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Is the future of professional bodies as platforms?

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Is the future of professional bodies as platforms?

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I’ve been following an interesting discussion recently on the LinkedIn group of the Chartered Management Institute.  The discussion began as a critique of a marketing but quickly progressed to a discussion around the strategic direction of the Institute.

I think the whole discussion has been nicely summed up by a post written recently for VentureBeat that charted the rise of Doximity, a social network for those in the medical profession.  I’ve written previously about the rapid rise of professional social networks for healthcare workers, with a study by Johns Hopkins University revealing the extent to which doctors want to participate in such knowledge sharing communities.

The rapid rise of Doximity however is noteworthy due to the speed with which membership of the site has grown, such that it now has quite a few more members than the American Medical Association, the official trade body for the profession in America.  With over 250,000 members, it now represents something akin to 35% of all doctors in the U.S.

“This essentially means Doximity will get doctors the answers they want faster, and more reliably, than a simple Google search,” Doximity told VentureBeat. “Doctors can ask a critical mass of their peers any number of questions ranging from drug interactions to specialist advice, and it points to the demand and hunger for specialized, vertical social networks that meet an unmet need.”

This kind of problem seems to be afflicting professional bodies the world over, regardless of their industry.  Their malaise seems epitomized by what Anna Careveli called industrial age thinking when commenting on the Doximity story.

“Everything is set up to produce, everything is set up around the annual conference, the magazine, the programs,” she said. “Look at any of the startups or the high-tech groups out there. People are not running around to meet deadlines. They operate on a constant sense of discovery and looking to solve a problem for the consumer rather than [saying], ‘OK, let’s churn out 20 seminars for members to attend and maybe get the answer they’re looking for.’” she told Association Now.

All of which nicely sums up my own experience of professional bodies in the UK.  They all seem to overlook the value inherent in their network of members, persisting with the belief that they have all of the knowledge their members could need, and that there is little value therefore in trying to connect members with each other.

They seem en masse to be ignoring the shifting sands beneath their feet.  Social networks, be they public or private, are changing how people seek out information.  MOOCs are changing how people solicit new information.  Open innovation competitions are changing how people find solutions to their problems.

As Bill Joy famously said, no matter who you are [as an organisation], the smartest people will work for someone else.  Unless professional bodies begin to realise that the smartest people won’t be amongst their staff but amongst their members (and non-members), and that they’re therefore duty bound to act as a platform that can connect up those people as well as possible, it seems inevitable that professional bodies will continue their slow shrivel into obsolescence.

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