Interactivity at a distance

My theme this week may be “teamwork” – how do we encourage it, support it, reward it, take advantage of it?

A prompt is the fact that the Organizational Structure and Governance Task Force, three months after its announcement, still has not gelled or produced any concrete recommendations. There’s hope, of course, but given conference calls where a few people dominate and there’s no real focus other than walking through an agenda, gives me pause. Another is a “conversation” on the AAUW CA Online list about streamlining the AAUW CA board where someone raised a concern as to whether the smaller board would have enough folks to do the work. Our common practice of “working boards” with less support for “off board contributors,” does, I think, need to change.
One seminar that might provide food for thought: Increasing Interactivity in Webinars, 1pm ET, April 22, sponsored by the STC Instructional Design and Learning SIG. I’m unlikely to attend, but let me know if you do. Registration and more info. While the topic may seem narrow, how to engage those at a distance is a key issue for us moving forward.

What do women want?

As we think about AAUW’s competition, it’s clear that some “women’s groups” are doing better than we. The explosive growth of the relatively new Red Hat Society has been noted in many conversations. Federated Woman’s Clubs and Junior Leagues are much larger than we in some areas of the country.

This week’s Raleigh News and Observer highlighted two different groups that I wasn’t aware of but which are much bigger (at least locally) than we:

March 15, 2007: Wake County Extension and Community Association

The group, formed in the 1920s as a social network for women, wants to reach out to younger women looking to learn how to can fruit and vegetables, sew, quilt and do other handicrafts that once were commonplace in Wake County households. …

[There are] nearly 200 … members of Wake County’s 12 ECA clubs. … The ECA used to be an integral part of the social fabric of Wake County and North Carolina, Laymon said. Statewide membership was nearly 17,000 in the 1960s; it now stands at 5,000.

March 13, 2007: Two (!) stories on the Sweet Potato QueensOverview with background on national organization, Highlighting one of the local groups

“We’re like the Red Hat Society with a libido,” author Jill Conner Browne said from her home in Jackson, Miss. Browne has built a royal empire based on her best-selling Sweet Potato Queens books, which offer everything from advice to recipes.

Since Browne started the first SPQ club more than two decades ago, more than 5,000 chapters have sprouted around the globe, including about 100 in North Carolina and a dozen in the Triangle area. … Most of the Carolina SPQs are women in their 30s and 40s. They are teachers, nurses, lab techs, stay-at-home moms and school administrators. … Having fun is a major component of the chapters. But, more important, members say, the clubs are an ideal way to celebrate womanhood and sisterhood, as well as support charitable causes.

For context, AAUW has two branches in the “Triangle,” and one in Wake County. The Chapel Hill branch has had 70-100 members recently, and Raleigh/Wake County ranges 40-65. There are about 1150 members in 21 branches in North Carolina with another 500-600 members-at-large.

Is a branch like a classroom?

In the UFT column this morning, Randi Weingarten talked about different philosophies for changing schools:

  • Change to how it looks — ala NYC chancellor Joel Klein, centralization of control
  • Change to how it works — ala NY Gov. Elliot Spitzer, emhpasis on smaller class sizes, more resources

In another note this morning (sorry, I’ve lost the reference, but will post if I find it), there was a reminder that it’s fruitless to “tell” people to change. Leading change means providing motivation — a reason for change.

It got me thinking about how we’re pushing AAUW change. Are we looking at a centralized model — “telling” the branches that they need to change. We’ve been watching (what? 20?) years of declining membership that “should” be motivation enough. But why hasn’t change happened before?

What are we giving the branches that is a clear “we are changing so that you can reach _____” message? What’s the goal that they are changing towards. It must be more than mere survival.

If the change that’s in progress is perceived as “change at the top” then that’s where it’ll stay. Enough of our members spent their careers in the classroom — and how many “changes at the top” have they learned to ignore?

One member, one vote

One of the bylaws changes is to have members be able to vote on issues between conventions. This would lead to “one member, one vote” with folks returning USMail ballots or voting electronically without regard to their branch membership or any “delegate” status.

This is the norm for many other national associations.

I’ve heard that this is the point where the leadership expects to see the most opposition to the changes. While it’s needed for flexibility, folks seem to be having heartburn with the idea of passing such decisions off to the membership as a whole without the chance to have floor debate, hallway discussions, onsite campaigning and such that has been an important part of conventions. I, for one, who was part of the small group that pushed the change in the degree requirement at the 2005 convention, certainly understand the benefit of this campaining — it was MUCH easier to change the minds of the folks who were at Convention and were made aware that many members cared passionately about this issue (THANK YOU Frieda Schurch; may you rest in peace Cindy Hebert). On the other hand, the VAST majority of our members just DO NOT CARE about the details of governance.

So, I think we’re struggling with

  1. How do we strengthen the board so it can make more decisions without going to the membership for approval
  2. How do we make the membership comfortable with that strengthened board.

In the words of Good to Great, I think we need to address the “get the right people on the bus” at the time the board is selected. And our current process just will not continue to work as fewer and fewer members want to spend any time dealing with the picky details of the organization.