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Imperative in Moments of Great Change

The previous issue of “Notes from the Second Floor” focused (pun intended) on the AIA’s Repositioning Initiative, a major project designed to retool and reorganize the organization so that it remains relevant to members and the profession of architecture. While AIA’s archives are brimming with past studies and recommendations promising to remedy the same issues, very little was ever implemented. Now, after one year of effort, some are asking if this project will have a similar fate: great ideas, but little improvement. Such cynicism is understandable considering the difficulties of change, and the broad expanse of legacy programming embedded within the AIA. However, there are several differences with this effort that, if properly managed, will enable the initiative to surpass our expectations, and position the profession as well as the Institute for a better future.


Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

The Repositioning Initiative has captured the interest and the imagination of volunteer leadership, members, and staff at all levels of the Institute. Consequently, component leaders and the members need to be routinely informed on progress of the initiative: information that is transparent, straightforward, and solicits member feedback. I appreciate that conventional practice regarding member communications is to expect members to visit the website for such information, but I think the importance of this project suggests that we be much more proactive. Instead, while web site information might be appropriate for communicating with the general membership, we should routinely communicate directly with component leadership and staff regarding progress. Besides, leadership communiqués are likely to include tactical and strategic information that would not be appropriate for general distribution.

Secondly, the Repositioning Initiative needs to remain a priority agenda item with the leadership, especially the AIA Board of Directors. Like other not-for-profit organizations, the AIA risks declining project momentum once champions’ term out as volunteer leaders and staff is redirected to new priorities. Additionally, as the economy improves, the urgency of this effort could slowly dissipate. If we let this happen, the resulting lack of attention will send the Repositioning Initiative to the AIA’s dusty archives. Only through the constant attention of leadership at all three levels of the AIA can the line between fatigue and reform be successfully navigated.

Similarly, this success of this initiative is also the responsibility of component executives. While component executives have widely applauded the Repositioning effort, real change will only be achieved with hard work by all of us, a willingness to examine the status quo, and envisioning and accepting a future that is likely to be much different from what we expect. Collaboratively, we can navigate the journey to achieve transformative change.

Lastly, within the context of transparency, project coordination needs to be centralized. Any endeavor of a not-for-profit organization requires a designated “project driver” to maintain priority, implement and coordinate strategic activities, respond to member and public inquiries, and package issues and opportunities for attention by the leadership. These responsibilities cannot be juggled with other staff duties. In order to maintain momentum and galvanize the organization, there is no substitute for transparency and accountability, even if it even if it means providing more resources to existing staff and hiring consultants.

We have taken the first step in repositioning the AIA and the profession. We chose this challenge. It is our expressed commitment to empower emerging professionals and our vision of a better future through a greater appreciation and understanding of the value of design that frames our resolve to make the goals of repositioning a reality.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
— Helen Keller

The next issue of “Notes from the Second Floor” will concentrate on suggested topics for the Repositioning Initiative. As always, I look forward to your comments—let’s keep the conversation—and our focus—rolling.


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Kent Mather

    Agree with your points 100%, Paul. Especially about proactive communications directly to the leadership and staff. Plus targeted messages directly to membership. Keep on rolling!

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