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Sharing solutions across continents.

Sharing Solutions Across Continents

An organized association community has immense resources of information.

One area where America takes the lead is in its recognition of associations as a coherent and distinctive sector of the business and professional community. This focus has subsequently led to recognition of the profession of association management and invaluable networking among professionals as they seek to master the challenges they confront in their work.

Those of us in other parts of the world who have learned about the organized association community in the United States do not take this impressive achievement for granted.

Associations are a hodgepodge of different interests and goals. It is not immediately obvious what they have in common, except the necessity for often conflicting promotion of special interests.

The audience of an individual association is often small and self-concerned. A specialist engineering association, for example, has concerns that, to the general public, seem far removed from the work of a professional society of lawyers or a local community association.

ASAE has been instrumental in showing how aspects of associations' mutual experiences are relevant to each other, can be shared, and are part of a distinctive, independent, and influential community of communicators, lobbyists, and meeting managers.

A Common Bond

I remember the founding meeting of the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE) in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1981. Former Association Trends publisher Frank Martineau, whose untimely death we mourn, told us about ASAE and the concept of the four C's that underscores the common bond shared by the association community. His four C's were communication, counseling, community, and cooperation.

There was nothing profound or special in this concept, but in the context of a founding meeting where many were suspicious of the idea that there were similarities among associations, the concept made an important impact. For the first time, I saw a wider community of interest in my profession, an awareness that led me to join ESAE and later to become a board member.

Martineau invited a small group of European association executives to Washington, D.C., in 1982 to introduce us to this new association world. It was a stunning experience. We saw ASAE for the first time, toured associations in our own areas of interest, and drank champagne and ate hot muffins one cold November night at the Jefferson Memorial.

The experience both inspired and intimidated us. We were divided in our instincts. Some feared the concept of an organized association community would not work given the many cultural divisions in Europe. Others emphasized that the idea was so important that we had to find a way to make it work--no matter how difficult the challenge.

What we wanted to say, but could not, was that Americans were apparently unaware they were doing anything so significant. Furthermore, they were glad to listen to us and share our ideas. It was almost too much. I resolved to return to America to investigate the fascinating association community.

A Pilgrimage Begins

I began my quest for ideas and excellence among U.S. associations with the idea of finding out what might be replicated in Europe. I have not been disappointed.

My first experience of excellence in this pilgrimage concerned urban regeneration and new-town development. I found myself in Mercer County, North Dakota, where the energy crisis had caused the exploitation of surface coal reserves and led to the sudden development of three small rural towns: Hazen, Beulah, and Stanton.

To manage the resulting social, environmental, and economic problems, North Dakota created a development agency with help from the federal government. This agency was an association of county, state, and federal agencies; private sector interests; and local towns.

The development agency was very successful in ensuring that some of the funds helped improve the community infrastructure, train local people, and make investments for the future when the coal supply was depleted or no longer needed.

Of course, the agency and communities involved experienced all the usual problems and uncertainties generic to such situations, and I do not know how it turned out for Mercer County.

However, there was one central idea worth the trip, apart from the pleasure of meeting the dedicated people involved. The idea involved such chutzpah I wondered if it could work in England, where local communities were then less experienced in taking the initiative to deal with change.

The communities of Mercer County joined forces and together sought the establishment of a development agency that would operate as a partnership among local citizens, government agencies, and private interests to ensure that more than large corporations would benefit from the exploitation of the land.

I brought the idea that local communities could lead area development partnerships back to England and replicated it, in our own way, here.

Since then, I have visited the United States and U.S. associations every year. I have never failed to find a simple idea, a useful methodology, or an insight that can be replicated.

The great strength of the association community is its diversity of knowledge and experience and the desire of its professionals to share and be receptive to new ideas. As an organized community, associations have immense resources of information and skill to apply to a problem or to illuminate an issue.

Peter Houghton is chairman of Association Managers, Ltd., Birmingham, England.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Perspective
Author:Houghton, Peter
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Another perspective.
Next Article:Higher authority?

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