Of all the things we do at APA, nothing is more important than providing excellent and responsive service to our members. As a member, it is something I have always appreciated about APA. As CEO, it is something that I want to reinforce and institutionalize as a core of the organization's value system. Yet, in an organization as multifaceted and complex as APA, we can occasionally fall short of the ideal. When this happens, the very last thing I want is for a member to feel that their organization is unresponsive to their concerns.
When we fall short of the ideal, what recourses do members have? A past-president and longtime member recently suggested to me that the association needs an official ombudsperson to ensure that member complaints have the hearing they should. After considering the idea and exploring options members already had, I came to two conclusions. First, APA needed to better communicate the formal and informal channels that already exist for addressing member questions or complaints. And second, I believe that in a sense, we already have an ombudsperson--me.
Formal and informal channels
There are both formal and informal channels by which members can express grievances. On a more formal level, the Committee on Constitutional Issues (CCI) is designated as a venue by which members can have their grievances addressed if they have not been resolved by some other means. The CCI is a three-person committee appointed on an as-needed basis by the APA president and approved by the complainant. Second, the APA bylaws include a section titled "Bill of Rights for Members" (Article III), which states that if a member or staff person believes their rights have been abridged they can seek recourse through the Council of Representatives.
In the vast majority of cases, however, it is likely that the issues that arise don't require these formal mechanisms, but could be addressed much more expediently through other means. Frequently, members simply want to have their voices heard.
One important outlet for this is the letters section of the Monitor on Psychology, and its occasional feature entitled "Shared Perspectives" that is authored by members on topics of their choosing. Of course, space limitations keep us from publishing everything that is submitted, but I do encourage members to continue to write in response to what they read in the magazine.
Letters that are in direct response to something published in the most recent issue of the magazine are most likely to be published, but each letter is reviewed by the Monitor's senior editorial staff and often distributed to other Central Office staff for their information. In short, the Monitor's letters section is a particularly good place for members to express their views about what they have read in the publication about general issues within the discipline or specific actions APA is taking. Importantly, focus groups with Monitor readers have shown that the letters section is the first place many readers go when they receive the current issue.
Where the buck really stops
As CEO, I see myself as an ombuds-person for members. If you are not satisfied with the level of service you've received, then we are not being consistent with our core value of excellence and responsiveness. If, for whatever reason, you think we are not meeting our service aspirations, you should feel free to communicate with me directly about it. The simplest way to bring issues to my attention is e-mail. You can reach me at CEO@apa.org. Some might ask why I would be willing to expose myself to 150,000 members who could potentially have a complaint. The answer is quite simple. As CEO, I need to know how well we are doing. There is no better way of doing this than communicating directly with our members. But I am also confident that our staff does a great job in serving you, so I am not concerned about being inundated.
You may also communicate directly with our executive directors if you choose. We all get well over 100 e-mails a day so receiving a few more is not a problem. The APA president's Web page also allows members to send e-mail directly to the president's office.
I firmly believe that APA ranks among the best large organizations in its responsiveness to members. But we should never be complacent. We will continue to strive to be even better, so hearing where we might occasionally fall short is not something we shy away from. We want to know.