Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Vision Thing

The AIA-SWO board of directors at the '08-'09 transition meeting. From left: Don Kahle, AIA-SWO executive director; Mariko Blessing, Associate Director; Kari Turner, 2009 Secretary; Paul Edlund, 2009 director; Jean Duffett, 2008 director; Jody Heady, 2008 president; Eric Gunderson, 2007 president; Kurt Albrecht, 2008 treasurer; Paul Dustrud, 2009 treasurer. Not shown: myself and Michael Fifield, 2009 President-Elect.

The 2008 and 2009 AIA-SWO board officers convened earlier this month to conduct the annual year-end transition meeting. We used the opportunity to reevaluate the mission of the AIA-SWO, and to bring clarity to the ideals, values, and principles that shape our approach to a broad range of issues of relevance to our members. Our hope was to get the “big picture” into focus by establishing a shared vision for AIA-Southwestern Oregon that will be the basis for long-term planning and thinking. For 2009, we envision moving forward on a number of initiatives that will emphasize providing tangible benefits to our membership. We plan to furnish these benefits as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The template for our transition meeting discussion was the 2008-2010 AIA National Component Strategic Plan and its missions, goals, and strategies. The Strategic Plan provided a convenient means to stimulate the generation of ideas, while simultaneously providing a structure within which to categorize them. At the center of the AIA Strategic Plan is the following mission statement:

“The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural profession and the resource to its members in service to society.”

This mission is supported by four separate goals: 1) Increasing Membership Value; 2) Being the Authoritative Source; 3) Optimizing Organizational Performance; and 4) Serving as the Credible Voice.

AIA National’s strategies to realize these goals are laudable, but lack specificity. For example, “creating positive member experiences” is listed as a strategy for increasing member value. This is all fine and good, but what exactly is a positive experience? How do we measure our success in this regard? The results of our transition meeting discussion do begin to point the way.

We utilized a classic brainstorming methodology during the meeting to capitalize on the collective wisdom and creativity of both the outgoing and incoming board members. Any and all ideas were welcomed without judgment, recorded on cards, and organized under the Strategic Plan goals. By the end of the session, certain clear patterns became evident. It was apparent that we should focus our future efforts upon Increasing Membership Value, Optimizing Organizational Performance, and Serving as the Credible Voice. This does not mean that we should consign Being the Authoritative Source to a lesser status; rather, we concluded that the national level of the Institute is better suited with all of the resources it has at hand to achieving this particular goal (that is, being the recognized leader for knowledge about the practice and profession of architecture).

Brainstormed ideas up on the wall.

Some of the ideas we came up with for increasing member value include:
  • Providing greater opportunities to acquire continuing education learning units
  • Taking fuller advantage of the University of Oregon Department of Architecture as a registered provider of learning units

  • Developing programs that would attract greater involvement by associate members, interns, and students

  • Creating online forums on topics of interest to AIA-SWO members

  • Exploring more affordable group health care options, perhaps in concert with AIA Portland

  • Expanding design awards possibilities, including recognition of unbuilt and conceptual projects

  • Attracting “star” speakers for monthly programs and seminars

A few of the thoughts regarding optimizing organization performance include:

  • Establishing objective standards for measuring chapter performance (such as the number of learning units available through chapter programs relative to the previous period)

  • Prioritizing the duties of the AIA-SWO executive director
  • Strengthening the structure of chapter committees

  • Pooling firm/practitioner resources

  • Focusing on issues during board meetings, rather than administrative duties

  • Collaborating with related organizations such as CSI, the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Eco-Building Guild, ASLA, and others

Ways the AIA-SWO could serve as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment involve:

  • Being leaders in our community

  • Commenting on urban design policy

  • Writing a monthly column in The Register-Guard

  • Using the 2010 Region Conference as an impetus for greater community interest in architecture

  • Making design a regular topic of discussion

Our brainstorming session provided the board with a clearer view of the future of AIA-SWO and the enhanced role our member architects can play in the shaping of our communities. We have already identified new programs and the strategies necessary for the AIA-SWO to meet or exceed the needs of our membership, including the formulation of a fiscally-responsible budget. We’re seeing and creating change in our organizational culture and structure that will be conducive to furthering our goals. Above all, we’re dedicated to moving beyond a passive relationship with our membership toward more assertively engaging everyone in an ongoing process of visioning. I’m looking forward as AIA-SWO president in 2009 to uniting the board, committee chairs, and our general membership around a shared vision. The more we focus on our vision of what the AIA-SWO should be, the clearer it will become.

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