27 March 2012

You Say You Want a Revolution

There's a bit of a fracas currently occurring around the selection of James Carville and Karl Rove as opening keynoters for the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting. To me, it raises a much larger question: how does a member change the direction of the organizational ship, if s/he's not happy with where it's going?

In every protest movement, from the largest (the Occupy movement, justice for Trayvon Martin) to the current ASAE contretemps, there's the initial, "I'm outraged! Who's with me?" moment.

And the "rabble rousing" portion is vital, because you have to figure out how big your cohort is.

But you have to move on to campaign stage, or you just get mired in complaining.

There are two key questions any protest group must answer:
  • What do we really want? (aka, What would fix the problem or compensate for the harm?)
  • What are we willing to give up to get it?
Then you have to calculate your "n" to figure out how many supporters you need before it's worth the institution's time to pay attention.

So using the Carville/Rove situation, let's look at some examples:

Small "n" resolution: Let's say the group of displeased members wants, in the future, for keynote speakers to be selected by a representative group of members, or at least for that group of members to provide a list of choices or to vet ASAE's list of choices. Since that would come at virtually no cost to ASAE, the group of members wouldn't have to risk/threaten much, and the "n" required to support the proposal in order to get the institution to pay attention would be relatively small.

Large "n" resolution:  Let's say the group of displeased members wants ASAE to provide an alternative keynoter or at least space and promotion if the disaffected group secures an alternative keynoter (maybe someone like Gwen Ifill?). That's a significant cost, in money, hassle/logistics, and damage to reputation, so the group would need a large "n" that's willing to threaten/risk something fairly major, like paying for the keynoter themselves, or canceling registrations and demanding a refund, in order to get the institution to pay attention.

But in the end, what each person has to ask her/himself is this: how much does this mean to me? Am I willing to die on this hill? And then put up, or shut up.

7 comments:

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

At this point, I'd like the mother ship to publicly respond to the questions people have raised. Maybe we would feel differently if we knew how keynoters were decided, what other people might have been considered, etc. My guess is this is pretty driven by who speaker bureaus put up for free or low cost. But that sad fact is worth exposing if nothing else would come out of this.

I'm not willing to die on this hill because these tow individuals don't merit such effort and because I think the choice of Carville and Rove is just so laughable: two white guys beyond their prime who have become caricatures of themselves. James and Mary Matalin were barely appropriate when they took the stage years ago. Let alone the limited educational value two political pundits can offer that will really help association professionals do their work better. To me, these two make Tina Brown look like an inspired choice.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Thanks for the comment, Jeffrey. As a political scientist by training and a politics nerd by avocation, I actually have no problem with the Rove/Carville selection. Let's face it: ASAE wasn't going to be able to have Obama and Romney's people come talk about the upcoming election in August, and I do think talking about the election and the impact of partisanship is relevant. And while I think Rove is a toad, he's also the most brilliant and effective political strategist we've seen since...I don't even know. Lyndon Johnson?

But clearly a lot of people *are* really upset by this, and I'm trying to steer the conversation in a constructive direction. Expressing outrage is fine, but it has to go somewhere or it's ultimately pointless.

MandyStahl said...

Thank you for the post, Elizabeth. At ASAE, we appreciate the conversation and questions that have developed around this year’s speakers as well as the variety of different perspectives about these very visible, lively individuals. Here are some answers to the specific questions raised about how and why the speakers were selected followed by a link to the FAQ's we posted when we announced the speakers.
How were the General Session speakers selected?
Each year, we reach out to speaker bureaus asking for their help in finding the best speakers around a particular topic. This year, we wanted to focus on the upcoming election and the political landscape. Democratic Strategist James Carville and Republican Strategist Karl Rove were recommended as individuals whose knowledge and expertise would make for an engaging mix of opposing political views. Both speakers bring extensive political experience and will share their insight into how politics work and how this election may impact the association industry and the country.

We also are not selecting speakers based on costs. Rather we just consider the speakers that can best accomplish the goals and this year those goals focused on politics for the reasons stated below.
Why the focus on politics?
We felt it was important to have one of our general sessions focus on the upcoming election and the current and future state of politics because public policy and advocacy are front and center for many of our members. The political climate, election results, and the pulse of the electorate impact how ASAE members will position their issues in Washington as well as at the local level. It's important to educate our members about these how issues may affect their organization. It's also vital for members to appreciate the potential for change that each party envisions. The more we understand about the election process and key political issues, the better equipped we'll be as advocates for our members and organizations. More information:
FAQ’s About General Sessions

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Like you Elizabeth, i don't have any problem with political conversations for the general session. I haven't been in any conversations with the outraged folks, so I'm not sure what element of the selection upsets them most.

I've sat through enough of these programs (as you have as well, no doubt) to know that they rarely tell us anything we don't already here on the 24-hour news channels. I would have loved a general session built around the core questions/issues association professionals most need to understand in this political season, a round of IGNITE style presentations commenting on them, and them some form of moderated discussion and audience interaction.

Rove and Carville, smart as they are, really are on the downward slope of their relevance. I think we nee do complement their legacy insights with some thinking of the next generation of votes, commentators, and analysts ... and yes, part of that is people of color, younger folks, and a female strategist. That's the missed opportunity as far as I'm concerned.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Ugh, here - hear

I hate not being able to edit.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Jeffrey, I think you just hit on a potentially interesting solution: what if ASAE were able to get a younger/female/non-white (and possibly less well known) strategist or commentator and have a "game changer" session with that person?

Jeff Hurt said...

Elizabeth:

I think there are many options here for ASAE.

First, regardless of how we look at it, Carville and Rove are political strategists that persuade people to vote for their party. They polarize audiences either for or against.

Second, I'm not against ASAE's goal of educating about political advocacy. I think the goal is good.

I'm opposed to the implementation of the goal. I do not think that a general session is the appropriate place for these two men. It would have better served the membership to have them as a concurrent breakout when people are offered a choice if they don't want to listen to politics. Or put them in the evening and call it what it is...entertainment and debate. Or offer a second general session on how collaboration and consensus is critical to political advocacy. They could even market it as "Choose your personal keynote." IMO, those are better alternatives and something that would show that ASAE is listening to membership.