By: Catherine Smith
IAP2 USA Board Member & Communications Committee Member
Think back to 25 years ago. It was 1992, an election year – Clinton, Bush, Perot. Our country’s population just tipped the 250 million mark instead of the 326 million we are now. Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go topped the bestseller list, and Murphy Brown, Cheers and Northern Exposure were playing on our TVs. No one had a smart phone. No one texted. Amazon and Ebay had three more years to go before launching online shopping. Friends were made in-person and over the phone, not through online social systems, not then, not yet. Around the world, the UN held the first Earth Summit in Brazil, where the US refused to sign the UN Convention on Climate Change and Biological Diversity. Bosnia declared independence, the European Union was established, and South Africans voted to end apartheid.
It was in this time when a few thoughtful people knew that an idea had reached its own time. That idea was that public participation was in its own right a field of practice, a worthy cause, and a specific set of values. They had the foresight to know that the need to engage people in important public decisions wasn’t a thing of the past; it was in fact an essential part of the future. On this insight, they created what we now know as the International Association of Public Participation.
This year we celebrate its silver anniversary, 25 years (first Portland Conference was 1992). In those 25 years, this point of origin dramatically grew from one organization into a global federation with affiliates—like the USA’s—around the world. IAP2 USA was established in 2011. By then we were texting, shopping online, and making new friends in new ways. It’s now just six years later, 2017, and the IAP2USA is over 1000 members strong. Our members are in 40 states in nearly 200 cities across the country. We are partnering with leading institutions and organizations to make quality public participation a cultural norm. There’s work to do, but we are a strong community and a home to like-minded people who know that input can improve decisions and much more.
None of us have a crystal ball to know what 2042 will look like for our golden 50th anniversary since the organization was founded. But we do know that our country will be in a better place because of each of our efforts today to bring quality public participation into the realm of our colleagues, agencies, institutions. Better decisions made together can only lead to a better future than without it.
We thank the pioneers of the past who had the foresight to know it was time to organize this association. We welcome the pioneers of today and the future who will continue to grow the practice, stand for our Core Values and Code of Ethics, and meet the challenges of the day in a way that demonstrates these values and ethics in action. We are proud of the work you’re doing to create that better future and we are proud of what we collectively we stand for.
We’ll keep up the good work here, you keep up the good work where you are, and together we’ll create something not just great but for the greater good. We encourage you to join us in Denver, Colorado for the North American Conference and to participate with us in a range of activities — trainings, webinars, certification, and regional chapters — throughout the year