Response to Letter to the Editor

Development Monthly | #8 March 2022 | Response to Letter to the Editor

Colin Ferguson

Executive Director,

This is a response to last month’s ‘Letter to the Editor’ by Jonathan Dempsey., which can can be viewed here.

Dear Jonathan,

Firstly, I would like to thank you for the candour of your letter. As you rightly point out, recent times have given us cause for reflection, and I believe reflection is only useful if we consider the uncomfortable questions. To avoid these can merely be an exercise in flattery.

The AUA’s Strategic Vision sets out three commitments:

  1. Empowering your career journey
  2. Improving your professional practice
  3. Supporting your professional development

Alongside these commitments, the vision also includes a fourth aspiration for Growth in membership and sector collaborations/partnerships.

I joined the AUA team as Executive Director just before Christmas, tasked with forging the way for the future success of the organisation whilst acknowledging the AUA’s 60-year heritage. My vision is that the AUA is positioned to support the sector with a compelling purpose, identity and membership offer that our members can be proud of and attracts greater diversity of membership from across the sector.

The work towards this has started. After an initial period of induction, I have begun a strategy development process, which should take 6-8 months to complete and focuses on four key phases:

Phase 1 – analysis of the current position;

Phase 2 – defining the future state;

Phase 3 – implementation planning (to include identity and brand);

Phase 4 – delivery and evaluation.

A key tenant of the first phase is understanding what our membership (and potential members ) think, and so, I hope that your letter will have prompted others to consider what is working and what is not, as you have done. We will be proactively seeking these views.

On the issue of the name, this is up for grabs. The trustees have given their support for this to be reviewed as part of this strategy development process. It’s important that our name reflects: who we are, why we exist and what we do. Whilst there is some affection for the initialised AUA, the full title falters somewhat as it fails to capture the full breadth of who we are. We will be seeking thoughts on this very topic as part of Phase 1 of the strategy work, and I am keen to see the thoughts that your challenge to the readership provokes. Answers on a postcard, please – suggestions can be submitted here.*

Now to your second topic of discussion – if I have understood it correctly, boils down to the questions:

  1. Who are we?
  2. Do we stand for something?
  3. Do we take a stand on issues that matter to us?

On the first of these, we need to define this as the association evolves. Then, knowing who we are will help us determine what we stand for. The search for identity is not straightforward, nor is there a single answer; ask ten people to answer this on behalf of the AUA, and I’m pretty sure we would get ten (at least slightly) different answers!

On the third question, I am certain that we must ensure that our association promotes diversity and a sense of belonging; we cannot be proud of an association that falls short of this. As an openly gay man with a disability, I have experienced the best and the worst of this: where words and website are seen as a box ticked, and conversely, where the diversity of experiences and identities is accepted and celebrated. We need to understand what the experience is for our members and the sector to help cultivate a sense of belonging. With the Board, I intend to establish a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board to help the AUA get this right and hold us accountable.

In short, Jonathan, I don’t think you are way off the point in your provocations. These are exactly the conversations we should be having, and these conversations should lead to meaningful commitment. I look forward to engaging with our membership as we define our next chapter, and I will, of course, provide regular updates.

Best wishes,

Colin Ferguson

Executive Director

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