Last November, the FPA National leadership made its bombshell announcement that it was planning to dissolve its 86 independent chapters and nationalize them into a single consolidated entity. The new initiative, dubbed the “OneFPA Network”, was being rolled out under the auspices of trying to create better alignment and integration between National and its chapters… by literally integrating them into a single unit.
Yet while the FPA’s independent chapter structure arguably is a relic of a bygone era – when the association’s predecessor was first being founded, there were no computers or fax machines, so chapters had to be decentralized – the backlash from the membership was fast and fierce. Some raised concerns that the shift would amount to a power grab by National. Others suggested it could be a money grab for the cash in chapter coffers. Few trusted the way that FPA was unilaterally rolling out its chapter dissolution plan.
And so after a nearly-4-month “Listening Tour” for chapter feedback, the FPA has now announced “We Listened. We Learned. We Adapted.” And is rolling out a new second iteration of the OneFPA Network plan… that does not include a requirement for chapters to dissolve, and will instead begin to more gently “beta test” some of the integrated technology, accounting, and staffing initiatives. But only after a 45-day Public Comment period, that gives all stakeholders an opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns.
Yet while the second version of the OneFPA Network plan is certainly more palatable than the first, its “Participatory Governance” structure is literally not participatory governance at all (as it doesn’t actually give any governing and oversight power to its chapters in the first place), and it’s also sparser than the prior version on many of the key details, from what the Key Performance Indicators will be for the chapter beta test (and whether it’s even possible for the test to “fail” or if the OneFPA Network is still a fait accompli), to what the Master Services Agreement will be that the chapters must sign in the future (a key point of contention in the original plan), and even what the overriding goals and key metrics of success are for the entire OneFPA Network in the first place… so members can provide feedback on whether or not they believe the OneFPA Network really is the best path to making FPA more viable, strong, impactful, and relevant.
Though perhaps the greatest concern is simply that as a culmination of its Listening Tour, the FPA leadership observed that “Stakeholders want a greater voice”, “Better technology is required”, “Chapter autonomy is paramount”, and “Collaboration among FPA and its communities is needed”. All of which were actually previously cited in a key 2014 Consultant’s Report to FPA. Which, ironically, was used by the FPA to justify the OneFPA Network in the first place… despite now recognizing that its OneFPA Network proposal failed to achieve any of those objectives as stated 5 years ago (and still today).
All of which raises the question of whether the FPA is still jumping the gun by asking for feedback in a Public Comment period about how best to implement the OneFPA Network in the future… when the real question should be whether the OneFPA Network is the right step to take in the first place, what goals the leadership is really trying to accomplish, and whether there might be a better way to get the same results… without spending $1M of FPA’s cash reserves and thousands of hours of volunteer energy for an initiative that may not substantively solve any of the problems that FPA actually faces.
At a minimum, though, it’s time for the FPA National leadership to get clear and concrete about what their goals actually are, and how exactly the OneFPA Network may accomplish them. Or not. So if the FPA once again fails to grow as a result of the OneFPA Network, the leadership will at least, for once, be held accountable for its results.