CSAE Trillium Knowledge Bites in the Big Room

By Rebecca Harris, CAE. Executive Director, Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth

Knowledge Bites in the Big Room was launched as an experiment at the 2018 CSAE Trillium Network Winter Summit in Niagara Falls. The idea behind this concept was to have a dedicated space during the Summit to develop connections, have conversations and foster in-depth discussions.

The space was organized into five main “pods” or groupings. One group acted as a centralized pod which was dedicated to three, pre-identified, formalized topics for discussion. The other four pods were left open for delegates to use to discuss topics of interest to them throughout the day.

The discussions during each of the three formalized Knowledge Bites sessions were focused on the future and how new ideas, technologies, and structures are impacting our organizations. Overwhelmingly, the focus of all the discussions was on change. New technologies are continuing to impact the way we work, communicate, and connect. These changes have caused us to test our assumptions. Many of us have similar questions about the future and what role the association sector will play.

In reflecting on the discussions, the conversations could be broken down into three main areas or topics of change.


Organizational leadership structures continue to trend away from hierarchical structures and towards flat or shared structures. What will this mean for leadership roles in the future?

One possible scenario is that organizations will move away from the traditional role-based position or job and instead focus on expected outputs. In some organizations, we are also seeing the fracturing of traditional CEO roles into multiple positions. How can we, as leaders, prepare ourselves for this future? We need to ensure that we are able to train, motivate, and coach future generations to fit into a more flexible organizational structure.


When it comes to people, many aspects of change need to be taken into account. We need to ensure we are engaging Millennials and other future generations, and we need to examine how technology has changed our engagement strategies.

One of the key takeaways from the Knowledge Bites session was that the focus should be on engagement. In the end, we are all the same and while our generation may impact the method of engagement we prefer (for example, phone versus), the key is that we still need to be engaged. As organizations, we should be using data to fully understand our members as individuals and customizing our engagements with them to meet their needs.


This leads us to the next area of change; customization. New and emerging technologies are making it increasingly easier to customize services, products, and experiences to create uniquely personalized relationships with members. We are continuing to see organizations focus on customized membership models in both the not-for-profit and for-profit spaces.

In the for-profit space, we are seeing organizations that were not typically membership-based embracing this model as a way to understand their customers/members and offer a custom experience. We have also seen the rise of the subscription model in this space. In the subscription model, the focus is on the curation of an experience for members. The experience of ‘unboxing’ adds an extra element to the membership experience. Organizations have found a way to capitalize on this by encouraging members to share their experiences online.

Events can also benefit from customization. Blended or ‘distributed’ events are one way to ensure that education is being provided across geographical lines while at the same time ensuring that members still have the opportunity to network in person. If an event can have components live-streamed to various ‘nodes’ or groups of members, we can provide a virtual and IRL (in real life) experience for our members at the same time. We can also utilize technologies such as geo-fencing, heat maps and beacons to customize event experiences, both for in-person tradeshows and for online experiences.

Often times in the association sector, we focus too much on sustaining innovation (making a product or service better) versus focusing on disruptive innovation (changing a current model by making it more open and thus attracting a broader consumer base). It is not always about improving our product, but the system in which it is offered. How do we make our products and services more accessible, convenient, and open for members and future members?

Knowledge Bites gave us the opportunity to discuss these and other issues, trends, and ideas in a focused manner. The sharing of ideas and exploration of concepts led to many great insights. These discussions are ongoing and I look forward to continuing to push boundaries to ensure that our organizations are ready for the future whatever it brings.

Rebecca Harris, CAE is the Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY) and has been working in the association sector for over 10 years. She is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and possesses an MA degree in Art History and BFA degree in Fine Arts. Follow Rebecca on twitter @beckymharris