Why We Need a New Professional Association: What Can We Learn From The Society for Prevention Research?

I have been part of a group that has been developing plans to form a new international professional association for environmental communication for a while now (for more info, see https://indications.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/developing-a-new-professional-association-for-environmental-communication-status-report-august-2010/).  As part of our work, we have been looking for other professional associations whose origin and development could form a model for us moving forward.

In talking with some folks in the health communication area, I have been directed to look at the Society for Prevention Research (www.preventionresearch.org), an association that is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2011.  As a reference point, this association was formed in the same year (1991) that the first Biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE) was held in Utah.

I have taken some time to look at various sections of their web site, and encourage you to do so as well.  I was particularly interested in “About SPR” (www.preventionresearch.org/about.php), which contains information about the orgin and growth of the association, and “Membership” (www.preventionresearch.org/membership.php), which contains information about the costs and benefits associated with becoming a member of the association.

It’s clear that the Society for Prevention Research provides a lot of value for its members, and also contributes to society in a variety of ways.  What are some lessons we can learn from this robust professional association?

1.  They organized first.  From the outset, a group of scholars made the decision to form a professional association, start recruiting members, raising funds, and building an infrastructure of participation (including a constitution, by-laws, and incorporation).  Forming an association allowed the group to develop leadership, expand its scope and functions over time, and apply for grants for conference support and other activities.

2.  They started small.  The initial group that formed the association numbered 19.  The first conference of the new association, held in 1992, had 25 in attendance, followed by 50, then 84.  By 1994, the association had 120 members, and current membership (as of 2009) is around 750.  

3.  They started with a research focus, then branched out to other professional and advocacy activities.  Clearly stated in the name and the mission statement, the association started with a focus on the production and dissemination of knowledge related to health and disease prevention.  Their early work focused on supporting an academic conference, collaborative grant activity, then a journal (Prevention Science, started in 1999 and published by Springer).  Over time, they expanded to include focus areas in early career professional development and issue advocacy, and developed activities and products to attract practitioners as well as academics.  But the principal focus at the beginning was in forming and nurturing a new interdisciplinary research area.

4.  They provide significant value for their members at a reasonable cost.  Membership in the Society for Prevention Research comes at a modest cost ($145 for regular members, $70 for students), and provides a host of benefits, including a journal subscription, access to newsletters and e-bulletins, discounted conference fees, inclusion in an on-line membership directory, and access to a members-only list-serv.   Membership dues support these activities, plus a web-based platform for promoting the association. 

5.  They just did it–formed a professional association that did not take away from other existing professional organizations or activities.  In 1991, a small group of academics decided to launch a new venture.  The new association grew slowly but inexorably, thanks to the enduring commitment of its members and leaders.  Now, 20 years later, the Society for Prevention Research is an international leader in the area, and plays a meaningful role in a variety of educational and policy venues.

I believe that the Society for Prevention Research provides environmental communication scholars with a clear roadmap to follow as we consider forming our own international professional association.  I urge you to visit their web site and see if you don’t agree!!

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About Steve Depoe

Professor, Department of Communication, University of Cincinnati, USA Editor, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (www.informaworld.com/renc)
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1 Response to Why We Need a New Professional Association: What Can We Learn From The Society for Prevention Research?

  1. James Atkins says:

    In the shorter term it would be great for there to be a facebook page for ECN. It’s quick to set up and can be a very useful gathering place for people.

    I would agree that formalising the ECN into some kind of professional association is a good idea as long as:

    – everyone promises not to be bureaucratic and political 🙂
    – it doesn’t say “ECN is/aims to be the leading/best/top/premium x in the world”
    – its ambition is moderate and modest
    – and it doesn’t create too many conferences which everyone travels to. There could be an online-only or local-only conference policy


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