On the "Old" vs. "New" ACSM.



As a participant in the April 2002 retreat that purportedly “done in” the “old ACSM” in favor of the “new” version, I commend POB for sharing the communication between Gary Kent and Bob Foster on the issue (POB, January 2003). Both men argue eloquently with their hearts visibly on their respective sleeves, and my respect for both is sufficient enough to refrain from delving into the substance of their exchanges.

I would, however, like to offer a few observations from the margins of the discussions about the gestalt of the two-day session and its attempts—admittedly fitful, and perhaps even mostly subconscious—to factor in a “customer base” that is becoming increasingly aware of geographic information. While the majority of the discussions of those two days were centered on internal organizational and political issues, the customer base is the sleeping dog being gloriously ignored by all of the geoinfo provider organizations—not just ACSM.

When asked to be a part of the retreat group, I agreed with what probably seemed unseemly haste. The haste was occasioned by the credentials of the geo-professionals who’d already accepted, and my conviction as a customer rather than a supplier of geoinfo, that any change to the present array of competing voices, each claiming ascendency for some or another aspect of geoinfo, would be a change for the better. I am convinced that the new organization will afford a better chance for the consumer of geoinfo services and products to gain access to those goodies... a better chance, at any rate, than the “zero chance” outcome under the current ACSM structure.

Like it or not, the pace of today’s digital world is far removed from the “snail mail” world in which the majority of my fellow 48-hour reformers came to professional maturity. Although perhaps existing mostly in the comfortable reflections of geezerdom, the more stately pace of professional existence in the pre-digital era allowed for deliberations spaced over months if not years. Consideration of change could be accommodated from one annual conference to the next, with due time to consult with a wide range of individuals before acting on the proposed changes. Public administration junkies like myself refer to such a model as “rational/comprehensive” with all the attendant nonsense of hypotheses, data collection/analysis, analysis of alternatives to the present condition, yada yada.

The emergence of the digital world trashed that model pretty much right from the start. Tom Peters, well-respected management consultant/writer, summed up the change with a wonderfully compact, counter-intuitive mantra: “Ready...fire...aim.” Without belaboring that model’s contrast to the leisurely, even discursive pace of change implicit in the dying “rational/comprehensive” model, I want to suggest to POB readers that what occurred during the 48 hours is, in some degree, an implicit recognition of the advent of the digital world and its demand for what the Dean of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, so famously captured in his Peters-like mantra: “Faster and faster until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”

Having served for a few years on the ACSM Long Range Planning Committee and having seen the work of the committee fail to command the attention, let alone the interest, of the Board of Direction, it’s hard not to see the dynamics of the 48-hour session as an implicit repudiation of the aged decision-making process of the board. That the 48-hour participants included many of the officers, present and past, of the board in no way contradicts that observation. In fact, if what’s left of my memory serves correctly, there was more than one utterance along the lines of “we can’t do nothing.” This is hardly the stuff of noble aspirations, but at least a backdoor bow to the Peter’s “ready...fire...aim” mantra.

That’s not all bad. In fact, it may well prove to be downright healthy. Because the “New ACSM” is expected to be more agile in serving the MOs, it should also be able to better respond to the digital environment and its associated opportunities. That should especially [be] true with opportunities to partner with a broader range of entities than was possible under its previously ponderous organizational structure. Accepting both the “New ACSM” and the radically new digital world in which it must live requires a “leap of faith” on the part of its members—a leap that is not rational, not comprehensive, and maybe not even comprehensible. (“Leaps” are always daunting, particularly for the pre-geezers and geezers whose centers of gravity have gone south a fair distance! Once done, however, they invariable prove to be both invigorating and rewarding.)

Regardless of any new agility it may gain, I’m guessing that the success of the “New ACSM” will be more influenced by a situation effectively beyond its control... and that is the increasing awareness of geo-tools on the part of the public. Garmin’s recent announcement of the arrival of its two sub C-Note GPS units, the yellow and green Gekos, is only the latest salvo across the bow of the geo-professional ship-of-the-line; the day is very close at hand when such units will become “toys” or “entertainment” for those of us who are spatially-innocent. I don’t even want to begin to speculate on the mayhem that will result from that “tipping point.” Suffice it to say it will put the agitation surrounding the “New ACSM” well into the deep background, perhaps even to the point where it assumes that coveted mantle of “the good old days.”

One can only hope. In the meantime, “ready, fire, aim...and leap!”