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Communication Across Three Centuries—with a Peek Ahead

1 May 2014 99 views No Comment
This year marks the ASA’s 175th birthday. To celebrate, the column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and—best yet—how you can get involved.

Contributing Editor
meyersJeff Myers joined the ASA in July 2012. He possesses 28 years’ experience as a communications professional in branding; public, media, and member relations; strategic planning; and consumer advertising. He is responsible for increasing the public profile of the ASA and its members, acting as a liaison between the ASA and media, and managing external communications.

The ASA, celebrating its terquasquicentennial, has been in existence for at least parts of three centuries. Not surprisingly, its communication methods today are markedly different and infinitely timelier than those employed by the organization’s founders in 1839. Yet, in the years leading up to its 200th anniversary in 2039, the ASA will use communication techniques that will be light years ahead of where we are today, providing the association new and more powerful tools to connect with its members and the public.

Then: ASA homepage in 2001

Then: ASA homepage in 2001

Looking Back 175 Years

Did you know the first committee the association’s founders created was the Publishing Committee (December 1839), which was established as part of the ASA’s constitution? This pragmatic decision addressed the need to communicate society news and advances in statistical science to the newly formed organization’s expanding membership. Today, a Committee on Publications representative serves on the Board of Directors, a change enacted to the association’s constitution in 1991.

The ASA’s first publication in 1847 was Collections of the American Statistical Association (Vol. 1), a compilation of the nascent society’s papers. Presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the publication was destroyed by an 1872 fire (and reissued in 1960 via micropaque reproduction of the original papers). From 1847 to today, the association has issued hundreds of publications—for example, Statistical Science: 150 Years of Progress, published in 1989.

Today, the ASA publishes or co-publishes 17 professional journals (the oldest—the Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA)—was founded in 1888 under a different name; the newest—Statistics and Public Policy—was added last November) and three magazines: Amstat News, CHANCE, and Significance (the last jointly with the Royal Statistical Society since 2010). As an aside, JASA always has been the ASA’s flagship publication. The American Statistician was first published in August 1947. Amstat News was created as a member newsletter in 1974 and became a magazine in January 1998.

Today, 17 of 74 ASA chapters (23%) and 14 of 27 sections (52%) publish or jointly publish member newsletters. Also, the Philadelphia Chapter, Washington Statistical Society, and Business and Economics Statistics Section each have a Twitter feed.

Following are several other communications firsts the ASA has marked since its 150th anniversary in 1989:

  • The ASA begins using email (1991)
  • Internet Day is held at JSM (1995)
  • The first website is unveiled (1996)
  • Journals become accessible online (2001)
  • The JSM program is posted online (2003)
  • The first webcasts of JSM plenary sessions and distance-learning webinars are conducted (2007)
  • The ASA Community is launched; many sections, chapters, and committees communicate with members using this tool (2009)
  • Facebook and Twitter presences are established (2010)
  • The Biopharmaceutical Section initiates podcasts (2012)
  • The first nationwide public relations campaign is launched (2014)

Looking Ahead 25 Years

For this article, I polled 10 ASA volunteers and staffers to get a sense of how communications will evolve over the next quarter century. Following is a sampling of their thoughts:

  • Megan Murphy, editor of this magazine, predicts the power of social media will grow: “It is an effective tool to get the message out about statistics to the public—and members. It also is a tool for members to use, as much as for the association.”
  • Amy Farris, ASA marketing director, agrees: “As today’s social media … becomes social media 3.0 and beyond, we will find our members connecting in ways we could only imagine.” She adds that members will expect the ASA to engage them whenever and wherever they are gathering.
  • Christy Chuang-Stein, 175th Anniversary Committee chair, foretells a world in which learning will become more personalized. “Podcasts will be the medium by which leaders communicate to their teams and by which important information is shared,” she adds.
  • Scott Evans, CHANCE editor, says the growing appreciation of statistical thinking will magnify the importance of the ASA’s communications, adding, “These activities must adapt with evolving technologies with more online, alternative, and interactive media.”
  • Eric Sampson, ASA journals manager, says the journals will continue to be a primary outreach tool. “As online delivery becomes increasingly prevalent, the ASA’s journals will integrate more functionality and interactivity,” including functionality that will empower readers to create custom journals.
  • Kathleen Wert, ASA meetings director, says education and networking remain the top two reasons for meeting attendance, but changes in delivery of these goals are growing every day. She thinks hybrid meetings—a combined in-person event with a virtual, online component—along with a general increase of technology at meetings will become the standard.
  • Ron Wasserstein, thinking only as the executive director can, says, “I anticipate in the next quarter century we’ll need to continually plan and re-envision our strategy to continually improve how we communicate and engage our members.”

I end with my prognostication, which goes a little further. I think communication will make a super-quantum leap forward in the coming 25 years. Over the last two decades, the Internet, email, and social media have revolutionized communication, especially direct communication, more so than the two preceding centuries combined. The race is on to develop the next cutting-edge communications medium: virtual meetings. As Internet speeds increase and computing power grows, interactive virtual events will replace many in-person meetings, making it easier for more members to participate in ASA events and to volunteer for a committee, chapter, or section. It’s not if, but when, this future level of social media occurs and your avatar is networking at an ASA activity.

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