Designing New Future blog post

After spending over a year relatively sequestered in my house, like so many people, I’ve decided it’s time for a few renovations. As I work through what to do and how best to approach it, I’ve been a voracious consumer of blogs, articles, podcasts, and Pinterest images. A piece of advice I stumbled across in this process – and my apologies that I don’t remember who gave it – was “Don’t design for things you don’t need.” 

In other words, one of the first steps of your project should be evaluating what you own and how you use it –   and ruthlessly purging things you don’t use. Does it make sense to invest thousands of dollars designing a solution to house Grandma’s china set when you have no intention of ever using it? 

Balancing tradition and innovation

Associations are often at a crossroads when it comes to innovation. Many are steeped in tradition and serve as the bedrock for the field they serve. But as industries grow and evolve, members also rely on their associations to keep pace. (Arguably, the association should be – and keep members – at the forefront.) It’s a tricky spot to be in, right? How do we honor Grandma’s china, while still allowing ourselves the space and flexibility to meet today’s (and tomorrow’s) needs?

The recent pandemic provided a unique opportunity to move forward exponentially, rather than the incremental change associations tend toward, so as not to rock the boat of tradition. Dad’s hand-me-down 15-volume set of encyclopedias? In the past, we likely would have moved them to the basement to see if anyone noticed they were gone. They would have languished there, gathering dust for a few years before a brave soul would be so bold as to donate them; but most of us would leave them there and continue to pile up more relics around them.

Adapt, test, repeat

With the challenges COVID-19 presented, we didn’t have time to worry about hurt feelings. Our focus was getting staff up and running remotely and continuing to deliver the programs and services for which our members counted on us in new, virtual environments. Adaptation became de rigeur. We experimented. We iterated. We evolved at a record pace. Members accepted that there might be hiccups; they appreciated we were trying new things to best meet their needs.

The Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) recently conducted a survey regarding the impact that COVID-19 had on certifying organizations and their programs. The lessons learned in shifting to more remote solutions is clear: flexible tech will help us and help our members.  

Survey respondent takeaways included: 

  • Frequent and clear communication with a focus on empathy, flexibility and value 
  •  Embracing new technology tools and providing training to support their use 
  • Collaborative relationships and information sharing 

It is important to remember this was a forced entry into change and flexibility – we often adapt quickest when it’s our only option. However, certifying organizations still had positive outcomes from this shift and plan to stay agile for the long run. About one third of surveyed organizations added live remote proctoring as a test administration method, and over half of respondents plan to keep remote services. This is groundbreaking in a field that has largely upheld the sanctity of in-person exams.

56% of surveyed organizations plan to continue the use of virtual/remote meetings, and 43% plan to continue the use of remote proctoring.

As the world starts to return to “normal,” not everything has to go back to how it was before. Associations are experimenting with hybrid events – incorporating the best of their virtual offerings developed over the last year+ with the in-person interactions we all miss.  

Many certification bodies increased their communications during the pandemic, which can only serve members better. Ramping up communications, promotions, and outreach will provide a steady flow of info for members, as well as collect valuable data on their feedback and evolving needs. The ICE survey found over one third of respondents increased the amount of marketing and communications related to promoting certification and/or recertification. In turn, 20% of respondents increased customer service capacity to address applicant/certificant needs.  

“In the long term, organizations will benefit from the adoption of new technology, increases in automation and improved communication channels. These rapid reactions to the pandemic provide increased flexibility for responding to future crisis events.” – COVID-19 Impact Credentialing Survey

Flexing your flexibility

The last couple of decades, as we’ve converted our processes and data from piles of paper to digital solutions, we’ve built complex, large-scale databases and integrations meant to keep our organization running like a well-oiled machine. We set out with the best intentions but have ended up with behemoth builds that hamstring us with less flexibility, less accessibility, and less time to experiment lest something break or disappear. 

We’ve ended up with a basement full of old encyclopedias, Grandma’s china, and other relics of bygone days, when once we had dreamed of a rec room that would make the whole neighborhood jealous.

Today, we’re presented with an opportunity to start fresh. Look at things in a new light. Get rid of programs and processes that have outlived their relevancy to make room for new and exciting things. A “return to normal” doesn’t mean we can’t continue to experiment. Iterate. Advance.

Members are far more accepting – and expecting – of progress than we might have given them credit. Staff is more resilient and capable of change. And sometimes it’s ok to let time-honored traditions go with gratitude (kudos to Marie Kondo!) so that we can focus on what is really important.

Heather McNair
Heather McNair

Heather McNair has centered her career around developing loyal customers for over 20 years, with experience across the association, software and publishing industries. She is passionate about using technology to increase customer and member engagement and retention.

When not at her laptop, you can usually find Heather looking like a mad scientist in the kitchen, experimenting with a new recipe or craft cocktail, or in her garden nurturing her “plant babies.”