Larry, I have to ask why you think it is so important that the STC survive per se? Is it because it performs some vital function that will cease to exist if STC folds? Or is it sentimental attachment based on time sunk into it, long time association, and long standing friendships?
I’ve pondered that question for a while.
Of course part of the answer, for me, is sentiment. My experience with STC has been extremely rewarding. I don’t keep up with friends from high school or college, but some of my STC friendships are going strong after 20 or 30 years. In STC, I feel an incredibly strong sense of belonging. This is my tribe.
I understand, however, that most people don’t share that sentiment. And I know it’s not a reason for wanting STC to survive per se.
So is there, in Mark’s words, a vital function that STC provides? I think there are several — or at least there can be.
The role of a society
What’s the role of a professional society in a field where credentialling — that is, licensing — isn’t a legal prerequisite to participation?
Start with networking and information exchange. Several of the more recently formed communities, like LavaCon and Write the Docs, provide both of those. It’s because of that, I think, that people are questioning whether STC has become outmoded.
Yet a professional society ought to perform other functions as well:
Advocating for practitioners
A few years ago STC convinced the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to separate technical writers from other writers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. That might sound like a small thing. But it helped improve the way employers (including, notably, the U.S. government) regard us as practitioners. And it’s the kind of thing I don’t think any other organization is set up to do — with one possible exception, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Defining and compiling a body of knowledge
Whether certification catches on or not, there’s value to having a body of knowledge — a collection of resources that, by consensus, is understood to contain the things every practitioner should know.
Connecting academics with practitioners
Some conferences, journals, and societies exist to serve the academic community. Others are aimed toward practitioners. While far from perfect, STC attempts to attract and serve both academics and practitioners — and, critically, to engage both groups in dialog. The profession needs as much of that dialog as it can get.
Bringing in new people
Many — I’d say most — of the newer communities and events appeal to practitioners who are experienced and well informed. It can be hard for newcomers to break in and find their place. By contrast, STC’s chapters, as well as its Summit conference, provide an easy on-ramp — a way for newcomers to rub elbows with each other as well as with their more experienced colleagues.
One note: I’ve intentionally left tekom out of the discussion. tekom has surpassed STC in Europe, and it’s set up to perform many, if not all, of the functions I’ve ascribed to STC. Perhaps STC no longer has a significant role in Europe. In North America, Asia, and Australia, however, STC is still the primary game in town.
I’m not saying that STC is firing on all cylinders. I am saying that STC has the infrastructure and the institutional know-how to do things that other tech comm societies in most of the world simply aren’t equipped to do.
With effective leadership and with the support of its members, STC can be successful and relevant.
I hope it will be. Partly for sentimental reasons, of course. But also because it would be the best thing for the profession of technical communication.
Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments. Especially if you’ve held back after reading my last two posts, I’d love to hear what you think.