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Seven Reasons Why A Membership Model is the Best Way to Get to Open Standards in Education

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Yesterday we released the IMS annual report for 2012. Knock on wood, IMS has experienced seven years of steady growth. We have been very lucky in many respects, but it has been the steady support of the members and ability to change of the IMS staff that has made this growth possible.

There have been MANY headwinds along the way. A close second in that list - second only to what I'll call "jealousy" of several other failing organizations in this space that have attempted to dissuade support of IMS by completely misrepresenting what we do and how we do it - has been a knee-jerk reaction of many organizations of being negatively predisposed to joining "yet another" organization/paying membership dues. Memberships is one of the first things to be scrutinized and cut in any well-managed organization. And, there is good reason for that. In my days at Collegis I was the one doing the cutting!

Quite frankly, in IMS we are open to any model that works. By "works" we mean that actually provides the means to enable a high quality open platform - owned by none, but implemented by all - that education needs so desperately to focus investment on great products and innovation. And, in this post I'm going to tell you why we have concluded that a membership model is the best way for all concerned to achieve this.

1. Membership dues to IMS result in something of tangible value getting created - something that if done right provides huge value to the industry. IMS is truly evaluated on its ability to effect change in a very tangible way. The membership dues to many organizations are typically providing access to some amount of networking or reports that are published - reports that typically never vetted over time to see if their advice were correct or not.

2. Because there are many/diverse members paying dues and contributing to the tangible product in #1, the resulting products are supplier neutral and bring value to an entire industry (note: how the organization is set up in terms of participation, work activities and approval is very important factor in achieving this). Note that a foundation or grant sponsored project does not provide the same sort of neutral product - regardless of how the work is licensed.

3. Members of substantial numbers will only support an entity that is providing a fair and neutral process to not only create standards, but to evolve and maintain them for the changing needs of the marketplace over time. Sooooo many business models are not sustainable. Membership models, assuming that the organization is responsive, can be.

4. Commitment to the standards and the process is critically important. Membership, if done correctly, brings commitment. The leadership of the organization are committed to serve the members and the members are committed to the joint work product.

5. Stakeholders of different types and sizes get an equal vote. If the membership organization is set up appropriately institutions, government entities and suppliers can work on equal footing even though they may be paying very different membership dues. They each get one vote regardless of what they are paying, thus allowing for broad participation and a high quality product.

6. Requiring skin in the game is a good thing. It is very difficult to achieve any of the prior five things without a true commitment from true industry leaders. Requiring payment of membership dues from participants that can (special accommodation can always be made for participants who might be under financial hardship), along with a legal membership agreement to adhere to the member-approved processes, is absolutely the best way to ensure that all the activity will result in actual market movement.

7. Commitment from members results in better ways to do things. IMS has made a very large number of changes over the last seven years. Just about all of those changes were ideas from the members. I'd like to tell you that we are organizational geniuses here at IMS and came up with all this ourselves.  But, the truth is that we just tried ideas that the members had and have kept the ones that worked. And, because this is an organization set up to serve the members, they can decide to take this in any direction that they think makes sense - a very important consideration given that standards are evolving from paper specs to reference implementations to who knows what?

During the last seven years we seen at least a half dozen standards activities in this space attempt to start and die. There are several other organizations and initiatives that are hanging on just barely in terms of needed financial support. One of the reasons that IMS began publishing the annual report was to provide transparency into how well our model was working. When we started publishing the report we had no idea that we would have seven years of growth ahead of us, and, there is no guarantee of growth from here.

But, if you're looking for an organization that is creating tangible change for the better and is clearly gaining momentum - and you are willing to understand that this is "not just another membership dues organization" - well, you have come to the right place! Myself and the IMS staff consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to wrk with the many individuals and organizations noted as key leaders in IMS in the later pages of the annual report.

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