The Council (board of trustees) of the American Association for State and Local History took a big step at its June meeting to lead itself out of its challenges, rather than just trying to manage them. That’s one of the decisions we made in response to the impact of the 2008 economic downturn and the multi-year embezzlement by its chief financial officer. We recognize that our governance needs to expand from merely enacting stronger policies and procedures to also include a clear direction for the future when we get through these pressing challenges.
So on Saturday, June 29, the entire Council and many of the staff members participated in an all-day retreat at the Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, to identify its strengths and weaknesses, determine what makes AASLH distinctive, clarify our audiences, and construct a vision for the future. The retreat was expertly facilitated by Charlie Bryan, the former president of the Virginia Historical Society and a partner in Bryan and Jordan Consulting. One of the most important results of this retreat was the establishment of three priorities for the next six months:
- A plan for stabilizing finances. Team led by Cinnamon Catlin-Lugetko.
- A clear vision and future direction for AASLH. Team led by Scott Stroh.
- A plan for strengthening membership. Team led by Anne McCudden.
As part of this effort to help the organization function at a higher level, we’ll be developing a skills matrix to identify needs on Council and revising the nomination process to create a Council that more effectively leads the field, rather than just represent it. Some of this work will be completed by the next Council meeting in October 2013 and all of it will be finished and ready for consideration at the Council meeting in February 2014. As a member of Council, I’m delighted we’ve taken the time to reflect on our purpose and priorities, and although it’s still rocky, I feel much more confident about the future. If you’re a member of AASLH, I hope you’ll attend the annual meeting in Alabama to learn more about the progress–after all, the success of AASLH is a benefit to us all.
Thanks for the update, Max, but as usual, I wonder why this information comes on your blog and nowhere on AASLH’s website or other communications (on the AASLH front page, btw, it would be nice to spell visitors correctly when it mentions Visitors Count). And can you share how and when will the field be involved in the process in more substantive ways than just receiving the results of Council’s work?
At the June Council meeting we didn’t have a chance to determine how the membership at large can contribute to the strategic planning efforts except to inform them of the process and findings at the annual meeting–the goal was finding consensus on the top priorities and assembling taskforces to explore each of them. The next Council meeting will also be held at the annual meeting/conference, where we’ll give each other updates on the progress of the taskforces, at which point we’ll know better how the membership can be better informed and participate in the process. We recognize that we need to do a better job of communicating but we haven’t figured out the best way to do this. And just for the record, these statements are my own and do not necessarily represent the official position of AASLH.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Max, but that’s really the heart of the issue. These are your own thoughts, but we don’t get any thoughts from the organization’s leadership. It’s curious that there’s an acknowledged need to better communicate but appears to make no commitment to figure out how. The board is a talented group of professionals, all of whom, I would guess, communicate with constituencies on a regular basis. It’s not rocket science. And I would also suggest that a membership organization who wishes only to “inform” rather than collaborate with members is on a slippery downhill slope.