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Jim Penrod, CAE, FASLA, KCSAE Secretary

One of the most important things that we do as association executives is to help our organizations be proactive.  Each of our associations is on a journey, but the most important question to ask about that journey is “have you defined where you are going?”  How will your work with your Board of Directors and with your members create positive outcomes for today’s stakeholders and those in the future?

Environmental scanning is the ongoing process of tracking trends and occurrences in an association’s internal and external environment that bear on its success, now and into the future.  The results of an environmental scan help to shape the goals and strategies of the association in achieving its mission.  Effective environmental scanning examines both quantitative and qualitative changes.  Ultimately, you need to create a set of key environmental factors that you believe will have the most important potential impact on the work that you do.

These environmental factors are often referred to as drivers of change.  In order to remain relevant as an association, it is critical to understand how trends and changes to the future environment will impact the way you do business and the offerings that you provide to your members.  Lucky for us that there is research that has been done to identify some of the key drivers that impact most associations, examine the implications of each factor, and offer ideas that associations can take to respond to the trends.

The ASAE ForesightWorks Collection ( provides a resource for these drivers of change in six thematic areas:

  • Content, Learning, and Knowledge
  • Data and Technology
  • Demographics and Membership
  • Economic Conditions
  • Society and Politics
  • Workforce and Workplace

Rather than starting from scratch each time you facilitate a strategic planning exercise, the ForeSightWorks provides a framework for your leaders to consider the most important drivers of change to the mission of your organization.  Keeping the focus of your board work on the implications of the accelerating pace of change and intensifying impact of future transformation builds the board’s capacity for making sense, meaning, and intelligent decisions that anticipate and prepare for plausible future outcomes.

While many of us have experienced swift change during the pandemic, we must learn how to do more than just cope with a world experiencing transformation.  Our associations must utilize more robust approaches to governing that effectively prepare the association and its members for whatever comes next.  We all know that our Boards are comprised of volunteers and due to the finite attention that can be provided by our volunteers, we must respect and use their time in the wisest ways possible.

Given the year that we just went through, foresight must continue to be a critical area of focus for us all and understanding the trends that impact us the most.  The good news is that we have all learned how to innovate this year and we have research that can help us prepare for the things to come.

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

—R. Buckminster Fuller

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