By Dave Lamie
Over the past several months I have been formulating a set of questions, or perhaps hypotheses, that I do not think can be answered fully without some serious effort to collect and evaluate data and synthesize the results. You see, as President of CDS, I can say something about the "State of the Society". I can say something about the organizations's fiscal health, our membership, and our ability to produce measurable outcomes like the Vanguard, the Journal, CD Practice, and our annual conference. I can read committee reports to learn about the depth and breadth of involvement of the membership in the life of the organization. I can observe who is willing to serve in leadership roles through the slate of officers we put forward. And, I can even see how many of you actually vote!
However, when I step back from the organization and begin to contemplate the well-being of the overall field of community development, I am not sure I can even fully visualize what should be measured, let alone have any confidence that I can easily lay my hands on appropriate data that will provide conclusive answers, or even good insights. In an age where I can strap a device on my wrist that will tell me fairly objectively how my body is performing, I find this troubling. You see, no single organization that I know of has taken it upon themselves to provide a "State of the Profession" report.
I can imagine having a community development "dash board" where the key indicators of well-being of the profession could be displayed both instantaneously and historically. If well-conceived and appropriately executed, such information could find a multitude of uses. Organizations like CDS could use it to make strategic decisions about how to best serve the profession. Students and student mentors could use it to help guide professional development activities. Service providers could use it to better design interventions or to target new audiences. Thought leaders and academics could use it to help re-direct the profession if they thought it important to do so. I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg, but already I think many will agree with me that having such information would be quite helpful.
Some of these thoughts are coming to me because I've heard some from within my own professional setting as a Land Grant University Professor and Extension Specialist that CD Extension programs are growing in many regions of the country, but shrinking in other regions. In many states in the Southeast (mine included), CD Extension programs are finding success in areas like local food system development where there are pretty strong ties to agricultural community and to the agriculture lobby --- within our administrators comfort zone. This is occurring while CD programs in other subject matter areas are seeing a diminishing role. The key thing is that we are bringing our knowledge and skills in community development into this domain. I am confident that many of you working in other professional settings are carrying on similar conversations about the future of the profession.
Over the course of the next few years, CDS will be likely be collaborating with other organizations in new ways, especially with the conference. This should present opportunities for us to learn more about what the future of the profession holds in store for all of us. Perhaps we ought to even consider encouraging some of our CD thought leaders and academics --- both young and less young --- to take on the task of reflecting on the question of "community development as a profession?" and sharing the results of their thinking with all of us at a conference or through journal articles. In the meantime, I encourage all to plan to register for the conference this year in Lexington, Kentucky where we can gather and at least informally begin to assess the state of our profession. By doing so, you will be contributing to the vitality of CDS as well as influencing, at least in some small way, the vitality of the larger profession.
Oh, Happy Spring!