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January 30, 2009

Be One With the Crowd

Great to see all the commentary and coverage of Jeff Howe's keynote on crowdsourcing during Tech.

What baffles me is the conceptual disconnect in not understanding crowdsourcing as being one and the same as the essence of what member associations are at their core. Lisa somewhat captures this in her "love" post, but still references crowdsourcing as something other. Which also reminds me of Douglas Rushkoff's lecture on how "people want to be geeks for the things they care about," a few Annuals ago.

Don't be fooled. While crowdsourcing is what those Web 2.0 whizkids call it, it's what good associations have been doing all along!

Three IGDA examples come to mind:

- Example1: Whitepaper Writing. To this day, I don't really know who they do it, but our Casual Games Special Interest Group writes an annual whitepaper with dozens of contributors from across the globe and they edit/publish it via our wiki. When converted to pdf format, it's usually over 100 pages long, and is considered a definitive resource for the industry. It is produced for free completely via volunteer labor, and it is made available for completely free.

A few years back, one board member thought it wise to package up the value in their paper and sell it (or at least put it behind the members-only fence). When discussed with the SIG, they were ready to mutiny. They purposefully contributed their knowledge freely on the assumption it would be shared as far and wide as possible, to help others as much as possible and done in the context of their love for their profession/industry. So ya, we dropped that idea fast and don't plan to charge for whitepapers or make them for members-only.

(As an aside, that whitepaper example is a perfect case of narrowly defined business models getting in the way..)

- Example2: Facebook. A handful of the IGDA's long time members felt it was important for us to leverage the rise of social networks, like Facebook, etc. So, they went ahead and started a Facebook group, which got up to a few thousand members and a ton of activity, before I or anyone on staff even knew about it. I found out when one member invited me to join the group! They've since handed over the "keys", but their passion for the org pushed them to bring it where they felt it was needed, and members just want about connecting and creating value for each other.

- Example3: Global Game Jam. This very weekend, nearly 2000 student, amateur and professional game developers with endure a 48-hour marathon to create quick-and-dirty experimental video games. And, it'll be done across 52 different sites in 23 countries. The effort is the collaboration of several chapters and SIGs, and the IGDA staff barely got involved (ok, well, we put up the cash to purchase the domain name, and help ship out some materials). We're not making a penny from the effort, but wow, those developers are going to have an experience of a lifetime!

I see my work and the work of the IGDA as a race to keep up with the crowd, to hand members water bottles from the side of the road and cheer them on as they head up the mountain stretch. Sadly, I see too many association putting up hurdles in the path, worrying about control and brand and revenue streams, getting caught up with fancy technical terms.

Be one with the crowd, or risk being trampled!

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Another nonprofit coughs up the money for Super Bowl ad

Add one more nonprofit-sponsored Super Bowl ad to the mix expected this Sunday: ClearWay Minnesota‘s "Cash Register." The spot, which will air only in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Rochester before going statewide in Minnesota, emphasizes, "We all pay the price for tobacco." We won’t know whether the anti-tobacco ad keeps its promise of being "fast-paced" and "provocative" until game time, but folks outside of Minnesota can see it January 30 at www.weallpaytheprice.com. The spot kicks off a campaign that includes a Web site and print, online, and bus ads.


Super Bowl Is Super Time for Associations to Show They’ve Got Game

Only days away, the Super Bowl match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals has provided a welcome chance for an eclectic assortment of associations and nonprofits to rack up some big points with the public. You wouldn’t think a football game would have impact much beyond sports associations and maybe some snack-food, pizza-making, beer-selling trade organizations, but here are just a few of the creative activities and news related to Super Sunday that I’ve seen, starting with the most obvious:

--It’s all about the ads, really, isn’t it? You’ve probably heard, read, and laughed about the big PepsiCo commercial, which has garnered rave reviews from countless associations involved in representing people with disabilities, such as the National Association of the Deaf. For those few who don’t know what I’m talking about despite extensive press coverage, PepsiCo has created a funny 60-second ad called “Bob’s House” that is based on a longtime joke amongst the hearing-impaired. I won’t ruin the punch line, but you can already watch it on Pepsi’s “Ads” section on its Web site. Apparently, while most companies keep Bowl ads top secret, Pepsi—whose employee network EnAble created the silent, captioned ad—decided a pre-release was well worth the fabulous publicity. Look for the ad to air in the pre-game coverage.

--And who will be critiquing these $2-million pitches? Aside from you, of course. The San Francisco Chapter of the American Marketing Association continues its tradition of hosting an animated panel session of ad experts for a post-game thumbs up-down session to determine “which ads made an impact on our national psyche.” This year’s melee is titled “Super Bowl XLIII—Buzz or Bust in a Down Economy.”

--And what about the food? Myriad trade associations are tying in their products and services, ranging from the National Pasta Association with its Game Day manicotti enchilada recipe to the National Retailers Association, whose annual survey determines the estimated viewership (167 million adults or 73.3% this year) and its impressive monetary outlay ($57.27 each on food, merchandise, team apparel, electronics, and even furniture).

--And don’t forget the halftime possibility of getting off that couch and actually tossing a ball. The National Football League and the American Heart Association have teamed up for “NFL Play 60,” a “Super Bowl Challenge to inspire Tampa Bay students to get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity — in school and at home — and help middle schools become places that encourage physically active lifestyles year-round.” The campaign provided curriculum resources and materials to teachers to promote the program during the pre-game hysteria. You also might recall that AHA ran an amusing 30-second Super Bowl ad in 2007 called “You Gotta Have Heart”. The ad is running online now as part of Spike TV’s “Top 25 Super Bowl Ads” feature.

--But did ya have to bring in the lawyers? Apparently. Members of the Christian Law Association were involved in that messy business of the past few years in which the NFL threatened to prosecute churches that used the event for fellowship purposes by showing the big game in their facilities, rather than in a personal home. This year, though, the NFL relented and created special regulations around such events, which are shared in a video on the CLA site.

Now let’s kick off!


January 29, 2009

More Technology quick clicks

There are already some great responses to this week's Technology Conference being shared online:

- Jamie Notter of the Get Me Jamie Notter blog has a very thoughtful post on the themes he saw emerging over the course of the conference.

