Benchmarking #professionaldevelopment resources in #green professional societies: APPA; APGA; and ASLA

Each year we pay anywhere from a hundred dollars to even a few thousands dollars to maintain membership and CEUs in professional societies in the green profession. Sometimes its required of us by our employers or even a regulatory agency, and then sometimes there’s member groups or organizations that we’re just drawn to and recognize as an important way of staying connected to topic we care about. Professional societies come in all shapes, sizes, and scales and offer a variety of member resources. In this post, i’m interested in discussing some observations i’ve made in the quality of professional development (PD) resources for various professional member organizations. By professional development resources, I mean collections of best practices, standards, toolkits, case studies, access to past conference material, and similar educational tools that collectively helps members reach their professional goals as outlined (presumably) in the organization’s mission. As in most cases, you get what you pay for.

First a necessary question to posit: what might it mean if your professional society has poor professional development resources?

To take a guess, a few come to mine:

  1. A large contingency of older members in power who do not choose or think to pursue mentorship and knowledge transfer responsibilities.
  2. Alternatively, a large contingency of younger members who are too shy to speak up about providing resources, or simply are not familiar with the concept.
  3.  Or, maybe a very similar organization already exists that fills this need.
  4. Perhaps the mission of the organization does not include thoughts on educating its members.
  5. It may also speak to the financial priorities [or lack of] for the organization.

I’m a member of  local chapter of a small national organization, and for $15 a year we have monthly educational meetings consisting of workshops and lectures, and even have occasional field trips. Member benefits are understandably thin, and major outputs include a member directory as well as a simple website with meeting information. The benefits of membership exceed the cost when justifying the opportunities for learning, knowledge sharing, and networking. On the other hand, I was at one time a member of a national organization and local chapter with yearly membership dues of around $300. They had recently instituted an ambitious infrastructure for professional development including a knowledge management platform for organizing communities of practice as a place for sharing ideas, knowledge, and expertise. In theory, it was a great opportunity to build effective resources in a bottom-up approach. However, over the course of the year that i was active in the membership, the platform never took off, and the professional development resources were still just as good as the $15 club.

It may also help to quickly formulate a short list of why professional development [PD] resources are important in professional society organizations:

  1. Helps to maintain standards for workers doing the same tasks across regions.
  2. Helps workers identify competencies.
  3. Helps their industry maintain competitiveness. For kicks, check out the slim-to-none resources page for the National Mining Assoc.
  4. Entry level resources about profession basics helps with membership growth.
  5. Help workers grow their career.

Recently, a few good examples of professional societies offering complete professional development resources as described above came into my radar. I’ll take this time to explain what I like [or don’t like] about each of these collections.

APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities [previously Association of Physical Plant Administrators]

This professional society for facilities managers in educational institutions is one of the best i’ve seen that prioritizes learning and professional development. It clearly states this in its organization’s purpose:

APPA transforms individual facilities professionals into higher performing managers and leaders, which…
Helps transform member institutions into more inviting and supportive learning environments, which…
Elevates the recognition and value of educational facilities and their direct impact on the recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff.

Wow! I think its pretty clear what this group stands for. Heading to their website you’ll find the holy grail of PD for anyone in facilities management:

  • annual conference archives
  • APPA U [which has an “Institute”, leadership academy, and “graduate program”]
  • supervisor’s toolkit
  • drive-in workshops
  • seminars
  • resources for women in leadership in facilities
  • as well as an online learning portal

And that’s not everything! Apart from a book store and repository of standards and codes, the website also features a separate area for a valuable resource called the Body of Knowledge, or BOK. According to APPA, the resource is named for “the collected wisdom, experience, processes, and facts that both inform a profession and provide the solid foundation from which continuous improvements and innovative change can occur.” APPA’s BOK is a searchable, digital database of foundational content that is required by facilities professionals at colleges, universities, schools, museums, and other nonprofit, educational organizations.

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In my mind APPA sets the standard for PD resources. The membership structures even include an institutional membership level, so for instance, when I worked for the Univ. of Pennsylvania Facilities and Real Estate Division, I maintained a free membership at the full cost of the university. Their conferences are also highly focused on learning, having attended and presented at a regional conference a few years back. Its a very high value membership.

APGA – American Public Gardens Association

I chose to also discuss APGA because they have a similar educational-focus mission statement much like APPA, which is to “serve public gardens and advance them as leaders, advocates, and innovators.” From this language, i would expect a lot of educational resources for professionals working in public gardens, and after exploring and using some of the resources I was not disappointed. Their website features a dedicated drop down menu aptly named “professional development”, which contains content from past conferences and symposiums, as well as events and webinars. Like APPA [although i did not mention above] the organization deploys communities of practice labeled as “Professional Sections” to help experts share and enhance their knowledge in a group setting to benefit all. They also have a growing resource center of papers and content for emerging and popular topics, and have a whole page dedicated to benchmarking studies. Overall, i would say that this society does an excellent job in offering great PD resources for members, and in the same light members could arguably grow their career adequately from these resources alone. BTW, membership ranges from $65-125 depending on your employment status. Still a great value.

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ALSA – recordings of past conferences

Lastly, I wanted to provide an example of a society that has a great strategy for PD, but tragically fails due to the drive for monetization. For almost ten years now, the ASLA has been recording all of the talks and sessions from its annual conferences as well as select webinars and live presentations. At one time these were free for members, who by the way pay nearly $400 a year to get the “ASLA” designation on their signature. But somewhere down the line, they instituted a pay-by-talk, a la cart structure and put a price tag on everything. Each conference talk now costs around $50 for members and over $150 for non-members. I understand the concept of valuing the intellectual property of knowledge creation. And I also understand the struggles of landscape architects having to justify their worth in billable hours, but for a professional organization with a mission to “advance landscape architecture through advocacy, communication, education, and fellowship”, creating a another financial barrier to accessing vital educational resources that could instantly raise the intellectual bar of the profession is a grossly shortsighted strategy. This same organization should be doing everything in their power to offer tools to make better practitioners, instead of alienating hard working [and not always high earning] professionals through pay walls. How are LAs supposed to be leading the way in climate change if the resources are not accessible to all?

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Final thoughts

The purpose of highlighting the benefits of these resources is to get us thinking about the role of an organization and their natural ability to provide tons of value when the right ideas are being implemented. In any situation where learning can exist, we should always be asking questions about how to maximize its value to benefit others. Yes, knowledge and expertise does has a cost, and organizations should take that into account when deciding how much value they put on their member’s professional development. These decisions are often very telling.

This topic also relates to a prior post i did on knowledge management program elements and calls out the following elements:

  • #14 communities of practice
  • #12 mentorship
  • #22 corporate univerisites
  • #31 best practices
  • #13 learning & development

KM Period Table


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