President's Column

Are the structures and systems that support APA’s governance system effective? How might we do better? One of the three major goals of APA’s recently adopted strategic plan is “maximizing organizational effectiveness.” To do that, APA launched the Good Governance Project in January and is in the early stages of examining whether minor tweaks, sweeping changes or something in-between may be needed to make our governance system more responsive to members in today’s era of evolving technology and rapid world changes.

APA’s system of decision- and policymaking was developed at a time when telephones and snail-mail were cutting-edge communications technology. But now we’re in the thicket of interactive technology that continues to evolve at an exponential pace. So the challenge is to examine governance and determine what system will endure regardless of the latest fad or the next big thing. The question posed by the Good Governance Group is whether the current system is a sturdy enough structure that is also flexible enough to withstand change.

Under APA’s current governance system, established in 1945, the Council of Representatives meets twice a year and is the organization’s only policymaking body. The Board of Directors is its executive committee. The council is made up of the Board of Directors plus 162 representatives from divisions and state, provincial and territorial psychological associations. Council members are informed by their constituents and debate different points of view before voting on policy or actions that are in the best interest of APA as a whole. Within this complex organizational structure, there are also seven major advisory boards and 32 ongoing advisory committees. And all of these groups make recommendations to the council, which has the final authority in the policy arena.

Our current system has served APA well over the decades by representing members’ concerns through a democratic process. It may be that the existing system is robust enough to interact effectively with whatever new technology and social networking platforms emerge. For this reason, APA is entering this project with an open mind, not proposing to change something just for the sake of change. On the other hand, we may discover shortcomings that need more than a quick fix if APA is to work effectively and remain relevant and accessible to all our constituents.

Nor is this undertaking all about technology. For example, one area that may be evaluated is whether ad hoc and task-specific panels might be more effective than standing committees. Such a change might bring more stability to decision-making by encouraging members to complete their missions over a defined period of time, rather than rotate positions over a longer time and thereby lose valuable expertise.

We might also evaluate ways to help APA members attain leadership positions more quickly. Under the current system, it can take members decades of volunteer work to rise to top leadership positions and be recognized for their contributions.

The Good Governance Project team, led by Dr. Sandy Shullman (chair) and Dr. Ron Rozensky (vice-chair), held its first meeting in February and hopes to put together proposals for possible changes for APA’s Board of Directors and Council of Representatives by August 2012. APA has hired the consulting firm Cygnet Strategy, LLC, to coordinate the project. The company will survey members and gauge their thinking at major events, including the State, Science and Education leadership conferences, and the spring and fall consolidated meetings of committees and boards. Cygnet also will gather information from division leadership. The team already has gathered initial input from the council.

As part of its effort, the project team will take a look at governance and best practices of other organizations. If the data indicate that there are areas that could be strengthened, the team will identify those for the council and seek its input on next steps. Key stakeholder groups will also have opportunities to weigh in during this process. Should there be recommendations that require changes to APA’s bylaws, the full membership would need to approve them by a two-thirds vote.

If you have any questions or ideas, please contact Nancy Gordon Moore, PhD, MBA, APA’s executive director for governance affairs.