ISOC Sphere Project

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ISOC Sphere Project - January 2008


A proposal to develop relationships with the ISOC chapters Developed by Anne Lord, Sr. Manager, Chapters & Individual Members


The ISOC 'Sphere' project is introduced as an activity that seeks to develop the relationships between ISOC Chapters and ISOC Global. It is a key component of the 'Chapter Development Plan', which is a multi-year strategic effort to develop the ISOC chapters into strong, effective and robust organisations that promote and defend the principles of the Internet Society.

The goals of the Chapter Development program are for ISOC chapters to be:

  • Active and well respected in their local community;
  • Working in partnership with local stakeholders to advance ISOC's mission;
  • Strong and engaged with their membership base;
  • Unified components of the ISOC 'family' working towards a common cause;
  • Working collaboratively with other chapters;
  • Delivering a clear and consistent message and image of ISOC.

Problem statement

Tension arises between groups when there are differing needs and expectations and a lack of communication and understanding. Relationships can become stressed and troubled when one (or both) party(ies) feels it is not being heard or valued.

Although a common purpose and mission unites ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters the relationship can be described as one where there is:

  • Sometimes an adversarial atmosphere between the parties;
  • A degree of disenfranchisation and lack of engagement of ISOC Chapters with ISOC Global and ISOC Global with ISOC Chapters;
  • ISOC Chapters working in isolation;
  • A small number of vocal chapters & larger number of silent Chapters;
  • Islands of activity with no connection to other parts of ISOC (be it other Chapters or ISOC Global).

An article by Nick Senzee, Scott Rosenke an Paul McMurray in 'Associations Now Magazine' highlights the importance of good working relationships between Chapters and Headquarters as a foundation for pursuing a common purpose (the full article is included under 'Suggested Reading').

Goal and desired outcomes

The goal of the ISOC Sphere project is to define and tune the relationships and the protocols for communication between ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters. The overarching goal is make the best use of ISOC's collective skills and talents to advance the organization and the mission of the organization.

This proposal is intended to diffuse current tensions and lead to the development of strong, trusting and respectful relationships based on well understood methods of communication and interaction. This project is therefore an essential foundation for developing the relationships with between ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters upon which the future work and collaboration of the Internet Society will be built. Interaction with ISOC Global

Desired situation

The desired outcome of the Sphere project is to develop relationships with the ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters such that:

  • Collaboration is clearly advantageous to all parties;
  • Relationships between and amongst the groups is respectful, mutually satisfactory and authentic;
  • There is effective interaction between the groups with a high degree of collaboration and synergy (we are not "islands");
  • Chapter representatives are engaged and participating;
  • The roles and relationships of the groups are clearly differentiated and each knows what to expect from the other;
  • Chapter roles are understood and responsibilities taken up.


The ISOC Sphere project is a modular activity as laid out below. Please note that the exact nature of sessions and timing may change as the project unfolds.

Phase 1 – Information Gathering (timeframe 4 weeks)

The purpose of the 'information gathering' phase is to collect information about the fabric of relationships and the current patterns of engagement, specifically identifying what works well and what does not, with a view to identifying suggestions for improvement.

Representatives of ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters will be invited to participate in the following:

  • Information gathering: phone conversations with ISOC Global representatives
    • Note: the information gathered is not confidential – it can be used, and shared with other participants, on an unattributable basis. This allows trends and common themes to be identified, surfaced and accompanied with the full flavour of the original language. However if participants wish to claim confidentiality on parts of the conversations, this will be permitted.
  • Information gathering: phone conversations with ISOC chapter representatives
    • Same note as above.

A summary report will be produced for the Executive Team to review (timeframe 2 weeks). The purpose of the summary will be to provide ISOC Global with an opportunity to review the content from the information gathering phase.

Phase 2 – Develop and explore themes that have emerged

On-line virtual meetings supplemented by face to face group dialogue will be used to progress the themes that have emerged from the interviews. (Presence at face to face sessions voluntary).

The purpose of the meetings is to focus on tangible outcomes in the form of progressive steps to address the issues raised during the phone conversations. This is a key element of developing the relationships with the Chapters.

Actual content for the sessions is dependent upon the themes that emerge from the phone conversations. A very broad and typical outline for a session would be as follows (this may be modified to suit the virtual meetings):

  • Setting the scene
  • Desired outcomes
  • Exploring and developing the pattern of relationships in the group
  • Identify emerging themes
  • Interaction in small focus groups
  • Identify the group's resolve
  • Identify progressive steps
  • Launch project teams (if applicable)

Dates suggested for the face-to-face meetings are around regional gatherings:

  • LACNIC (May 26-30),
  • AFRINIC (Jun 1-6) and
  • ICANN Paris (22-26 June)
  • AP region to be determined

Note: outcomes from the first and subsequent sessions will be incorporated into later sessions so that there is continuity.

