President's Letter

In the coming 2012-2013 year, AAPOR's Executive Council faces a number of important challenges as we strive to continue to serve our members and our professions. Most of these concern the pressures and admirable desires to “grow” AAPOR versus the myriad “costs” of doing so.

For those of you who were unable or chose not to attend the annual business meeting at the recent annual conference in Orlando, I would like you to be aware that a very important issue was raised by more than one member in attendance at that meeting. 

The issue concerns the communication flow between AAPOR's Executive Council and the membership. The perceptions voiced were that AAPOR is governed with too much of a top-down approach and that the membership does not have enough ways to communicate easily to Council what is on their mind. As a psychologist, I also wondered if what was being implied was that AAPOR Council is not sincerely interested in what members think. If this latter is the perception of any member, I want to assure you that during my recent past years on Council, and those in the 1990s, that has never been true. Nor do I have any reason to believe it will be true in the coming year or ever. Council may not always agree with the some of the opinions expressed by members, but in each case it pays attention to those opinions and gives them reasonable deliberation.

However, this does not mean that AAPOR leadership always does as good of a job as it should in communicating our thoughts on matters that are brought to us by the members. To address this and other issues related to the communication flow between the membership and elected members of Council, I expect that very soon we will establish an ad hoc committee (made up of some members not on Council, as well as some on Council) chaired by AAPOR's Vice President Rob Santos. I would like this ad hoc committee to provide advice to Council by early fall, if not by later this summer, on additional modes of communication between members and Council that could be set up. In the interim, no member should hesitate to privately communicate her/his concerns, big or small, to me ( or to other Council members and/or publicly via the AAPORnet listserv.

In addition to the above matter, we also have heard from some members who are concerned about the financial costs of membership and of conference attendance. I want to assure the membership that Council will be giving a fresh look into these matters in the coming months. Whether costs can be reduced will wait to be seen.

Personally, I am not sanguine that we will be able to make most members who find the cost of membership and conference attendance too high happy. At least not unless we make trade-offs in (1) what membership in AAPOR provides to its members and/or in (2) how our conferences are implemented. But it is Council’s responsibility to identify these potential trade-offs and to apprise the membership of them. (Please note that it is far too late to make changes to the essential organization of the 2013 conference in Boston, and that AAPOR already has major constraints with conference implementation choices through 2017. These longer-term choices were made because it was decided they would help hold down escalating costs to members for several years into the future.)

Apart from the above, I told those present at the business meeting in Orlando that I would like to make progress on each of the following in my 2012-2013 presidential year:

  • The due diligence in which Council engages to well understand the cost implications of the various new programs (many of which are noble in their intent) being considered for implementation.
  • The need to rethink the level of the paid staff (and its configuration) that AAPOR needs from our management company, The Sherwood Group. Based on my 25+ years directing and managing major organizations in the academic and private sector, I believe we currently are understaffed and that this deficiency will grow if we try to increase the value AAPOR provides to its members and our professions.
  • In 2009, when serving as Councilor-at-Large, I started to voice the belief that more elected members on Council should serve three-year terms; (currently only the position of president-elect does). I came to this view in recognizing the complexity of what governing AAPOR has become (as opposed to when I was on Council in the 1990s) and that for most elected positions, a Council member ends her/his service just when s/he becomes expert in it. Our Governance Task Force in their March 2012 report suggested that we extend the length of service for the Treasurer/Secretary elected position to three years.
  • We already have a stellar periodical, Public Opinion Quarterly (POQ), and as has been announced, we expect to soon implement a new periodical, Journal of Survey Statistics and Methods (JSSM), which I believe will reach “stardom” within 5-10 years. The next few months, as we negotiate contracts for the future of these two journals, will be key to making certain that POQ stays a flagship journal and that JSSM becomes one in the coming years.
  • Much of what AAPOR does for members and our professions concerns “education” – very broadly construed. We can, and I believe we should, do more. But in investigating and deliberating about what additional educational programs we can and should implement, we must be certain we can support them financially.
  • The 2013 annual conference in Boston will occupy a lot of Council’s attention from now through next May. And this is exactly what should and will happen. Under Paul Beatty’s and Susan Pinkus’ leadership, I believe the 2013 conference will be as good for the attendees as any conference AAPOR has held.
  • To my mind, AAPOR and the professional domains it addresses are greatly under-valued by the world at large, including by elite decision-makers in the private and public sectors. I would like to try to close this gap in part by expanding our relationship with other major professional organizations with whom our interests overlap.

In closing, I would like to try to make certain no one misunderstand my concerns about costs. As a direct result of the leadership of Council and the considerable effort of its member volunteers and its staff, AAPOR has sound financial management, does not have budget deficits, and has built excellent reserves. But this is not to suggest that we have the amount of resources that will be required to implement many of the growth initiatives that Council believes will benefit our members and professions. Granted, AAPOR is not in business to make a profit, but without continued sound financial management, including finding new sources of revenue, I do not believe we will be able serve our members’ aspirations well.

The greatest assets that AAPOR has are its members and their collective intellects. We have an abundance of great ideas, many of which have yet to be formally pursued, but unless we stay financially strong we will either need to severely rein in our ambitions or we will fall far short of our potential to accomplish “good.”

Paul J. Lavrakas
AAPOR President 2012-2013