Associations as Innovation Catalysts

Posted By: Donna Oser, CAE Blog, Industry,

The ASAE Research Foundation will soon release a new research report on associations as innovation catalysts. Becoming an Effective Innovation Catalyst delves into opportunities associations have to support their members' innovation efforts. As a Foundation Supporter, MSAE received early access to the report, and ASAE granted permission for us to share some highlights with you.  

Eight Roles of an Effective Innovation Catalyst

The research revealed eight possible roles for associations to help industries innovate. Which of the following roles does your association currently play, and which could it play?  

  1. Futurist: Identify and interpret emergent external/internal disruptive forces/drivers of change and associated trends in industry
  2. Truth Teller: Study, articulate and communicate the changing (new) narrative of industry driven by a driver of change
  3. Big-Tent Convener: Adopt a "big tent" approach to drive structured dialogue on the new narrative of an industry driven by a driver of change
  4. Innovation Incubator: Serve as the R&D engine for an industry and incubate potential solutions
  5. Implementation Partner: Remove barriers to the implementation of a solution in an industry through advocacy and other collaborative initiatives
  6. Rapid Action Force: Quickly assemble/deploy resources to help an industry cope with an ongoing crisis/challenge
  7. Best Practices Conduit: Employ existing initiatives to disseminate best practices in an industry to deal with a disruptive force or driver of change
  8. Learning Ecosystem Orchestrator: Build and lead an ecosystem for an industry to engage in shared, continuous learning.

Catalyzing Innovation 

The study found that 87 percent of participating association leaders indicated they had taken some actions to support industry innovation. However, they also generally acknowledged that their communities would benefit if the association took a more intentional approach to catalyzing innovation. 

 Among many takeaways, the research highlights four innovation imperatives: 

  • Make cultivating innovation a key part of the association's value proposition. 
  • Provide strategic direction to industry-innovation efforts. 
  • Make helping the community anticipate change as important as supporting adaptation to change. 
  • Invest in making innovation culture and capabilities foundational assets. 

For more association-proven strategies and practices of an effective innovation catalyst and to keep an eye out for the release of the full report, go to 

About The ASAE Research Foundation

The ASAE Research Foundation advances knowledge in association management and nonprofit leadership. It sponsors and conducts research in an array of areas, the breadth, and depth of which a single trade or professional association would likely not be able to undertake on its own. 

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