- Jeff De Cagna at the Principled Innovation blog discovered the Benjamin Button Paradox during the conference.

- Bob Wolfe wasn't able to be at the Tech Conference in person because of the ice storm, but he still presented at a session. More information on how he did that is posted on the Young Association Professional blog.

- Lynn Morton at the Social Networking for Association Professionals blogged live from the conference about leveraging social technologies.

- And definitely don't forget to check out various postings on Twitter--especially if you're wondering what the heck Twitter is all about. You can find anything posted to Twitter with the #tech09 tag here. (You can also see photos from the conference on Flickr.)

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January 28, 2009

The Twitter invasion

The Twitter virus has certainly infected Tech Conference attendees!

You can find out what people are saying about the conference by putting "#tech09" into the search box on this site. (I know there's plenty of other ways -- feel free to drop your favorite in a comment.)

Here are some of the interesting things people have said this morning, followed by a 30-minute grab -- showing all the times people used the "tech09" hash in a random 30-minute timeframe.

Note that today's general session speaker, Chris Sacca, tweeted about his keynote.

curtisraye: Learning about social networks for associations at #Tech09 Biggest mistake: Trying to jam the oversight job into the the IT dept's portfolio
about 1 hour ago • Reply • View Tweet

MissLynn13: Eye tracking is interesting, especially when you aren't a member. I think it helps give perspective. #tech09
about 2 hours ago • Reply • View Tweet

sacca: Really dug the energy at ASAE's #tech09. Talked with authors, teachers, technicians, hackers, speech and hearing folks, and even organists!

jheydasch: "u can't just start ntwrk and leave it @ that. you have 2 give ppl thngs to do once they arrive." if u desire success - @maddiegrant #tech09

julieohmchang: lessons learned: don't change the project manager mid-project! #tech09

ThomFlash: re: usability and architecture: yesterday's concept of using personas to put names and faces to segments of website users is great. #tech09
about 2 hours ago • Reply • View Tweet

MissLynn13: Framing, offer people an expensive alternative can increase sales to your mid-level products. #tech09
about 2 hours ago • Reply • View Tweet

And now the 30-minute section (and it was a slow 30-minute time as lunch and the exhibit hall were open).

annparker: I was just called a lounge lizard in the Conv Center. #tech09
2 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

drewbsaunders: Chris @Sacca's keynote at #Tech09 surprised me: all about his years at GOOG. Fascinating stories, but would have liked more on his new work.
6 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

maddiegrant: BTW - if you want a copy of the Association Social Technologies survey, go here www.socialtechreport.org. Lindy & I worked on it! #tech09
17 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

scottinmemphis: RT @maddiegrant: Scoop of the century: Charlene Li will be a keynote at ASAE Annual. U heard it here first! #tech09
20 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

maddiegrant: Oh FYI Clay Shirky's speaking at Annual too. Whoo hoo! #tech09
20 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

asaecenter: want to hear what is happening at the tech conference, follow Tech09 or search for the hashtag #Tech09 at search.twitter.com
21 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

anelet: I'm searching for _#tech09_ live on TweetGrid Search - http://tweetgrid.com/search?q=%23tech09 #tech09
21 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

ccollinsmith: Spoke w/ Rob Wenger & Andy Steggles re Higher Logic. Spoke w/ Jeff re ThePort & web strategy/audit etc. Will follow up w/ both. #Tech09.
22 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

maddiegrant: Scoop of the century: Charlene Li will be a keynote at Annual. U heard it here first! #tech09
23 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

ahissrich: RT :-) @sacca: Really dug the energy at ASAE's #tech09. Talked with authors, teachers, technicians, hackers, ..., and even organists!
24 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet

Tech09: only 45 minutes left to talk to exhibitors. Grab your lunch fast and hit up those booths you left to visit last. #tech09
27 minutes ago • Reply • View Tweet


SNIA Releases More Green Computing Resources and Draft Standards

As I continue to research green computing in response to requests at the ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference that ends today, I’ve been alerted that the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Green Storage Initiative (GSI) released its draft "Green Storage Power Measurement Specification" for public review just last week.

According to the association’s GSI Technical Working Group, "this initial release contains a comprehensive Storage Taxonomy for classifying storage products, as well as a baseline standard for idle power measurement. Future releases will include an Active Measurement standard [and] procedures for auditing and reporting of results." You can download a copy here.

You might also be interested in the association’s downloadable white paper, released in October 2008, called "Best Practices for Energy Efficient Storage Operations," which gives guidelines for "leveraging currently available storage system features for reducing energy and power consumption." Among the topics covered—many of which have been explored at this week’s conference—are data and file de-duplication, virtualization, data compression, tiered storage, and solid state disks.

And finally, SNIA wrote an excellent article you can access free online at InfoStor Magazine called "How Green Is Your Storage?"


"Green" Ratings for IT Systems

Someone asked during the Green Computing session Monday afternoon at the ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference whether any environmental standards exist for IT in terms of judging whether a technology system and its processes are truly “green.”

This morning I saw in the free e-newsletter GreenerComputing.com that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is indeed in the process of creating an Energy Star rating for data center infrastructure. Goals for this new rating system, according to the article, include offering the recognized and respected Energy Star label “to data centers with a rating of 75 or higher (performance in the top quartile)” on a scale of 1-100.

You’ll find a PowerPoint presentation on this and EPA’s project to boost Energy Star Buildings by clicking here.

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Test, test, retest, and then retest again


Live blogging from the Tech Conference general session with Chris Sacca (former Google executive)…

One note – Google constantly asked, what does [insert name of project here] mean for the end user.

This brought to mind Gammel’s comment I blogged on yesterday: “Test the hell out of it.”

It also brought to mind the late session on usability I went to yesterday when Will Fisher from the American Speech Language Hearing Association said that ASHA staff in fact had no idea how or how often members used their website. He said staff thought members accessed it daily or at least a few times a week. The reality: a few times a month at most.

