News from the NEC

20 February 2018

ACA National President Kieran Wong reports on the outcomes of a packed two days of discussion at the ACA's National Execultive Committee meeting.  

The ACA National Executive Committee (NEC) meets face-to-face twice a year, in a packed two days of discussion.

The February 2018 meeting was no exception, and for the first time the branch presidents were joined by a second nominee from each branch committee (in line with recent changes to the constitution, which allow the NEC to invite additional branch members to NEC meetings as appropriate). This year the NEC was joined by Kate Fitzgerald (WA), Steve Pearse (NSW Vice President), Simon Thomson (SA) Robert Wesener (Qld/NT) and Stephen Cheney (Vic/Tas Vice President). All made valuable additions to the conversation and process.

The NEC covered a wide range of topics from membership to strategic discussions around the future of the organisation, and how best to manage and maintain our tools, resources and digital platforms. The discussion was, as always, underpinned by the question of how best to strengthen and enhance the delivery of services and resources to our members.

The financial position of the organisation has gone from strength to strength, with an increase in membership every year for the past five years across all branches. Through careful management of our funds, we have returned to members direct benefits in the form of free tools and resources, increasing events and engagement, advocacy and legal/IR advice while still maintaining profits at branch and national level.

Central to the ACA’s success is our ability to provide information, advice and resources digitally, and for our branches and staff to connect virtually, thereby reducing travel costs, and allowing agile responses to local and national trends. Our website was established in 2012, as a key platform of the Strategic Plan (2012–2017). It has become the go-to source of information on industrial relations and the business of architecture. The website is loaded with articles, information, business notes, advice and resources, along with downloadable templates, pro-formas and contracts. The sheer volume of information now available has resulted in sometime poor navigation and a lack of intuitive access to some of our data. Similarly, our webinar series has gone from strength to strength, with increasing numbers of participants across every branch. Remote log-ins now comprise almost two thirds of the audience. We have consistent requests from members for on-demand content, particularly from those working in regional and remote areas, and practitioners juggling family and other commitments alongside a busy practice life. The ACA is committed to developing solutions to provide ongoing access to recorded webinars.

Last year the NEC, recognised that the ACA requires a new Digital Strategy to bind together operational requirements, and to develop a clear road map for the design and implementation of digital interfaces for our membership services. For an organisation the scale of the ACA (essentially a small business, but with a national footprint) this is no small task. The NEC in February approved the engagement of a digital strategy agency to assist us on this journey, with a digital road map developed by June 2018.

The NEC also discussed the governance and operations of the organisation at length. We are privileged to work with an exceptional team of committed and experienced administrators and managers, consultants and advisors who assist with day-to-day management, membership services, sponsorship and editorial demands of the ACA. In 2012 there were around three part-time staff engaged by the ACA, now we have eleven. Our growth has been steady, and carefully managed, but the demands of operating at a national level have been a consistent challenge for the NEC. While we affirmed our core commitment to branch autonomy (both financial and operational), the NEC also acknowledged the breadth of tools developed, funded and maintained by distinct branches for the benefit of our national membership, along with the staff, consultants and advisors who develop, manage and deliver them.

Two key issues were addressed in length by the NEC. The first is the need to fund ongoing recurrent costs of the ACA’s digital ‘toolbox’ for members. Our aim for the next phase of the ACA is to maintain accurate, reliable and easy to access information supporting practices across Australia. To ensure this, we recognise that the resources developed over the last growth must be managed annually. The NEC agreed to develop a funding model that maintains the financial autonomy of each branch through capitations, but develops a branch contribution system for this maintenance budget. Critical to this is the Digital Strategy review, which will help ensure that all the tools we provide are managed in the most cost-effective manner, and provide genuine member benefit.

The second plank of this discussion was the agreement by the NEC to recruit a CEO, to lead the operational side of the organisation. The ACA is a grass roots volunteer organisation, and has relied on the branch committees and the NEC to do much of the heavy lifting on operational matters. We see this as a great strength of the group – with engaged members serving in each branch on issues that affect them directly. The NEC, however, agree that a CEO role will assist to maintain the growth of the ACA, provide operational control under the direction of the NEC, and allow for the continued success of the organisation.

These two elements, the national recurrent funding model and the role of the CEO have been ongoing discussions within the ACA since I joined the NEC several years ago. We have debated the merits and challenges of each strenuously amongst ourselves, and with our branch committee’s through discussion papers, and directly. Central to the success of the ACA is the lean and efficient governance and operational structure in place. We do not want either of these decisions to jeopardise the key factors in our success – volunteer engagement of members, direct development of membership tools, branch autonomy and national advocacy – but we recognise the critical need to invest in the future of the ACA, in its next stage of growth.

The discussion at the NEC will be communicated to the branch committees in the coming weeks, and I would love to hear our members’ thoughts on the future of the ACA. We are driven by the desire to support members in the Business of Architecture, and are committed to the effective and responsive delivery of resources and tools for you to run your practice sustainably. Please feel free to contact your branch president, or myself, if you have any thoughts, suggestions or ideas as to how the ACA can serve your practice better.

Kieran Wong is National President of the ACA and a director of Cox Architecture.