Traditionally, “community” referred to where you lived: A town, a village or a neighborhood. It was a term that implied geography.
Now, however, the word “community” has taken on additional meaning: Common culture, common history and shared heritage.
AAPG, as an organization, is dedicated to science and community. In the October President’s Column you’ll recall that Elected Editor Mike Sweet discussed science and our challenges in the technical arena.
As vice president-Sections, I deal mostly with “community.”
AAPG is a “member-led” society, and in the United States our community is the Section – and some of the parameters of Sections’ structures are tricky.
Like the traditional use of “community,” members are grouped into Sections based on geography. You either tell us where you want to belong, based on your membership in a local geologic society, or you are placed in an area based on where you live.
But unlike other entities such as Regions or Divisions, Sections really are not part of AAPG. Each Section is an independent corporation and runs its own business.
For example, when the Southwest Section holds its convention next year in Abilene, Texas, it will take all of the financial risks and, in turn, garner all of the reward (if any). There is no AAPG safety net if anything goes wrong.
While some Sections have thrived and grown over the past several years under this model, others have struggled.
I have attended great conventions in all of the Sections during my term as vice president, but each Section is faced by the same challenges as AAPG as a whole: changing member demographics, diminishing sponsorships and declining attendance. These issues are exacerbated by near-critical problems in the smaller affiliated societies, located far from major population centers.
Those additional challenges put a great deal of stress on each Section’s business structure, they skew representation within the Sections and they limit potential convention sites.
I work mostly with engineers. While they are some of the smartest people I know, I occasionally am struck by the unwillingness of some to think “outside-the-box.”
On the other hand, creative thinking seems to come naturally to geologists.
So leave it to some very creative geologists to put forward interesting solutions to address our issues. What all of these solutions have in common is expanding the concept of “community.”
The Mid-Continent Section, faced with the prospect of only three cities able to host Section conventions, generated the brilliant idea of the “Field Conference.” In every even-numbered year, a field conference is hosted by one of the smaller affiliated societies, and on every odd-numbered year the Mid-Continent Section hosts a regular convention in one of its “big three” cities.
The field conferences, incidentally, have been great successes. They regenerated interest in local areas throughout the Mid-Continent – and of equal importance, have been successful financially and in terms of attendance.
They embody the concept of “community.”
Other creative solutions were generated during a joint Sections/Regions workshop held at the recent AAPG Business Meetings event in Houston. At the meeting – co-chaired by Peter Lloyd, vice president-Regions, and aided by AAPG staff Section and Regions manager Carol McGowen, leaders of the Sections and Regions agreed that there were issues that could more easily be resolved with better cooperation and sharing of “best practices.”
We have set-out to make this cooperation a reality.
We also created a new SIG (Special Interest Group) called “Local Group Support,” whose purpose is to gather a group of experienced members, worldwide, who could help support a convention, conference or workshop.
Support could range from finding content experts for a struggling technical committee to supplying expertise on hotel bookings, social events or sponsorships.
Victor Vega stepped forward to lead this new SIG and is looking for members to join him from both Sections and Regions. Contact me if you have experience in these areas and are interested in joining the Local Support Group ([email protected]).
Finally, expanding on the concept of “community,” the creation of SIGs now give us the ability to form groups to pursue shared interests beyond science. We have all attended networking events. But in my experience, the best events for getting to know other geologists are social events. We now can form SIGs at the local level for those of us who like to shoot skeet, go rock-climbing, run marathons, have wine tastings, or even enjoy hockey.
Other initiatives in the discussion stage involve ways of more closely linking goals and objectives of affiliated societies and Sections with those of AAPG.
What do these groups have in common? Membership challenges? Support for unemployed and under-employed members? Running profitable events?
These discussions are continuing in the Executive Committee and in the Section leadership teleconferences.
The structure of AAPG may seem to adhere to rigid, geographic borders, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our inherent strength as a member-led organization gives us incredible flexibility.
♦ We now have the ability, through SIGs and TIGs (Technical Interest Groups) to form groups with a veritable smorgasbord of offerings and link them directly to AAPG.
♦ We now have a vehicle, “Local Group Support,” to bring worldwide experts to bear on local problems.
♦ We now have concepts to help generate regional interest in local societies, such as the Mid-Continent accomplished with field conferences.
I look forward to hearing more new ideas to help us become a better community.