Back to Sacca again: “The art is in the hypothesis, but the most important part is testing it. We’re constantly testing across our entire user base of 800 million users to improve the experience they’re having.”

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Quick clicks for Tech

Good morning, and welcome to day 2 of the Technology Conference! For those of you who are with us in spirit (or those of you who are here and looking for some reading before this morning's general session), here are some links you may find interesting:

- Want to follow what attendees are posting from the Technology Conference on Twitter? Try visiting this page throughout the day, or Maddie Grant's more graphical Twitterfountain at the Socialfishing blog.

- Maddie also shares information on a crowdsourcing-based company she likes in response to yesterday's general session with Jeff Howe.

- Jeff De Cagna at the Principled Innovation blog re-posts a podcast interview he did with Jeff Howe a few months ago, based on Howe's book Crowdsourcing.

- Renato Sogueco posts some resources for his session on virtualization.

Some other tech-related (but not Tech-related) links:

- Cecilia Sepp at Association Puzzle has an interesting post on the implications of "defriending" in a social media context, and Bruce Hammond at Insights From a Future Association Executive wonders if it's a generational thing. On the Member-to-Member blog, Dana Theus examines 21st century social marketing.

- Jeff Cobb posts about the current state of e-learning in associations, as well as a roundup of e-learning tools and resources.

- David Gammel at the High Context blog reveals how one change to an e-commerce site made a $300 million difference.

- Dennis McDonald writes about the implications of the Obama administration for internet technology and government in the United States.

- Wes Trochlil is conducting a series of podcast interviews of CEOs from association management software companies.

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January 27, 2009

Three thoughts from three people

Rather than give you my highlights from the first full day of the Technology Conference, I decided to ask three different people to give me three thoughts off the top of their head.

Reggie Henry, CTO, ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership

-I think the general session was an ear-opener for folks. I could feel people get nervous in the room because the old-school business models, especially ours, is to sell information. What does that mean when others just give it away. I could just feel the fear in the room.

-The association community is full of troopers--the weather was bad, but they still showed up in great numbers.

-It always amazes me, though it shouldn't anymore, that the wisdom of the crowd carries these conferences. The questions spark at least as good a debate as the things the presenters prepare.

Elena Gerstmann, Staff Director - IEEE Corporate Strategy and Communications

-The sessions this year, and the attendees, are at a higher level than previous years. You can see it in the types of questions that people are asking, presenters aren't having to explain fundamentals as much. I'll be making revisions to the presentation I give tomorrow as a result.

- There was a question at the general session about user-generated content taking away business from the association, and I liked Jeff Howe's answer: We need to step up. We have to add value to our members. LinkedIn communities, Meetup.com groups -- these are our competitors.

- It's all about networking, who you sit next to in sessions, what exhibitors you talk to. That's the great thing about these conferences in the association sector, nobody's a competitor and people are nice and are eager to share their knowledge and tips and tricks so that everybody benefits.

David Gammel, President of High Context Consulting

- Be clear about the outcomes you want to create at the beginning of any process.

- Understand what measures will let you know if you are creating your desired outcomes.

- Experiment and test the hell out of it until you get it right. I think these things are coming through across multiple sessions here.


Tip for chapter technology

Was at the “Parent/Affiliate Relations: Sharing Technology With Component Organizations” session led by Linda Chreno of the American College of Phrebology and Suzan Yungner of the Urban Land Institute, at the Technology Conference and here was a tip I clarified with them afterwards:

If you as a national organization provides a fair amount or more of technology to your affiliates, then consider hiring someone whose job is to be on call to the affiliates for a fee. You’re essentially providing a technology consulting service. The chances are, they have someone they’re using anyway, or wish they had someone they could use, so why not have that person be familiar with the organization and its members?

The idea springs from ULI’s Orange County district council. They hire their own person, a paid intern essentially, to do their technology for them. ULI trains the person, just as they would for any affiliate, and then gives them access to all necessary systems for the district.

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Crowdsourcing is love

Another element of what Jeff Howe spoke about in this morning’s Technology Conference keynote speech on crowdsourcing is what he called “agape”—a Greek term used in some contexts to talk about familial love and, later, to denote communal love or what we might call “charity” today. As Howe put it, crowdsourcing "is an example of what agape does."

(See, I knew my religious studies major would come in handy some day!)

One attendee expressed concern that crowdsourcers were giving away their valuable intellectual property, and it's often true that crowdsourcing involves giving away something you could potentially sell. But as Howe put it, crowdsourcing stems from "people's desire to make something of meaning in their lives and have others recognize that meaning." In other words, whatever is being given away in the crowdsourcing process is actually gaining in value because it's becoming part of what the community is creating. Alone, I might have a single photo on my hard drive. Posted to a crowdsourcing community, that photo is something others can comment on, compliment, use, and learn from, and therefore of much greater value to me than it was just sitting on my computer.

It reminds me of a story I heard years ago--I have no memory of when or where. But the story was that a man came to a site where a large group of workers was building a cathedral. He asked one of the workers what he was doing, and the worker said, "I'm building a wall." He asked another worker what he was doing, and the worker said, "I'm installing a window." Finally, he asked a woman who was sweeping up some of the debris from the site what she was doing, and she said, "I'm building a cathedral for the glory of God."

(Hey, the power of Google comes through: It turns out this is a story from Robert Fulghum.)

Based on Howe's talk this morning, I think one of the keys to the success of crowdsourcing is that the members of these crowds are focused on building the cathedral, even as they're doing specific small tasks that don't seem particularly glorious. They're part of something bigger that they're passionate about. I'm guessing that crowdsourcing in associations can find its greatest success when we can tap into members' passion and make them see how what they're doing is part of that greater success.

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Jeff Howe's recommended follow list


There will be more from Jeff Howe’s general session on crowdsourcing later, but as he was signing books afterward, I asked him who ASAE & The Center members should be paying attention to if they wanted to know what was coming in the web/collaborative space. Here’s his response:

Clay Shirky

The NYU adjunct professor and consultant/speaker/writer is author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Here’s a post from the short-lived blog devoted to the release of the book. In it, Shirky explains how the TV sitcom has saved the world. No kidding. And here’s a link to an amazing keynote he gave, it’s three years old but just as relevant today, maybe more so.

