Question 5: SLA is an international organisation (Candidate Questions)


SLA is an international organization. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside of North America?

Kate Arnold ~ Candidate for President-Elect

In the last 12 years I’ve been a SLA member I’ve seen the organisation become more aware of its non-North American members, in part because numbers joining from outside North America have risen, and because the membership has voted onto the Board representatives from outside North America too. All of this at a time when developments in technology have helped to make the world a smaller place, gone are the days when you had to book a transatlantic telephone call. So it’s right that SLA should be asking Board candidates how they would reach out and involve non-North American members.

I am at a slight advantage here as I live in the UK so should be aware of how to involve and reach out to members in Europe. I’d like to come up with a simple and snappy response, but unfortunately it’s not that easy as SLA Europe’s experience shows. In the last 10 years we’ve tried to increase membership and awareness in continental Europe as the majority of our membership is UK based. We’ve used various established techniques, developing country representatives who can spread the word; hosted meetings at conferences and exhibitions, but to no avail in terms of increasing membership and involving more people in SLA. What we have learnt though is the importance of understanding cultural and geographic context in involving and reaching out to those in other countries. One size most certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to involving current members more actively, and in raising membership numbers joining the association. Why is this and what can we do differently?

Cultural context: don’t assume that everything operates the same in all countries, find out how things are done differently and make sure messages are tailored to fit. As an example, in most continental European countries there is a national information association which everyone belongs to, and which represents members’ interests. Very few people would consider joining another association in addition to this national group unless there was some tie between the two of them, something like a discounted, partnering opportunity. So the best way for SLA to involve and reach out to more people in Europe would be to work with one of the national groupings, like ADBS in France, or AIDA in Italy, to offer discounted membership or partnership opportunity. I’m sure this type of issue occurs in other countries too, so would be a model to consider rolling out worldwide. Perhaps something the vision group exploring ‘New markets through collaboration’ is already looking into?

Geographic context: as others have stated in answering this question, those from outside North America have further to travel to attend events like annual conference, and increasingly we need to find ways to involve them virtually. But in assuming we can do more with technology to bridge the distance gap we need to be aware of issues of geography and time zones as well. As long as we think laterally and do some preparation work, we can probably overcome this, and the recent set of webinars for President-Elect candidates is a case in point. By timing the event at 7pm EDT, midnight in the UK and lunchtime in Australia/New Zealand, members could join from across the world, thus enabling a New Zealand member to put their case for improving the CPD offering from SLA. However, as I was the participant from the UK, joining the session at midnight was tiring, but ok as a one off.

By being aware of the cultural and geographic context, and making efforts to bridge this, we should be more successful in engaging with members worldwide. We also have to remember that we are not the only ones grappling with this issue, we can learn from what large multi-nationals have done, many of which have members in SLA.


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