As I write this first Spectra column since assuming the presidency of our association, I am humbled by the responsibility of undertaking this leadership mantle and exhilarated by the opportunity to serve. In the two years that I have had the honor of being an NCA officer, together we have weathered an extraordinarily challenging time. We have witnessed how the global pandemic has transformed our teaching, research, and service pursuits in higher education and communication practice as much as it has wrought lasting effects for our everyday lives. I plan to use my columns this year to reflect on these changes and initiate a conversation with you about our association and its prospects.
Ten years ago, in March 2012, Spectra focused on “The Future of Academic Publishing,” so it is timely that we take up this inquiry anew in this first features collection of 2022. Much has changed in the last decade with regard to the available outlets for our scholarship and the publication process. Quite strikingly, it also has been ten years since NCA undertook a comprehensive strategic planning process. In the last decade, not only have publication practices changed, but our association has experienced significant structural expansion, external outreach, and profound challenges. Consequently, I have chosen to focus my efforts as NCA President on the creation of a new strategic plan. As we begin this process to envision the future of NCA, our efforts must be grounded in the lessons that the last ten years offer to us.
First, NCA is a substantially different association than it was when our last strategic planning process took place in 2011, in regard to both our internal expansion and changes in our governance structure. Since 2011, we have added six new Divisions to our association: Activism and Social Justice, Communication and Sport, Communication and the Military, Communication and Aging, Game Studies, Public Dialogue and Discussion, and Economics, Communication, and Society. We also have added three new Caucuses: the Indigenous Caucus, the South West Asian/North African, Middle East (SWANA) Caucus, and the Caribbean Communication Caucus. These are exciting developments that demonstrate how NCA continues to embrace new areas of Communication teaching, research, and practice and seeks to expand access for diverse perspectives and voices.
During the last decade, NCA members also engaged in significant conversations about our governance structure. As each of these units has been added, the corresponding representative bodies also have expanded, such that our Legislative Assembly now has more than 150 members and our Nominating Committee more than 70 members. While several proposals to restructure the current legislative system into a Board of Governors were not adopted, continuous expansion does pose some significant questions about the function and process of some central structures that a strategic planning process should consider. Moreover, while we have expanded our internal unit affiliation choices, our overall membership has declined. Clearly, our strategic planning process needs to encompass initiatives to increase our membership, and we also need to continue to diversify our association.
Our governance structure also has undergone two important changes that expanded NCA’s Executive Committee. In our most recent governance documents adopted in 2017, the Affirmative Action and Intercaucus Committee became the Diversity Council–subsequently renamed the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council–and was elevated to equal status with the Publications, Research, and Teaching and Learning Councils, providing Executive Committee representation for its Chair. Following its approval by the Legislative Assembly in 2021, we will add a new Mentorship and Leadership Development Council to our governance structure, with its Chair also joining the Executive Committee in 2023.
All of this growth has been in response to member and officer initiatives and is evidence that NCA continues to evolve and change. As we look to our future, our next strategic plan will need to determine whether additional structural changes are necessary for NCA to continue to meet its mission and goals.
Second, in the last decade NCA has expanded its external outreach with new programs, media, and publications. Beginning in 2012, we initiated a series of Public Programs and, in 2019, we launched the Communication Matters podcast, with all past installments of both publicly accessible and archived on our website. We also substantially expanded our social media presence, founded a YouTube channel, created a digital format for Spectra, launched a new video series, and continued to develop the impressive array of resources that are available via the NCA website. NCA also gave our First Amendment Studies the new name Communication and Democracy to reflect a broader scope of scholarship, and we just approved our 12th scholarly journal, Communication and Race. As is evident from this month’s collection of Spectra features, there are many issues to consider in our strategic plan as we continue to expand our efforts to promote our discipline and our scholarship.
Our expanded public outreach also has included the creation of the NCA Center for Communication, Community Collaboration, and Change, which seeks to facilitate partnerships with community-based organizations that create sustainable change through the production and application of communication-related scholarship and practice. The first host institution funding was awarded in 2019 to the Department of Communication at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Several other outreach efforts have been undertaken by NCA in the last decade, including promoting internationalization, encouraging diversity and inclusion, and expanding our partnerships with affiliate organizations. As we look to NCA’s future, we will consider carefully these past priorities while also envisioning new directions.
Third, in the past several years, our association has engaged in significant conversations about its past exclusionary practices and our commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and access. Particularly marked by the publication of the article “#Communicationsowhite” in the Journal of Communication in 2018 and the “#Rhetoricsowhite” forum in the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 2019, our discipline engaged a reckoning around issues of discrimination, racism, and coloniality. These conversations reached a nexus for our association in 2019 with the eruption of the controversy over how NCA’s Distinguished Scholars were selected. Subsequently, our association initiated a series of efforts to address these critiques, including a change in how several of our association award committees are constituted, a comprehensive effort to open access to association leadership, editorship, and governance roles, and the appointment of an IDEA Strategic Plan Task Force that was charged to write a comprehensive inclusion, diversity, equity, and access plan for NCA. The IDEA strategic plan is now in its final stages of completion, but that is only the beginning, not the end, of NCA’s commitment to institutionalizing our IDEA principles. These significant, reflexive conversations and transformative actions must continue and be at the heart of our strategic planning.
This crucial process of envisioning the future of our association already has begun and will continue throughout 2022. At the November 2021 NCA Annual Convention in Seattle, the members of the Legislative Assembly devoted their Saturday session to discussing several questions, including:
- What would you do to raise NCA’s visibility as an organization?
- What difference do we want NCA to make and what should our priorities be?
- What initiatives should NCA undertake to support our members and our mission?
- In the two to three years ahead, what will be key questions we will have to face as a discipline?
- What roles would you specify for NCA in providing solutions to those questions?
- What changes will the organization have to make to optimize the creation of those solutions?
The perspectives gathered from these discussions will provide an important foundation for the next stages of our planning. Understanding our association’s culture, values, and priorities is essential, and will require the inclusion of multiple voices and diverse perspectives.
Please consider this as your invitation to share your thoughts and participate in this significant conversation. Undertaking a comprehensive strategic planning process is both daunting and exciting, but for me, it is especially the latter. I sincerely hope that you will feel that excitement as well! NCA has traveled far in the last decade by expanding our internal structures, initiating new means of outreach, and examining our values and consequent actions. We now have the extraordinary opportunity to explore what is most important to us, to envision new structures we can create to further our mission, and to work together to craft an association that is strong and vital. I encourage you to join me in this journey as together we chart the road to NCA’s future.