Yochai Benkler

For those with an academic bent, you can access all of Benkler’s technical articles at www.benkler.org. Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard.

Jonathon Zittrain

Benkler’s partner in crime at Harvard, he’s the author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. Here’s a blog post with one significant point made in The Future.

John Palfrey

Coauthor of Born Digital, and colleague of Benkler and Zittrain at Harvard. Access his blog here.


Crowdsourcing: Are we doing it wrong?

howe%20for%20blog.jpgIn today's opening session talk with Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing (and the Crowdsourcing blog), one point that Howe made seemed to resonate with the audience: Quoting from his book, he said that "We know that crowdsourcing exists because we've watched it flourish in the wild. We've had a harder time breeding it in captivity."

And, of course, associations looking at ways to tap into the idea of crowdsourcing would be breeding it in captivity. So what can associations do to successfully "domesticate" crowdsourcing?

A few of the points he made seemed to be particularly germane:

- The technological aspect should be invisible, or at least as invisible as you can make it. Crowdsourcers should be thinking about the task they're trying to accomplish, rather than focusing on the technology.

- Be aware that the crowd will expect to have a voice to go along with its labor. Howe said, "To anyone who cut their teeth in online communities, democracy isn't a concept, it's a habit." Whenever decisions are imposed on the group from above, you'll be going against the grain.

- Howe called crowdsourcers "the coffee break labor force." In a lot of successful crowdsourcing communities, the tasks participants are taking part in are things they can readily accomplish over a coffee break--voting for the best t-shirt design, uploading a photo or a set of photos. It reminds me of an idea I've heard Cynthia D'Amour talk about--what she calls the 15 Minute Club, where an association lists tasks on its website that volunteers can easily accomplish in 15 minutes. Think in terms of small chunks of time.

- Focus on the community, not on yourself. Howe cited what he calls the "cardinal rule of crowdsourcing": "Ask not what your community can do for you; ask what you can do for your community." More specifically, he described the success of Dell's IdeaStorm crowdsourcing project; Howe said the project was successful because Dell focused on trying to do something for its customers instead of trying to get its customers to do something for it. If we focus our association crowdsourcing attempts on benefit to the association rather than to the members, we could be dooming our domestication effort before it begins.


January 26, 2009

The conversations we didn't have

I was at the Town Hall Meeting at the Technology Conference this afternoon (see a couple of notes I wrote on the session at the Tech Conference Notes Wiki). There were some good conversations about the role and level of tech personnel in associations, what types of things participants were spending their time and budgets on, and the state of backend systems available to associations. What I found most interesting, though, were the conversations that didn't happen.

This won't come as a surprise to those who know me -- and certainly not to anyone on the ASAE & The Center staff -- but I believe that associations are guilty of mission creep in massive proportions. They continually try to redefine their markets to encompass more. I think associations need tight focus to both who they're going to serve and what they're going to serve them. And, sacrilege above all, I think you (or more to the point, your board or key volunteers) need to tell members who don't like it that they are free to take a hike.

If you've read this far and don't know what exactly this has to do with the technology conference, thanks for hanging in there. I'm thinking I'm just dense, but I've been a proponent of serving that tight market with the tightly focused stuff you have in the broadest possible delivery scheme you can possibly offer. Those members want email, give them email. They want old-school threaded discussion groups, give it to them. Listservers? Give it. LinkedIn community? Set it up. They prefer video? Roll it! Audio? Podcast it. You get the picture.

I think I'm coming to the realization that this is too much, and we're asking too much of our staffs and our systems to handle this. What happens if the association just decides what tools it will use? If members want to use something else, let them. If it means they no longer value the association as a result, so be it. That does not mean be lazy! Use new tools, experiment, find ways that work for your association and be open for evolution. But don't get all flustered when a subset of members wants something else. Study it and decide if it's something you want to add to your arsenal or not. And I didn't hear these conversations today. I wonder if they will be in the sessions or hallways in the next couple of days.

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January 25, 2009

Outsmarting the Competition: Quantity vs. Quality

All this talk about an economic downturn – I think it’s been a solid hour since my last invite to participate in a survey about how the economy has affected my association and our members – led me to an interesting question: In today’s economic environment, how can we outsmart the associations with which we compete for members?

The answer, at least in my mind, could take one of two paths:

1) Quantity. Market more services and benefits than usual – for your association – with fewer resources. In other words, decrease the expense per service and offer more services. The focus here is on value-added services. How can association staff add value and spend the least amount of money? Generally, these services take little funding or staff time to administer, such as members-only Web site access or an invitation to participate in your association’s committee meetings.

2) Quality. Market fewer services and benefits than usual – for your association – with more resources. In other words, increase the expense per service and offer fewer services. The focus here is on a handful of impressive services. How can association staff outshine their competition by strategically funneling money into fewer services that yield a larger impact? Obviously, these services require more funding and staff time to administer, such as a complimentary subscription to a well-respected magazine you publish.

The point here is that during an economic downturn, it’s unrealistic to do both. Likewise, a reduction in staff, revenue, members, resources or some combination thereof means the status quo is also not an option. Yet, we all agree that standing out is a top priority. So, my question to you is this: Does your association subscribe to the notion of quantity over quality or quality over quantity? What does that look like in your association?


January 23, 2009

Keeping to the Mission Despite the Economy: An Inspiring Example

Wow. At a time when most nonprofits are hoarding every dime, it’s amazing to read that Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the leaders of economically hard-struck nations Germany and England are keeping their “eyes on the prize”—eliminating the last bastions of polio—by announcing a $635 million donation to the eradication effort.

Rotary has committed to raise $100 million during the next five years to boost vaccination campaigns in the polio hotspot regions of India and Nigeria, an effort that has inspired the Gates foundation to give $255 million to the nonprofit’s initiative over that same period. Already, Rotary’s 33,000 clubs worldwide have raised $61 million of a $100 million pledge to match a 2007 donation by the Gates foundation. Great Britain continues it highly visible position as one of the top governmental leaders in the eradication effort by pledging another $150 million; Germany, also a longtime committed partner, will donate $130 million.

