Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

The Use of Codevelopment and Networking to Improve Professional Association Membership Services

By Dennis D. McDonald

Anna Caraveli in the Journal of Association Leadership has published a lengthy and thoughtful article titled Building the Future on Member Value: Codevelopment as a Key to Customer Relationships in the 21st Century. This is Caraveli's first paragraph (thanks to The Association Renewal Blog for bringing this article to my attention):

Many association leaders worry that today’s professionals lack interest in joining organizations, and they point to the declines in some association membership levels as evidence. But the likelier explanation for such declines is that today’s professionals are getting what they need from other sources—namely, relevant and targeted information; convenient and up-to-date delivery service; interactive membership experiences; and, in general, meaningful engagement in communities of practice.

Caraveli says a core problem for many associations is not delivering real value to their members. She questions whether improved marketing and increases in the number and type of benefits really improves the value members gain from membership. This reflects some of the same points I made in Are Social Networking and Social Media Threats or Opportunities for Professional Associations? There I described membership associations as competing for the attention, time, and dollars of an increasing number of alternative professional relationship experiences.

Caraveli  describes the work of the Veterinarian Information Network (VIN), which shares some  similarities with the services provided by the recently announced American Medical Association network. VIN is a small specialized association of veterinarians built around the principals of networking and knowledge sharing enabled by technology. Here is how she describes the VIN business model:

The basis of VIN’s business model is the network itself. There are three primary avenues for delivering member benefits: peer interaction; specialist advice and help in medical problem solving; and up-to-date medical research, along with tools and breaking news that keep members current.

She uses the word "codevelopment" to describe the distinguishing characteristic of how members relate to the organization:

Codevelopment is the mode of relationships created by VIN. Members are afforded opportunities to shape, not merely read about, news and trends in their profession. They are engaged in new product development and innovation.

Those who are involved with commercial and marketing applications of "web 2.0" technologies, social media, and social networking techniques will recognize these concepts instantly. Progressive companies apply social media and networking technologies not to a one way delivery of products and services but to engaging and involving customers in the development -- among themselves -- of valuable products and services.

Underlying all the hype, evangelism, and buzzwords we see and hear about this is one very simple concept: organizations can provide value to customers and members by providing a mechanism for people to interact and share information about how to solve problems. If you want a good place to pick up on how concepts like this are already being discussed, check out the web site of the Social Media Collective, a group I belong to that gathers together the thoughts on web 2.0 and social media from dozens of different practitioners and experts.

The good news is that the technologies to support networking, relationship development, and knowledge sharing among association members are readily available and continually dropping in price and complexity.

The bad news -- and this is not really addressed in detail by Caraveli -- is that some associations may not be prepared for the culture shift that effective adoption of these technologies involves. Adoption involves more than installation or operation of software; it also may involve changing the relationship an association has with its members. This change in turn can  impinge on existing organizational structures, governance patterns, and member benefits. 

Whether or not this change is viewed as a threat by the association's management will determine to a great extent the speed with which social media and social networking are adopted. I say "to a great extent" since such media are already being adopted in many organizations on a bootstrap basis since it is so easy to join professional networking organizations or to start blogging or using wikis to support project management.

For such technologies to truly enhance member value the way Caraveli envisions it, though, there needs to be management support for the implementing of a consistent strategy so that everyone is "on the same page" and adopts tools that enable barrier-free information sharing among all association employees and members.


This "adoption process" is one that  interests me greatly as I work with associations and corporations in my own consulting. In addition to checking out the Social Media Collective, here are a few more sources:

  • For my other articles related to professional associations click here.
  • My "" shared bookmarks to blog posts, web sites, and documents that I have tagged with the term "adoption" are located here.
  • To see a list of my articles related to technology and web 2.0 adoption, use the search box on the left side of this page to search for "adoption," or if you are reading this via a feed reader, click here to bring up my web site's search box.


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