What if, this month, a member of Congress, a federal agency or a state licensing board proposed action that would hurt APA members or that contradicted the psychological literature? APA would want to respond, but how quickly could we take official action? APA’s Council of Representatives — the body that oversees APA’s budget and sets all association policy — only meets in February and August. As a result, we would be chasing the issue, rather than steering it.
In today’s world of 24/7 communication and business, such scenarios are real. The problem is, such circumstances couldn’t have been dreamed up when APA created its governing bylaws in the 1940s, a time when all correspondence was conducted through snail mail and long-distance phone calls were a luxury.
Exploring whether APA’s governance structure is nimble enough in today’s world is one of the many reasons APA has launched its Good Governance Project, an offshoot of APA’s strategic planning process. Through the Good Governance Project, we will assess how APA’s government structure works, determine what APA governance should do, and decide whether it should be tweaked or restructured, enhanced or streamlined.
As anyone who has served in a volunteer APA position knows, the association’s governance is very complex. Despite numerous recommendations over the years from various governance bodies, the basic structure has changed little since it was developed during World War II. At that time, several independent psychological societies agreed to join together in a new APA that would represent applied as well as academic psychologists. The resulting reorganization led to the establishment of APA’s first 17 divisions and its affiliation with state and territorial psychological associations.
At the same time, the full membership was replaced as the body having legislative power with the APA Council of Representatives. Although APA’s Board of Directors meets at least six times a year and frequently holds conference calls to act on pressing matters, it is the Council of Representatives that has final authority for the association, including approval of its budget.
APA’s basic governance structure hasn’t changed since 1945, but APA today is a very different organization. In 1945, APA had 3,173 members, 66 council members and an annual budget of $130,000. Today, APA has 152,000 members, 175 council members and a $114 million budget. In addition, a number of other governance groups have developed. APA now has seven major advisory boards and 32 ongoing advisory committees that oversee such areas as ethics, membership, accreditation and publications. APA also has 48 task forces and ad hoc groups. Each committee or other group has six to 12 members. All of these groups make recommendations to the council, which determines what goes forward and what doesn’t.
Over the past 50 years, this multifaceted structure has worked well, though like any democratic group, we have seen bumps along the way. But is this structure the best fit for the association in the 21st century? Members’ needs — and associations themselves — are so dramatically different and diverse than they were 65 years ago. In a time when e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and more can mobilize thousands to a cause within minutes, how should APA’s governance be structured to maximize efficiency, effectiveness and, most important, member representation? Could we be stronger if our governance structure enabled council members — or all members, for that matter — to immediately weigh in on a pressing concern?
Beginning this month, will be working to answer that question. Tell us what you think and how APA can become a stronger and more effective organization in the future. We want to hear all the ideas you have for making APA a more vibrant association. Please e-mail me or Nancy Gordon Moore, APA’s executive director for governance affairs with your ideas.