AVMA governance goes under the microscope

Stakeholders propose organizational changes to meet future demand
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Richard Alampi
Richard Alampi, member of the AVMA Task Force on Governance and Member Participation and executive director of the New Jersey VMA, explains a potential governance model for the AVMA. (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

Several dozen AVMA stakeholders recently came together to discuss potential changes in AVMA governance that will enable the Association to better meet the future needs of members, the veterinary profession, and the AVMA itself.

Held July 8-9 near Association headquarters, the AVMA Summit on Governance was attended by some 60 representatives of various AVMA entities as well as veterinary schools, state VMAs, industry, and species organizations.

The event was hosted by the AVMA Task Force on Governance and Member Participation. The group was authorized in 2011 by a House of Delegates resolution directing the Executive Board to appoint a task force responsible for reviewing and evaluating AVMA governance and member participation to determine whether the current structure can meet future demands.

Additionally, the task force was asked to develop a vision of AVMA governance that incorporates the qualities and attributes of governance as generally outlined by the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission.

The AVMA summit brought together a broad spectrum of stakeholders to brainstorm ideas for improving Association governance. One of them was AVMA Member Services Committee Chair Scott Aoki, who described the current system as “old-fashioned and clunky” and lacking organizational unity around fulfilling the AVMA mission statement.

Dr. Aoki said he is encouraged by the growing support for a leaner, more efficient governance structure aligned with the Association’s strategic goals. “This will involve revamping the current AVMA system into one more versatile and skilled at achieving goals without as much fat as the current system,” he said.

There’s lots of opportunity for input into this, and part of our charge is to be looking at the way members participate and engage with AVMA. We’re trying to walk the talk by making sure we have a transparent, thoughtful, open process for input.

Ralph Johnson, chair, AVMA Task Force on Governance and Member Participation

Summit facilitator Glenn Tecker, author of “The Will to Govern Well,” described the typical member of an association as demanding fast, flexible, and transparent action from leadership. Tecker says associations are coming under increasing scrutiny in the current economic climate as members question how their organization is benefiting them and spending their dues money.

Tecker provided examples of governance models employed by several “voluntary organizations” during the two-day meeting. Then, attendees convened in eight groups to design plausible AVMA governance models that account for such areas as strategic planning, policy development, member representation, and budget priorities. Each model was presented to the entire summit for consideration.

Dr. de Jong
AVMA Executive Board member Dr. John de Jong and other summit attendees exchange ideas for modernizing the AVMA’s governance structure.

AVMA Executive Board member Dr. Jan Krehbiel was impressed with the creativity of the proposals and appreciated the way Tecker facilitated the summit process.

“Participants were really sensitive not to throw out the baby with the bath water by abandoning the present model while also realizing we need to do some things differently if we expect to be effective in the future,” Dr. Krehbiel said. He described AVMA’s current governance structure as “good but could be better” and said it would be improved in part by more effective member involvement.

This summer, the AVMA task force will make each of the eight governance models available to Association entities and AVMA members for comment. In October, the task force will synthesize the models and input into three models that will be presented to the Executive Board in November and at a facilitated session when the AVMA House of Delegates convenes this January. By spring 2013, the task force will submit a final report with recommendations to the Executive Board.

Being responsive to member ideas and concerns is essential to the task force’s work, according to the group’s chair, Ralph Johnson. “There’s lots of opportunity for input into this, and part of our charge is to be looking at the way members participate and engage with AVMA,” Johnson explained. “We’re trying to walk the talk by making sure we have a transparent, thoughtful, open process for input.”

Reforming the governance structure of an organization as large and diverse as the AVMA is no small feat, said Johnson, who is also the Colorado VMA’s executive director. Moreover, everyone has an opinion about the best governance model for the AVMA, and Johnson expects managing expectations to be a challenge. “There are probably 82,000 views of what makes the perfect AVMA in terms of governance,” he said.

Still, Johnson considers this to be an unparalleled opportunity to contribute to the evolution of the AVMA. “We have a great past, but how do we continue to be great?” he asked. “What must AVMA do to increase our relevance and our meaning and be positioned for opportunities that present themselves at an even faster pace and with more complexity in the 21st century? These are the questions we’re trying to answer.”