaboration. By now, this may seem to be the norm, but its advent has defined a generation.

More interesting is to note how traditional industries have adjusted to the Open Garden in their own way.

The music industry has fused with new listening, downloading and streaming platforms, ensuring that our window to music is still open, yet regulating broad usage to make sure artists are fairly compensated.

Even the airline industry rose to the challenge. They’ve stayed competitive despite transparent, open-field buying platforms, and advanced offers and yield management have allowed companies to keep improving their services.

The Challenge for Associations

For associations and other member-based organizations, embracing the Open Garden has been a struggle.

Associations rely heavily on the Membership Model. That is, they may be a hot bed of industry leaders, resources and events, but access is limited to a select group - those who have made commitments to be members.

The traditional membership model is what we call a “Walled Garden,” and in the past, this Walled Garden was one of the only places to gain access to top resources. For that reason, it was possible to require membership before engagement was enabled. These days, that practice creates a narrow and isolated group that only represents a small sub-set of the true audience interested in the association’s expertise.

But abandoning membership is not necessary to embrace the concept of an Open Garden. We simply need to look at membership as a higher level of engagement and design better ways to engage in a simpler, faster, and more casual way that precedes membership in most situations. Rather than placing your association into solitary confinement, the Open Garden positions your group at the center of dialog with a dramatically larger audience.

The time to change is now.



Amith Nagarajan

Written by Amith Nagarajan

01 Mar 2016 in strategy, associations

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