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Association innovation: It’s now time to make a change! (2/3)

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This article originally featured in HQ Magazine. It has been republished with Meeting Media Group's full permission. This is part 2 of 3.

Benita Lipps from Interel breaks down the topic of innovation and how associations feel about this much-hyped word...

Part 2: What's stopping us from innovating?

Interestingly, achieving improvements in the three areas mentioned above may just be on the to-do list of every association professional out there. So, if the issues are that universally important, and if innovation is offering a way to tackle them, what is stopping us? 

One obvious barrier to innovation is the one mentioned earlier: associations are risk-adverse by nature. Associations function as custodians, regulators or gatekeepers of a sector or profession. Safeguarding standards requires continuity, care and consistency. Innovation, on the other hand, is deeply associated with risk, experimentation, and embracing disruptive change. 

However, that’s not the only – or even the most obvious – challenge. In our discussion with association leaders, two other factors were mentioned repeatedly: First, there is lack of time. ‘Just’ keeping the association running, implementing a growing number of services and responding to the needs of members, partners, sponsors and leadership alike is stretching secretariats to the very limit of their capacity. “With a fast-growing association, we always play catch-up and need to invent as we go along. There is just not enough time for strategic thinking and effective brainstorming,” confirmed a contact at a global association who prefers to remain unnamed. Under these conditions, spending time to something as intangible as brainstorming, creative thinking and innovation is not only difficult, it can simply seem reckless.

Second, many associations state that they lack the resources to seriously ‘innovate’. This includes money, staff and – to a lesser extent – innovation know-how. Evidently, all of these are interconnected: “Funding, and therefore staff size is limited” notes one interview partner. “It is difficult to invest money in tools for experimentation only. The Board expects results, not experimentation,” writes another.

Results of the question "What are the barriers to innovation at your association?" from Interel's survey.

Read part 3 to find out about how innovation can be used as tool for problem-solving within associations.

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