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Word of Mouth Works

There's a Word of Mouth (WOM) meme floating through the association blogosphere (thanks to social media rock star Maddie Grant), and here are some great posts to check out about the effectiveness of word of mouth marketing in associations.

Jamie Notter on how several association consultants (myself included) sold 1500 copies of a book solely through word of mouth.

Lindy Dreyer shares how WOM filled up a whole bar with Young Association Professionals for the dance party of the year at ASAE & The Center's annual conference in San Diego.

Peggy Hoffman addresses WOM and volunteerism.

Dana Theus delves into social media WOM campaigns.

You'll find links to others in these posts too.  Great stuff. 

Jamie tagged me on the meme so a WOM success story from me coming up soon.

More on Consensus

In his comment, Jamie Notter points us to his blog post which shares an excellent definition of consensus.  It describes two critical components of consensus: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.  Take a look at the post, it makes some important points.

Kevin Holland also points out that associations should not utilize a formal consensus process on every decision they make.  AGREED!!!  Talk about anti-nimble, and that's certainly not where associations need to be.  Some decisions just need to be made, and quickly, period.

In the post, I am specifically talking about developing industry standards, and there I do believe consensus is critical.  But, I also wanted to clarify that I am not advocating that all associations should become ANSI-accredited as developers of American National Standards.  That path is right for some, not for others.  My point is that the option is something all standard-setters should be aware of and give serious consideration as to whether or not it has value for them.  Of course any organization can develop processes consistent with the principles put forth by ANSI (and ISO, the International Organization for Standardization) without being formally acknowledged. However, for some, the benefit of third-party verification of quality is significant - and that's what accreditation can give you. 

Take the certification industry standards, for example.  There are many, including:

ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024: General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons (2003) American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Washington, DC. 

Development, Administration, Scoring and Reporting of Credentialing Examinations (2004), Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR), Lexington, KY.

Principles of Fairness: An Examining Guide for Credentialing Bodies (2002), National Organization for Competency Assurance and Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation, Lexington KY.  

Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs (2002) National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) of the National Organization for Competency Assurance,  Washington, DC.

Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1999) of the American Educational Research Organization, American Psychological Organization and the National Council on Measurement in Education).

There is only one standard on this list (ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024) that I can be ASSURED was developed following the quality principles of consensus, balance, transparency, due process and others.  Does that mean the others aren't good standards?  No.  Does it mean the processes they followed were bad?  Of course not.  But, absent conformance to any formally documented standards development process, all we have to go on is our trust in the standards developer.  My question: in this era of consumer distrust, is that enough?  If you're a standards developer, that's a question to take to heart.

On Consensus

Consensus is a word that is often misunderstood and misused.  On one extreme, some think consensus requires unanimity.  On the other, some think it's a simple majority.  Neither are correct.

If you work to develop standards (and I know many of you do!), having consensus means that the majority agree with the final outcome AND that there was an opportunity for all views to be considered and an attempt made at resolution.  The second element is crucial!  Here's an interesting resource from MIT on building consensus.

In my work this year assisting ASTM International in developing an American National Standard for certificate programs, I've seen first-hand how challenging and time-consuming - but also how important - the second element can be.  We received majority approval on our first draft of the standard back in September, but there was a negative ballot cast along with several affirmative ballots with substantive comments.  It would have been easy to just adopt that version of the standard since the great majority approved of it.  However, that would not have been consensus - thus it also would not have met the ANSI essential requirements for developing American National Standards.  So, we kept at it.  We reconsidered, revised and reballoted the standard several more times, and each time it got better, significantly better.  And even though there were definitely times where I griped and moaned about the process, now that we have a final standard, I am so thankful for that process because the resulting standard is so much stronger for it.

I know I have been involved in many association efforts where a key concept, position or standard that could impact the industry represented was adopted based on a simple majority - and often that group wasn't even representative of the population impacted.  I urge all of you to consider how key decisions / approvals are made in your organizations.  Do they represent consensus?  If you develop standards for your industry, I urge you to take a look at the ANSI Essential Requirements: due process requirements for American National Standards and consider how your process stands up. There are many associations that are accredited developers of American National Standards through ANSI.  This is something I would also urge you to consider, if you haven't already.

It's interesting to me that so many certifying bodies develop standards that would not meet these Essential Requirements.  Why is that?  Perhaps it's time for change.