Polio—an “epidemic prone disease,” as described by one expert--has not been as easy to eradicate as health professionals had hoped, and the effort has suffered setbacks. In 2008, 1,625 polio cases were reported globally, an increase of 500 from 2007 numbers. However, since Rotary and its partners began their efforts in 1988, the caseload has been reduced by 99%, so NGO leaders are not giving up.

Congratulations to Rotary International and the Gates foundation for showing real optimism, focus, and determination to keep to their core missions in the face of a global economic crisis!


January 22, 2009

Two great ideas for your board nominations process

Many volunteers (and members yet to volunteer) have little understanding of what it takes to be a successful association board member. Perhaps you can offer to educate them, and you can promote the opportunity as a chance for anyone—already a volunteer or not—to learn about how to pursue a leadership role at your association.

Example: The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) conducts a “Director Candidates School” every year at its annual convention. The CEO and board members provide information on the organization and the board to members who aspire to serve on the board. NGWA invites all committee, subcommittee, or task force members who are not already serving on a board to consider attending as well as officers of their 48 affiliated state associations.

Often, members who apply for board positions are volunteers with whom you and your board are already very familiar. To avoid playing favorites, it may be wise to initially review the applicants with indentifying info removed.

Example: The Society of Actuaries’ nominating committee—consisting of a past president, past section leaders, and past board members—reviews the initial round of applications submitted by nominees “blind” (i.e.,. with the names of the nominated individuals deleted) to avoid biases. Once the candidate list is narrowed down, a smaller number are invited to participate in an educational webcast about the organization, answer essay questions, and submit a bio with background information for the nominating committee to review.

What other great ideas about nominations do you have?


January 21, 2009

“Crowdsourcing” Takes a Global Stage

Associations have begun exploring how crowdsourcing can be used to do everything from create timely new products to boost member engagement to resolve global problems. But anyone watching CNN’s coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama Tuesday, January 20, also was witnessing one of the most public examples of so-called “crowdsourcing” ever displayed in the world—and I'm not talking about the almost 2 million people jammed into the National Mall to watch the event.

In CNN’s continuing experiment with crowdsourcing, the network sought to capture what it called “The Moment”--the exact time Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. President—in a multi-dimensional image created via thousands of photos emailed by people witnessing the event on the National Mall.

High-powered software overlaid and merged these images into a 3-D image of the swearing-in that allowed viewers and online visitors to its Web site to experience “The Moment” as they wished—zooming in on the faces of attendees, exploring the Obama family’s expressions, and “being there” at an event in an entirely new way.

In the past year, CNN has increasingly invited viewers to become “iReporters”—self-designated citizen reporters and photographers who are physically at a news event and willing to share and compile their stories and/or images on a designated Web site to create real-time, ever-changing news articles. Like some associations, the network has found this type of crowdsourced reporting an effective way to engage viewers, and it vets the e-mailed submissions, even broadcasting the best ones.

The swearing-in photo, though, was the first time CNN had tried crowdsourcing a single photographic image.

I’m confident that attendees at the upcoming ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference will hear mention of CNN’s much-touted rollout of this amazing tool—and the powerful emotions and sense of community that crowdsourcing can ignite—when Jeff Howe, author of the book Crowdsourcing, takes the stage January 27.


January 19, 2009

The Year of the Chapter

In a Listserv posting dated Jan. 13, 2009, Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management & Marketing LLC, predicted that 2009 will be the “Year of the Chapter.”

I absolutely concur with her assessment. In addition to education, convention and expo responsibilities for a statewide trade association, I manage meetings and events for five different regions [chapters]. In 2007, 22 regional meetings and events were planned, engaging a total of 521 individuals. In 2008, 28 regional meetings and events were planned, engaging a total of 965 individuals. This represents an 85 percent increase in participation from 2007 to 2008. And I fully expect participation to increase even more in 2009. The underlying assumption here is that active involvement in regional programming is vital for a strong, effective association. Most notably, regional programming promotes engagement and engagement promotes retention. In fact, my association believes so firmly in regional programming that registration fees for these meetings are often waived for members. Additionally, these events are sometimes used to court non-members. So, my question to you is this: What are your chapters doing to engage your members? What clever and unique ideas are you willing to share with your colleagues?

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January 17, 2009

The "It's Tech" Excuse

Finally catching up on some pre-holiday reading and enjoyed the Associations Now December cover story on crowdsourcing (though, I'd nitpic that it isn't just about amateurs).

What caught my attention was how Jeff Howe (focus of the story and author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business) is slated as the keynote for the ASAE's Tech Conference. I thought to myself, Why Tech?

As a techy myself, the tech of crowdsourcing - in fact, pretty much all tech in the social media/Web 2.0 sphere - is actually not interesting. I know this argument has been made before, but I'll reiterate that the tech is just one part of the puzzle (again, in many ways, the least interesting one), and that the social, psychological, economic, legal, etc, pieces are far more important.

Tossing thought leaders like Jeff Howe in with the techies, while (hopefully) appreciated by the techs, is not actually helpful to the association community at large. As another example, I saw an add for the DigitalNow conference with Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations) as the keynote. Lucky them, but Clay really needs to be getting in front of executive directors and association leaders at the Annual!

The further association leaders use the "oh, it's tech stuff, let IT handle it" to dismiss the overall relevance/significance of all this, the deeper they dig their graves. (Hmm, and, as a side note, probably the same could be said about a similar "it's just marketing" excuse, but I digress.)

Makes me think of a parallel case: A foundation's board was reviewing a game proposal for funding (side note: not a random action game for Xbox or whatever, but a "serious" game geared towards advancing the cause of the foundation - something serious like this).

The board, all non-techy and non-game types, were really getting held up on the technology. They feared that getting into games was this big scary and risky tech venture that was turning them off. I was called in to give some advice, and essentially said that the tech part was totally not an issue, that in fact the real challenge was the design and user experience elements of promoting a particular cause via gameplay.

