It’s membership, Jim, but not as we know it …

At the NCVO’s Annual Conference last week, Matthew Taylor led a thought provoking workshop on the future of membership.

Working with membership organisations quite a lot, we see all sorts of clients with various kinds of stakeholders at different stages in their lifecycle (birth, growth, maturity etc) and most are struggling to work out how to relate to (what they call) their ‘members’ in light of new technology.

One client recently described our work to help introduce web 2.0 as ‘giving the organisation back to its members’. Those that don’t understand what he meant are beginning to lose out, their old momentum, thought leadership and influence is seeping away to spontaneous new spaces – like online groups, wikis and open media.

In this way, open source disempowers traditional membership organisations but also nurtures new forms of social capital. I agree with the conclusion in the workshop that “membership as we know it” is seriously under threat – but I regard this as refreshing not depressing.

I wonder what happens to organisations after they get to maturity in that lifecycle model? Is there a further stage? Could they disintegrate, regenerate, or regroup? I see parallels with the classic Boston Matrix. It’s all rather interesting and I will be following closely the progress of the research project initiated by Karl Wilding and his team at NCVO.