Phase 3 - Progressive steps for ISOC

  • A program of follow up will be agreed which will include agreed tangible activities with a phase for reporting back and mechanisms for monitoring progress and giving support.
    • Once a month, for a 3 month period, it is suggested to have a follow up teleconference. This may be adapted as necessary.
  • There will also be a survey to measure how 'we are doing' in one years time.


The measurables for the success of the project are as follows:

  • An increase in the number responses to requests for input or feedback by chapters
  • A decrease in the number of complaints about ISOC Global and a corresponding increase in the number of positive comments or feedback
  • An overall increase in chapter activity
  • Increased chapter to chapter collaboration

Suggested Reading

1. Open Sphere:

2. Spherical Configuration of Interlocking Roundtables:

3. Chapter Psychology 101


Relations between a parent association and its chapters can strain easily, but these problems typically aren't rooted in policy—they're a result of stubborn leaders on both sides of the relationship. Making an effort to understand how your mindsets relate and differ—and talking openly about it—can make all the difference.

By: Nick Senzee, Scott Rosenke, and Paul McMurray

If you want to pull your hair out when your chapters don't see eye to eye with you, consider this: The key to cooperation is letting go of control.

The give and take between national organizations and their components is always a cause for concern among association executives. Some organizations are skeptical about the value that chapters provide, and some have even decided that chapters aren't worth the hassle. Don't get out your axe just yet, though. ASAE & The Center's Component Relations Section is currently studying the return on investment that components provide, and early indications are that components offer a quantifiable return to associations.

"Our research suggests that members who are engaged in components are more likely to renew," says Peggy Hoffman, an association manager and consultant on components. "Some associations also point to increased sales, registration, and greater volunteerism through components."

So how can we keep our chapters happy, functioning, and communicative? The first step is to understand where our constituent organizations come from. Staff at national headquarters have a very different perspective on what a state chapter should do as compared to the chapter's volunteer president, who runs the day-to-day activities of her chapter while holding down a day job.

The concerns of a national association are broad:

  • Big-picture approach that is often theoretical;
  • Large organization that is relatively resource rich;
  • Comprehensive approach;
  • Organizational answers;
  • Need to change;
  • Need to control processes;
  • Paid, professional staff;
  • Dues, fees, and revenue concerns;
  • Drive for growth;
  • Constantly evaluating whether affiliates are worth the headache.

Meanwhile, a chapter's mindset takes a narrower focus:

  • Local, regional approach that is often concrete and task oriented;
  • Relatively few resources, as it may be a small, even tiny organization;
  • Board members accountable to membership;
  • Need to support local concerns;
  • Volunteer driven or minimal professional support;
  • Constantly evaluating whether the relationship with national is worth the headache.

If we as association leaders are going to successfully resolve concerns at the local and regional level, we need to realize that our local and regional leadership—whether paid or volunteer—has a wealth of insight that merits attention. We'll get a lot farther by listening than by attempting to get results by fiat.

Taming Our Inner Control Freak

Every good organization manager knows that to be successful you have to establish control over your business processes. The paradox of component relations is that this tendency to control things works against us, because we're suddenly dealing not just with processes, but with people. Attempting to control people is not only ineffective, it actually decreases our influence. So it's a conundrum—what makes us successful in one area is a liability in another.

When chapter leaders' reactions are ignored or downplayed, the price is usually heavy. Headquarters stands to lose not only its chapters' loyalty but also volunteer expertise, commitment, and motivation. The result is that chapter leaders will be much less eager to add a request from national to their to-do list. The fruits of a good relationship—volunteer time, weekends doing organizational work, championing the organization before local stakeholders—might suddenly go missing. Leaders may begin to ask questions like:

  • Why do we care what national thinks?
  • Do they care that they are taking resources from our core activities?
  • Does the chapter's performance mean anything to the national office?

Psychologists say that the need to control is often driven by underlying anxiety or insecurity. It's not surprising, then, that association leaders at national headquarters might try to exert too much control. It can be a great source of anxiety to deal with 150 different chapter boards—a total of 1,200 people who are constantly turning over, year in and year out. Add to that different statistics for membership, local stakeholders and issues, and the occasional bit of interpersonal drama, and it's enough to bring out the control freak in all of us.

Hoffman points out that there are a few valid reasons for national headquarters to feel they need this kind of control. Associations have to protect their own interests—their brand, their financial health, and their legal standing. And most have put rules and penalties in place to defend themselves. However, Hoffman says, "The reality is that if you have to enforce a penalty, you've lost." She compares this kind of policy to a prenuptial agreement—only present in case the situation becomes irreconcilable.