I gave the analogy that if this was a proposal for a movie project to promote their cause, would the board be wrestling over the engineering details of the camera or the chemistry of film processing. No. The tech of movie making is a given, and they'd be debating the story, characters, etc, in relation to the cause and so on.

Long story short, once they realized they were irrationally concerned about the tech because that was the piece they didn't understand (even though others did) they approved funding for the project. And, have since dived in with enthusiasm and gusto on the cause related design elements of the project.

Sound familiar?

We need to stop using tech as our collective excuse to dismiss the change that is occurring all around us.

(Ah, the meta irony! Making the above argument on a blog isn't much better than having Jeff keynote at Tech ;)

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January 15, 2009

Obama as nonprofit leader?

President-elect Barack Obama continues to tap leaders from the association and nonprofit sectors for key appointments and advice during his move to the White House and the start of an aggressive plan to boost the faltering economy, address a range of social and environmental ills, and strengthen the ability of Americans to respond to his national call to service.

Obama announced Tuesday that he was appointing William Corr, executive director of the well-known nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Long a part of efforts by the Obama transition team to examine the inner workings and impact of that important health agency, Corr will now serve within the latter under yet-to-be-confirmed former Sen. Tom Daschle.

A partial list of members on an Obama transition team of nonprofit representatives from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations appeared in a mid-November 2008 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Now, the number of people Obama is inviting to slide from that group into the actual structure of federal entities continues to grow as the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday nears.

In addition, The Los Angeles Times has a short article about an “unprecedented step” under consideration by Obama’s political staff: creating a permanent “service organization that would use the vast corps of its grassroots campaign supporters.” The nonprofit may be independent but run from within the Democratic Party’s structure, says the article. Its focus, according to an unnamed Times source, would be natural disaster assistance.

“The prospect of a president being able to guide a service or relief agency outside the framework of his government is a unique development,” writes reporter Peter Wallsten. Read more about the controversy that this proposal is already generating.

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What exactly does a nominating committee do?

The committee that nominates new board members and volunteer leaders for an association may only be composed of a few people, but the work they do can have a very profound influence on the future of an organization.

Indeed, the role of a nominating committee should be one of managing the leadership succession process on behalf of the board, not simply anointing new board members. Here is a sampling of duties that effective nominating committees should be asked to discharge:

- Work with the board to identify the optimal board matrix based on the strengths and needs of the board (including the need for diversity as defined by the organization).
- Identify potential board members.
- Maintain a data base of candidates.
- Screen candidates’ eligibility and assess qualifications for service.
- Prepare a nomination slate.
- Market volunteer opportunities to potential leaders.
- Define leadership development strategies.
- Oversee and monitor leadership development activities.

Does your association’s nominating committee take on these roles? What other roles should a nominating committee fulfill? What’s missing from this list?


January 14, 2009

Is it the time of year? Is it the economy or is it just in my head?

I am writing this on Sunday, January 11, 2009. I can’t get past the feeling that things in the association world are awfully quiet right now. The association blogs seem to be slow. ASAE listservs seem to be slow. Even the marketing emails I seem to always be getting seem to have slowed down. I don’t feel the buzz and the excitement that I am used to and I can’t figure out why.

It does appear that more and more organizations, for-profit and non, are shutting down between Christmas and New Year’s. Does this lead to employees needing longer to get back in the swing of things upon their return? Obviously the majority of organizations, again for-profit and non, are worried about the economy and the impact it will have on their business. Has this lead to employees being more internally focused and spending more of their time running potential scenarios and having meetings internally? Or, is this all a perception in my head and because of the 2 things I just listed and more I notice it more this year than I have in the past?

Believe it or not this is keeping me up at night. Am I over-exaggerating or are things slower than usual this time of the year and if they are, how do we start things hopping once again? Buzz, excitement and innovation within the association space benefits all of us. Therefore we all should do the most with what we have and do our part to keep things positive, exciting and fun.

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January 13, 2009

Breaking Through

Jason's observation of a small slice of the association leadership landscape--Old White Dudes--is more than a little terrifying. Stale and pale, I expected, but cloned?

His back-of-the-envelope stats, though, sound like the U-curve of association demographics for race, gender, and age. Changing that mix requires more than board policy or an enlightened nominating committee. It requires a much larger scale response.

Associations are reflections of those we serve. The most successful tend to join associations and those they are willing follow, rise to the top. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his new book, Outliers, those who succeed benefit from a 'web of advantages and inheritances,' not available to all, but possible for associations to replicate.

That's what is being attempted in commercial real estate, and a dozen associations serving that industry are trying to build a new leadership pipeline. Their story is in the new Volunteer Leadership Issue of Associations Now, that I wrote entitled "Breaking Through."

I point it out here because other bastions of old white dudes are being forced out into the open. Last Friday, the New York Times reported on the NAACP's focus on Madison Avenue and the lack of diversity in the advertising business. The agencies' associations mobilized a response to this opening salvo of media attention, but high visibility lawsuits and pressure on advertisers are sure to follow. Stay tuned.

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January 12, 2009

Old White Dudes

Just finished up the first day of the Symposium for Chief Staff Executives and Chief Elected Officers. Overall good stuff, forcing you to think more deliberately about org leadership, board/staff relations, etc.

Aside from the program itself, one key observation was a severe lack of (obvious) diversity in the room. It was mostly a bunch of old white dudes (no disrespect). Of the approx. 150 attendees, I'd guesstimate 15% were women and 2-3% were African-American (as the easy ones to identify). I was probably the only one in the room under 35 years of age - and certainly the only one wearing jeans and comfortable running shoes...

More interestingly, we did a rushed form a quasi Myers-Briggs personality testing. When asked how many chair/CEO "couples" had 75% or more overlap in their scoring, a strong majority of the attendees got up. The summation being that we will likely get along nicely, but will have to work extra hard to incorporate alternate perspectives into our thinking and decision making.

So, not just a complete lack of diversity on obvious stuff like race, gender and age - but critical in ways of thinking and leading. Admittedly, this was somewhat surprising to me because I've always been amazed at the (obvious) diversity of the multitude of attendees at events like the ASAE's Annual Meeting. Hmm...

