Open or closed?

The online world is divided into two camps over that one.

One camp thinks there should be no restrictions or guidelines around who participates in online communities.  Everything should be open to everybody. If someone with a completely different set of experiences shocks you with an idea or perspective that never would have occurred to you, that’s precisely what makes social media such a vibrant and empowering place to live, learn and grow.

Then there is the group that says being part of a boundary-less and restriction-free community is fine, but who also like gated communities, where they can gather with people who share the same expertise, face the same professional challenges, and operate in the same environments that they do. 

Both viewpoints have their merits. It would be nice to be able to say “to each their own” and leave it to personal preference, but often the two world views collide in the same, online space. And if it is the association who is providing the platform, that can put you in the crossfire.  

Not too long ago, a member with a long and distinguished career in the profession, but who was no longer involved in day-to-day management, expressed frustration that she was no longer eligible to participate on the association’s managers’ listserv.  It isn’t like all her wealth of knowledge and experience got erased just because she was no longer working in a management capacity. 

She also observed there is a danger in engaging in artificially defined exclusivity.  It can lead to insular thinking and moribund elites.  It assumes that no one outside our self-defined group has anything useful to say (or critical for us to know) about our world. To thrive (or even just survive), this member argued, members need to be open to what is going on around them, not just to the prevailing views and orthodoxy of people who see the world and think just like they do.  And she has a point.  

But on the flip side, I understand the preferences of other members who want access to communities of interest limited to those who actually fit that community’s definitions.  They observe (correctly) that the association does have forums that are open to all comers.  Whether you are a member or non-member, whatever segment of the profession you operate in, whether you are a student, new professional, veteran or retired … it’s all the same. 

They just want somewhere else they can go to as well, where they don’t have to filter and guess whether a post offering advice on their workplace problem comes from a well-intentioned member who is operating in an entirely different environment and who knows nothing about the day-to-day reality facing someone in their industry sector.    

Open or closed, the debate will continue.  And with the technologies evolving and changing even as we experiment with these new communication modalities, the debate over how we debate is likely to persist even as we conduct the debate itself over what it is we started the conversation about in the first place.

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About Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE
Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, is Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior CEO roles include a nearly fourteen-year tenure as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), Vienna, Virginia. Before joining NCRA staff , he spent eight years with the Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA), Washington, D.C. He also spent 12 years with the Association of Telemessaging Services International (ATSI), Alexandria, Virginia Long active in the association community, Mr. Golden is a past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for Association Leadership, a past Vice Chairman of the ASAE Board of Directors, past Chair of the Center for Association Leadership’s Research Committee, and past member of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce's Association Committee of 100. He is the 2011 recipient of the American Society of Association Executive's Key Award, the highest honor ASAE bestows, to "honor the association CEO who demonstrates exceptional qualities of leadership in his or her own association, and displays a deep commitment to voluntary membership organizations as a whole.”

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