Planning a (R)evolution

The 600-plus attendees at this summer's Annual Meeting in New Orleans experienced firsthand what goes into the strategic planning process for an association—or, what can go into it, with inspired and tech-savvy leadership and a receptive, responsive membership.

Incoming AAUP President Barbara Kline Pope began her presidency with a notable break from tradition. Rather than delivering an inaugural address on June 24, the final day of the meeting, Kline Pope led an interactive session for meeting attendees.

While kicking off that session, "Reimagining the AAUP: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Opportunities," Pope explained: "While I enjoy public speaking, what I like even more is getting stuff done ... That's how change happens."

Two characteristics marked this stage of the strategic planning process. The openness to the entire membership—and beyond— has set the tone for the new plan. One of the benefits of the scholarly publishing community is the experience and knowledge of its constituents, and plan leaders have wisely capitalized on this.

Second, interactive tech tools were helpfully and seamlessly integrated into the large group session, and were truly useful in the overall process. Members have also been surveyed and interviewed for feedback during past planning processes—most recently in 2007 and 1999—but the 2014 session was the first to make use of interactive multimedia.

Attendees at the New Orleans session were divided randomly among 50 tables of about eight people each, including one pre-selected, prepped facilitator. Tables were assigned one of four goals of the working strategic plan—Collaboration, Advocacy, Research, or Education—and asked to come up with at least five tactics for enacting these goals. After plenty of discussion time, a handful of tables were chosen to share their tactics.

For example, Table 41, facilitated by Gallaudet's Ivey Wallace, discussed "Education." The five ideas they brainstormed for fulfilling that goal were: a member survey on education programs, a community forum for sharing best practices and strategies, online learning opportunities with certification, leadership education for mid-level staff, and profiling press staff in AAUP newsletters.

The room then broke for lunch, during which all table facilitators met to choose their five favorite tactics for each of the four goals. The resulting top-five lists were then projected onto screens over dessert, and the floor was opened to text-message polling. Voters watched results stretch into real-time bar graphs on projector screens. Those results were captured and saved for reference, along with all of the original 500-plus table-level tactic suggestions.

The process produced a wide range of inspired ideas. Many ideas came up repeatedly, and many are unique. Some may not be feasible, but the need they reveal instructive. Some echo ideas already under discussion among the board, committees, and central office, while others are fresh approaches. (You can find them in PDF form on the AAUP website.)

"I thought the plenary strategic planning session was remarkably well planned and executed," noted one attendee's meeting evaluation. "It is extremely difficult to get meaningful input from many people, especially when they are thrown into a room together, and takes real skill to strike the right balance ... I was frankly extremely surprised and impressed at how well this session seemed to go." Others appreciated the opportunity for a different kind of networking, facilitated by the problem-solving, table-level conversations—often with colleagues just met.

As Kline Pope reminded attendees: "The AAUP is our organization. All of us are necessary, in order to ensure the AAUP's vitality, its vigor, its nimbleness, its effectiveness. Today's session can tap into the power of our very own collective ... the power of diverse individuals, facing similar challenges, coming together for the common good of advancing scholarship."

The results of this crowd-sourced strategic brainstorming have already informed the final development of committee charges, the agenda-setting of the AAUP board of directors, and central office planning meetings as implementation of the 2014 Strategic Plan begins.


Regan Colestock
Communications Strategist, AAUP