BTW, a wicked awesome book that provides the strongest case for diversity (across all/any factors) is Medici Effect - Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts & Cultures. I highly recommend it - was the most insightful/inspiring book I've read in a long time!

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Another Association Experiments with Mobile Phone Learning

The Century Council, a social responsibility nonprofit funded by the U.S. distilled spirits industry that works to reduce drunk driving in the United States, is one of the latest organizations developing and piloting tools for cell phones as a way to explore the impact of so-called “mobile learning.” In mid-December 2008, it launched B4Udrink.mobi, an innovative, “at-your-fingertips” program for mobile phones that helps people better estimate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The interactive program “takes the guessing game out of the equation and gives the user factual information about how alcohol consumption affects an individual's BAC,” explains the organization in its press release. “Accessible from any mobile device, the user quickly enters their gender and weight and the type and quantity of drink(s) they plan to consume. A few short clicks later they are given their approximate BAC.”

According to Susan Molinari, who chairs The Century Council, the organization developed the tool because “readily available access to such important information will lead to more responsible decisions that can now be made anytime, at any place.”

The site “is an enhancement of an earlier version of the program B4UDrink.org but is faster and designed to be easily used on any mobile device.”

If your association or nonprofit has been creating mobile learning or other types of campaigns that rely on cell phones, please feel free to post brief summaries on this blog, so others can view your samples.


Got 5 minutes to spread the word?

As you may have seen, there's a great conversation with word-of-mouth expert (and three-time association CEO) Andy Sernovitz of GasPedal in this month's issue of Associations Now. (Thanks are due to Lindy Dreyer for proposing the article and doing excellent work on it.)

While we were putting the issue together, I asked Andy if he might be willing to share some additional advice with our readers: If you have only five minutes today to get people talking about your association, what can you do? Andy kindly provided a few ideas:

"1. Email tip sheet. Nothing forwards faster than an email. Create a new newsletter with a single tip of the day. Keep it to three sentences. People will talk about you every day--and forward it to their friends.

"2. Make it easy. Get rid of every way you stop members from sharing. Are your emails unreadable when they get forwarded, do too many pages require passwords? Do your downloads have complicated forms?

"3. Turn everything viral. Dig out all those old reports, PowerPoints, and PDFs and turn them into viral communications. Post one every week on your web site and encourage people to share.

"4. Create after-event sites. When a conference is over, create a Facebook page where people can share photos, stories, and re-connect. Get them there by posting all the presentations and audio.

"5. Have fun. Your mission and message are important--but not fun to forward. Give people something silly, cool, and simple to share with their friends."

Could you find five minutes in your schedule to try one of these ideas out today?

(For more of Andy's insights into word of mouth, you can read his blog, Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That, or his book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.)

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January 9, 2009

Associations, Nonprofits Organizing Around Inauguration and “National Call to Service”

Associations and nonprofits galore are an important part of preparations for the upcoming presidential inauguration and surrounding activities and excitement January 20. In particular, a diversity of organizations, ranging from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to the Student Conservation Association, are offering volunteer opportunities for the expected “record number” of people inspired to begin responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s “call to service.”

Many of those service projects will be held specifically on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just one day before Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, and Obama and his family, as well as that of Vice President-elect Joe Biden, are already scheduled to volunteer in the Washington, DC, area that day as well.

To ease any confusion about how and where to volunteer, thousands of association and nonprofit service projects are being added to a new web site, USAservice.org, under joint construction by the Inauguration Committee and a federal agency known for some odd reason as the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"Service is a solution to some of our toughest challenges, and service is needed now more than ever," says Nicola Goren, Acting CEO of the Corporation. "…. As Americans make their New Year's resolutions, we hope volunteering will be at the top of the list, starting on the King holiday and lasting throughout the year."

Thanks to the National Association of Broadcasters, you’ll be able to hear public service ads emphasizing the importance of community service via the voices of Dr. King and Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., CEO and president of the King Center, on more than 4,000 radio stations. The association is sponsoring a unique "radio roadblock" when stations are encouraged to air the spot on January 15, Dr. King's birthday. You may also hear from any of the hundreds of “Ambassadors of Service,” which include well-known nonprofit leaders, sports and entertainment celebrities, and others.

Want yet more info? Visit Facebook, where the company and its charity arm, Facebook Causes, are encouraging users to volunteer or organize their own service projects in tribute to the holiday and inauguration celebrations. Another good resource is the King Day of Service Web site, which has how-to promotional materials for nonprofits and a new "do it yourself" action guide.

Special kudos go to the seven national organizations that are leading mobilization efforts for “the King Day of Service.” According to a press release, the groups--the Points of Light Institute, The Corps Network, North Carolina Campus Compact, Youth Service America, Service for Peace, Campus Kitchens, and the National Alliance of Faith and Justice--have brought on more than 130 subgrantees to carry out projects.


January 8, 2009

The board job description

Have you ever applied for a job without seeing a job description first? Would you ever try to hire a staff member without including a job description in the ad for the job opening?

When it comes to nominating board members at associations, however, this is too often the case. Many associations wait until the board orientation process—after new board members have been selected—to explain the role of the board and the responsibilities of its members. This means candidates may have little or no understanding of the expectations of board members, and the nominating committee has no set of guidelines against which to measure candidates’ qualities and characteristics.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) prevents this problem by disseminating a “Position Description for Board Member at Large” (approved and regularly amended by the AAM Board of Directors) during the nomination process to fill vacancies on the board. This four-page document includes a general description of the role of the collective AAM board, the general duties and obligations of individual board members, the overall recruiting goals for board members (including the diversity criteria that will enhance the board’s composition), and the qualifications or indicators of leadership that the nominating committee will use to screen candidates. The complete position description can be downloaded from AAM’s website.

Does your association have a well-publicized board job description?

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Welcome Nancy Axelrod

Please welcome our newest guest blogger to Acronym: Nancy Axelrod. Nancy is the founding president of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards (now known as BoardSource) and an experienced governance consultant focusing on nonprofit board development, leadership transitions, and meeting facilitation.

