The De-massification, De-centralization and Deconstruction of Association Participation

August 25, 2008 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

In many ways, associations for years have operated with a limited set of entry points were members come together en mass, almost as a seemingly invitation-only pseudo private club of connected people pariticipating in broad mass-justifying topics.

In the future, I believe associations who will build a strong future will do so by tearing the gates down and creating a broad variety of entry points for members, to keep participation from becoming an exercise in bottleneck traffic.  Even more, once inside the gates, the expectation won’t be that the magic kingdom is entirely built out.  Rather, passionate members, especially those with narrow niche interests which cannot be served via a prioritization of formal resources, will build these aspects of the community themselves.

How will this be accomplished?  It’s already happening via the emergence of organic online communities catering to virtually every conceivable interest and connecting like-minded people in the web 2.0 world.  Early web 3.0 technologies, such as Twine, will intensify and speed up the process of interlacing all angles of relevancy for narrower niche interests (you probably already have by now, but think of a big ball of tightly wound twine).  Globalization will give way to localization as people with like interests will be able to better each other in coming together.  Suddenly, that 1% of your membership with a very narrow and highly specialized area of interest/focus will be able to help build and connect in a robust community within the boundaries of your association… perhaps trumping the power of more larger and more traditional formal groups.  

The reality associations must consider as soon as is humanly possible is these communities can spring up in one of two places… inside your assocation or outside of your association.  Chances are, they’ve been sprouting all around the outer perimeter of your association already.    

Management strategy will move from a model of prioritizing limited resources to formal mass projects catering to broad segments to a role of informal enabling and managed de-centralization of grassroots organic community.  Boards will retain governance and fiduciary obligations, but I believe they will move more into a role of democratized community facilitation with expanded participation by members at all levels of the spectrum.  Perhaps the association of the future will be more like the United Nations and less like Congress.   

Thought leaders, such as Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail, see the rise of niches as contibuting to the de-massification of society into their intended narrow channels of interest.  It’s happening all around us and, fortunately, is a trend which will create boundless opportunity for associations.  SM

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Entry filed under: Managing Change, participation, people, Web 2.0 and Beyond.

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