AAPG: Scientific Association
or Exclusive Club
Over the course of this year AAPG Members have had many discussions, e-mail exchanges and debates, and not just in the House of Delegates. President Weimer’s AAPG Explorer columns in November 2011 and May 2012 (Strategic Planning and Whither AAPG?) issued some challenges to us about the future of our association.
It occurs to me there are two views held within AAPG as to the nature of what our association should be. Many think that AAPG is a scientific association, while others, I believe, are inclined to visualize AAPG as an exclusive club. We are all geoscientists with common interests, but I believe strongly our Strategic Plan and the majority of members come down on the side of scientific association.
I had the privilege of serving on the Advisory Council (the AC) during Steve Sonnenberg’s Presidency of AAPG, when Steve asked past President Dan Smith to actively pursue the AC’s role as the “long range planning body for AAPG” and produce a formal strategic plan. The strategic planning process was facilitated by Glen Tecker Consultants, a consulting group retained by AAPG.
Tecker’s professional guidance led the AC to understand there are two principal ways not-for-profit organizations structure themselves:
Content Focused: The enterprise is organized around a body of knowledge.
- Anyone with an interest in the body of knowledge can participate.
- Any sub group structure is aligned with sub domains of the body of knowledge or topical interest areas rather than demographic characteristics of the member.
- Prospective members decide if the organization offers value to them and select how they will participate.
- This is a common model for associations where knowledge transfer is the major business line.
Constituency Focused: The enterprise is organized around demographic characteristics of its members.
- Only individuals or organizations meeting those characteristics are eligible for membership with full rights and privileges.
- Any sub group structure is aligned with distinguishing demographic characteristics of a group rather than their interests.
- The organization decides who can participate and how they will be classified.
- This is a common model for associations where advocacy is the major business line.
My working hypothesis, reinforced by two years as Chair-elect and Chair of the House, is this: AAPG is fundamentally a scientific association and it is organized inappropriately. Geoscientists are naturally “Content Focused.” We love our science and we really exist to “transfer knowledge” among ourselves and between ourselves and the public. Our constitution, under “Article II. Purposes” begins: “The purposes of this Association are to advance the science of geology………”
However, our organizational structure is that of a constituency-based enterprise using “geographic location” of the members as a demographic characteristic around which we have constructed an elaborate scheme of Sections and Regions to allow “fair representation.” We conduct scores of elections every year to populate the Executive Committee, the Advisory Council and the House of Delegates, and leadership positions in the Sections and Regions.
Even after Advisory Council councilors fly in from around the world to create a slate of nominees, we have experienced a strange series of “petition candidacies” in recent years, as if the duly nominated candidates were some sort of subversive interlopers. Strange also is our system of nominating candidates to stand for office, then we disallow campaigning. So we actually have nothing to advocate and our elections are merely popularity contests? Being organized in a “Constituency Focused” scheme drives AAPG to be much more “political” than is appropriate. It dissipates our energy, good-will and fellowship towards our colleagues and steers us in the direction of “exclusion” so we do not “lose control” of the constituency system.
In fact there is an imprint in AAPG’s organizational structure of the US government, with executive and legislative branches. However, we are scientists, not amateur politicians.
Are we advocates? Is our core purpose to advocate some position or policy? I don’t think so.
Our core purpose is the transfer of knowledge.
Geographic location of geologists as the basis for organizational structure is an anachronism. It is increasingly irrelevant as communication, knowledge and data transfer become global and quick. Perhaps the legacy of oil companies, decades ago, organized by Districts, Regions and Divisions is the source of this mindset? Back then, geologists tended to work in the locality of their residence. No more. The entire planet is being explored using virtual reality; interpret seismic data from Africa, South America and the Far East and you are very likely to be doing it from a workstation in Houston or London.
Another observation has to do with the phenomena of AAPG’s “technical divisions”: DPA, EMD and DEG (refer to the second bullet above under “Content Focused”). Why do we have special interest divisions which seem to be misaligned with the “demographic” Section/Region scheme? My answer is that a powerful force of “what we really want,” namely, being organized “around a body of knowledge” compels us to form the Divisions. Note that SEG and SEPM began as AAPG Divisions or Committees and ultimately “spun off” as separate “Content Focused” organizations. Is there an “invisible hand” at work here?
The amount of energy we invest in our complex “Constituency-based” demographic organization is amazing. But worse than that, many of us, intentionally or unintentionally, perpetuate a mindset that AAPG should be an “exclusive club.” Elaborate requirements to join include multiple sponsors for applicants, which are then checked and re-checked, as if some vast conspiracy of unethical or unprofessional geoscientists is lurking outside the gates waiting to subvert the Association.
We have mechanisms within AAPG to meet the needs of those who wish to have validation of an exclusive organization: become certified by DPA (the additional distinction of certification results from intense peer-review and long professional experience), or perhaps ask to join the Trustee Associates to demonstrate commitment and financial support of AAPG.
We constrain our long-term success when we restrict membership and make the application process so exclusionary that we fail to bring in as members all qualified geoscientists “engaged in the practice or teaching of geology,” whether they’ve been doing so for a day or a decade.
During Dave Rensink’s term as our President, he challenged AAPG to envision itself 25 years in the future.
My opinion is that if we are to be a robust organization, we must embrace fundamental organizational change.