Nancy contributed an excellent article to the 2009 Associations Now Leadership Issue focused on "Nominations Know-How," and she kindly offered to share some additional thoughts on nominations with Acronym readers this month. I'm looking forward to Nancy's posts, and your comments!


January 7, 2009

A smart look at authenticity

Check out the latest This Week in Associations with the Oregon Medical Association's Betsy Boyd-Flynn.

I'm especially interested in her comment near the end — do you think people who have served in the same capacity for the same organization for more than 8 or 10 years have probably lost their edge?

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

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January 6, 2009

Association Staff Understanding Members' Jobs

Since I have worked in the association field, I have heard from countless staff, members and board volunteers that the staff must have a firm understanding of our members' professions. This belief has led to hour-long, all-staff mandatory educational sessions at past associations – sometimes these occurred up to every other month.

As a component relations professional, I understand the need to understand what the members do since I interface with them every day (as do Member Services, Sponsorship and Professional Development staff). I do not fully understand the need for every single staff member of every association to understand the ins and outs of the profession. Sure, a basic understanding of the profession would help all staff feel connected to the cause. However, six to twelve hours of in-depth education per year seems to be overkill for several departments, especially those that are internal-focused (accounting, IT etc.) Couldn’t new hires simply receive some training on the profession and all staff receive a yearly e-mail update on key changes to the profession?

Perhaps as a young professional I am misunderstanding the importance of staff comprehension of member’s professions. How has your association dealt with staff learning? Do you have best practices that you can share?

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Paper in a Virtual Organization

About ten years ago our son, then in his mid-twenties, announced that he didn’t use paper. This revelation came tumbling out when I offered to buy him a file cabinet for his new home office. I have to admit I was shocked – my son did not use paper! How on earth could he survive? But he was not only surviving, he was thriving in business and still had time to “have a life” with his young family.

Then I asked myself the next obvious question – I wonder if I should stop using paper? In those days I was still actually printing out e-mails. I resolved right then and there to try to live paperless. I cancelled my newspaper and magazine subscriptions and I stopped printing out e-mails. I would call the experiment a “mixed success.”

Ten years later, I print out few emails. I have gone back to reading a paper newspaper and some paper magazines. My association management company operates virtually using mostly Web-based applications. The number of papers I must handle daily has been greatly reduced, but STILL there is paper and I still have to deal with it.

As I see it, there are three fundamental choices in dealing with the stuff that comes across my desk and into my company.

1. Convert everything to paper.
2. Convert everything to digital images.
3. Take it as it comes.

I have decided that I am simply going to “take it as it comes.” I have parallel systems for electronic files and paper files (I use notebooks with sheet protectors.) I just don’t have time to spend converting paper to images or images to paper. The fact is, I am adept enough at handling information either way, and file conversion takes time. Sure, the occasional document gets scanned in to join its digital friends and the occasional electronic document gets printed out and put in sheet protector file with related paper documents.

And what about the boxes of paper archives in the storage unit? They aren’t hurting anything and the rental of the unit is far less than it would cost to scan them in. And, in time, they will die a natural death due through document retention policies. Meanwhile, if IRS comes to call they are there waiting patiently.

The volume of paper is gradually going down and the electronic volume is going up. Newspapers are closing down and magazines are getting interactive. Even accounting is going digital. Kindles are sold out at Amazon.com. Whatever….it is all information and we need to handle it and process it in ways that make sense. Right now, for me, it makes sense to deal with information on its own terms!


January 5, 2009

Why do associations worry about branding only their association and not associations overall?

In the middle of November I was fortunate to be invited to attend the ASAE Leadership Retreat in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The event brought together the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the Section Councils as well as the BOD of ASAE and the Center. As Chair of the Greater Washington Network I was excited to be able to attend.

The reason I bring this up is that an unexpected question came out of the brainstorming and collaboration that occurred during our 3 days in Florida. The question has been floating around in my head ever since and is as follows—associations understand what branding is and know that branding their organization is critical to their success. Since we know how important branding is to our own organizations, why are we not focusing on branding associations in general?

I was actually first introduced to the idea by Jamie DeSimone of IECI on our trolley ride home from dinner on the first night we were in Florida. I was shocked that I had never thought of this before. During my 15+ years in the association community I have been told time and time again how slow associations are to act, how bureaucratic they are, how they are almost on par with the government when it comes to being on top of cutting edge technologies and practices, etc. Steam would come out of my ears every time I would hear something like that, but for some reason the light bulb never went off over my head that as a group associations could definitely do something to change this negative perception of associations.

I firmly believe that if associations understand the needs of their members we are as beneficial, if not more beneficial, to our members/customers than any for-profit company. Why does the general public not know this? Why do they not know the incredible things associations do, above and beyond some of the GR stuff that tends to be covered in the press? Why have we not taken the time and effort to inform the general public about the benefits of associations, especially in times like today when everyone needs a community to lean on that has the benefits that will help them succeed?

By the end of the retreat Jamie and I were not the only ones talking about this. It was actually presented to all of the volunteer leaders in attendance at the last lunch before we left. I have my fingers crossed that it will only grow from there.

I realize that as association professionals we have plenty to worry about in our own worlds let alone the association world in general. That said, wouldn’t we all rise higher if the industry itself developed a positive public perception? I would love to hear thoughts on this question and what role people think associations themselves should play.

Happy New Year!

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January Associations Now Case Study: Facing a PR Nightmare

I once worked for someone who told me that, for him, the hardest thing about PR was its unpredictability; you could spend months pitching stories and not get a nibble, but then come in one day and have an urgent call from a major media outlet while you're still drinking your coffee.

That kind of unexpectedness is part of what the characters in the January Associations Now case study are dealing with (although, as the excellent commentators pointed out, perhaps the situation should have been less unexpected than the characters found it to be). In this month's article, a CEO, a PR manager, and a certification manager are working together to face a crisis--an ethical accusation being made against a certificant, and by extension against their organization, in the media.

Thanks are due to the excellent commentators I mentioned above--Joan Knapp of Knapp & Associates International and Melissa Hurley Alves of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Both of them have great ideas and insights into the case study.

What do you think? What could have been done to prevent the situation the characters are facing--and what can they do to resolve it now?

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