Unfortunately, quite a few leaders focus more on the rules than on the volunteers. They may react to their chapter leaders like genuine manipulators—barking orders, demanding reports, wanting results now. The targets of these actions hear, "You're incompetent" and "I can't trust you." By damaging relationships with their local leaders, these organizations end up with precisely what they wanted to avoid—diminished influence. And over time, they'll probably end up with a fragmented community as well.

National leaders with a tendency to control need to remember another key fact. In many, if not most cases, national organizations' chapters are independently incorporated entities. But often national leaders act as if chapters are serfs on the feudal estate. Linda Chreno, CAE, administrator for a regional chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization, says that although her chapter's relationship with national is generally good, "Each chapter is 'independent' until it comes time to do something—and then the pressure is placed directly on the volunteer leader."

Communication, Not Control

The solution to the control freak problem is simple but powerful: Don't set out to control. Set out to communicate. Dialogue lets both sides become engaged and enjoy working together. Although it's tough to make time for dialogue, it's necessary, so that when it's time to solve problems, we have all the data necessary for the decision—both factual and emotional.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants has a robust component support system through which the organization invests in its constituent organizations to facilitate a relationship of trust. Cheryl Kasunich, COO of the organization, says it's important to influence chapters, as opposed to attempting to control what they do.

"You inadvertently create a parent-child relationship, which is the last thing you want," she says. Instead, "You want a peer relationship that will allow chapter leaders to respect your expertise. You can't have that if you're always telling them what to do."

There are broad-based reasons why this ability to influence is important, but Kasunich says one area where the rubber hits the road is when it's time to work on state legislation. "As a national organization, we have a voice at the federal level. At the state level, leaders need to be able to speak for themselves, but ideally they will be consistent with the national message." Bad relationships don't facilitate this kind of consistency.

For Kasunich, the issue of relevance is an important one. "A national organization maintains a good relationship with its chapters by remaining relevant to them. If, through honest feedback from chapter leaders, a lack of relevance comes to light, the national organization needs to self-examine, as opposed to telling its chapters to change what they're doing."

Hoffman says she finds too often in her component consulting work that national headquarters isn't flexible enough. "We award chapters on how many things they did—not whether they were the right things," she says. According to Hoffman, the best situations are found where both parties honor flexibility and the ability to accommodate different stakeholders. She suggests that headquarters "let groups pick what their focus is and grade them on that."

Keeping chapters engaged in open communication and minimizing their resistance is a critical skill for association professionals. Leaders at headquarters need to realize that without relationships of trust built on mutual respect, they simply don't have the pull to even influence what their chapters do. A good place to start looking at this phenomenon is the quintessential chapter/national disagreement about what chapters have to report to national organizations and why. Chapters from organizations across the board—and across the world—exhibit real resistance to inflexible reporting procedures.

Randy Barlow, one-time vice president of the international chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says that the reporting process he was asked to comply with was symptomatic of a formality and lack of flexibility that was foreign to the chapter's processes.

"Headquarters didn't seem to understand that not every group could respond to its needs like it wanted," Barlow says. The chapter was run by busy volunteers in an international setting, and board members were doing their best. Barlow tells a story about the reports national wanted filled out. "They were on issues like diversity, EEO, all kinds of uniquely American standards." When Barlow segmented out the numbers for his American citizens, he says, "We got pushback from national. They told us we were putting them in jeopardy and the world would come to an end."

According to Barlow, his chapter's mission and raison d'etre was different from that of the national organization. "Differences in licensing and CEUs, work environments—all these were different for us than for other chapters." Barlow felt that important issues for the chapter were perceived as small by headquarters. Fortunately for everyone involved, a concerned vice president from national was effective at keeping the chapter in the fold.

Barlow says, "She was good at listening. She gave a strong message that it was OK to be different and to voice it. Even if we couldn't get our needs met, we were a part of the conversation and we felt understood." Barlow goes on to say that this staffer "wouldn't allow conversations to get into either/or situations. She would keep working the conversation so that both of us—the chapter and national—could come to mutual agreement."

This national leader kept her chapter engaged by maintaining the focus on mutual purpose—what headquarters and the chapter had in common. Mutual purpose is the reason volunteer organizations exist, and yet too often we lose sight of this big picture. When we keep our common goals in sight and show that we care about our chapters' challenges, we build an emotional bond that serves us well when differences, demands, and change threaten our working relationships.

Nick Senzee is assistant director of constituent organization resources at the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Scott Rosenke, Ph.D., and Paul McMurray are principal partners of Insight Management Consulting, Kansas City, Missouri. Emails:,, and

Appendix 1

Geodesic dome


The visual representation is of a geodesic dome where the forces of compression and tension are equally distributed over the whole structure. It is the only man made structure that gets stronger as it gets larger and the inter-connected elements are highly dependent on one another and working together.