The AASW report card: treading water

It would have slipped under the radar of many- but the AASW has a strategic plan (Strategic Plan 2014-17). With some delving you can find it on the AASW website. And so what better way to assess the performance of the AASW than via its own strategic plan, both for what it does and doesn’t target, as well as how it has performed so far against those targets.

Strategic Goal 1 is “to be innovators in knowledge, skills and actions for social workers”.

For this goal, the AASW lists eleven measures on which to judge its performance, three for accreditation reviews, seven for CPD, and one for coaching and mentoring.

The three university accreditation measures are,

  1. 100% compliance with annual calendar of university reviews
    My comment- This a core function of the AASW, not an innovation or improvement!
  2. Regular participation in forums with our stakeholders
    My comment- This is meaningless without specifics (what forums? What stakeholders?), and in any event a baseline expectation of any sensible organisation.
  3. 80% satisfaction of framework with stakeholders including Heads of School, students, field educators, employers.
    My Comment- Well intentioned, but again meaningless without specifics. 80% of whom? About what?

The most important measure, the ASWEAS review is not mentioned. Sadly, the parameters of this review are, in my view, so limited that they nibbles around the edges of current practice, when genuine innovation is needed. If there have been submissions that are paradigm shifting, we may never know, because the AASW is (at this point) not publishing submissions.

The seven CPD strategy measures are,

  1. Member consultations conducted by December 2014.
  2. Employer consultations by June 2015.
    My comment- I would like to think that both these happened. If anyone can point me to the evidence, I will link to it and acknowledge it here.
  3. Policy and initial curriculum developed by December 2014
  4. National Office develop content and pilot SWOT program etc
  5. Each Branch develop and pilot one CPD activity that contributes .. to SWOT content.
    My comment- The SWOT resources look good. Clearly a lot of work has gone into SWOT. Well done to all those involved. I hope the current survey results are made public so that we can a sense of membership views on how SWOT can be improved.
  6. Three social work practice papers per year, which promote contemporary and advanced practice
    My comment- The AASW has done some excellent work in converting the Bulletin into serving this purpose. The issues devoted to Health and Leadership had high quality contributions from experts in the field.
  7. One CPD partnership (with other professional organisation, private provider) developed by June 2015
    My comment- Am I the only member that feels uncomfortable about a CPD partnership with a private provider? Is it OK for a private firm to make a profit on our CPD needs when so many of our own members also provide training? Could we do more to build the capacity of our own members in training and marketing?

The one coaching and mentoring strategy is to,

  1. Develop a policy paper and a model on coaching and mentoring by March 2015
    My comment- This is a crucial need which is now well overdue! We have a skewed membership of many over fifties and increasingly many students. There is not enough incentive for student members to swallow the massive increase in post graduation fees without a direct supportive link to a mentor/coach. Why is it taking so long?

The lack of progress on mentoring is a major gap. My overall rating on Strategic Goal 1-Six out of ten.

Strategic Goal 2 is “to a strong voice for social justice, relevant and engaged with stakeholders”.

For this goal, the AASW lists fourteen measures on which to judge its performance- four on social policy position papers and media strategy, one on CPD marketing, four on stakeholder engagement, and five on self-regulation.

The four social policy position/media strategy measures are,

  1. Three Position papers and twelve Position Statements per year
    My comment- I doubt that anyone would be too concerned about the number of statements. Quality and relevance are the key issues. Our advocacy on refugee policy has been outstanding. And the quality of our other work is consistently good.
    In my view however, we must do more to comment on the rising tide of inequality in Australia. We have a strong grip on the inadequacy of welfare payments but, globalization, privatisation and unfettered free markets have led to an explosion in problem gambling, pay day lending, under employment of the unskilled, as well as rising costs for health and education and transport. The lack of robust response from the Labor party and other progressive organisations on these issues has left fertile ground for the rise of One Nation and other right wing groups.
  2. Two press releases per month and two other type of publications
  3. At least one publication in media outlet per month
  4. At least weekly updates and promotion of AASW in social media
    My comment- The AASW is certainly improving its performance in this regard, but the website paradigm is ‘one to many’ with the exception of SWOT.

The networking in SWOT is limited to a few groups and is centrally controlled. The architecture of the software is more a classroom than a forum. The aims of these networks and number of members is often invisible. The network that interests me (Green Social Work) appears to be inactive. We should have our own internal social media.
I am proposing a Linkedin/Facebook type function for our members to communicate with each other on a ‘many to many’ basis. Logging in to the AASW website would give you immediate access to your own page should you wish to have one, and access to the pages of other members who agree to connect with you.

The one CPD marketing measure is,

  1. At least one large employer to promote and purchase a package of SWOT CPD material
    My comment- The AASW sees this as a concrete measure of an improved reputation for high quality CPD. Whilst I have no problem with making a modest profit from our intellectual property, I do not see it as a measure of quality. Our members will be the best judge.

The four measures on stakeholder engagement are as follows,

  1. Strategy paper by March 2015
    My comment- I have no idea what this refers to?
  2. Conduct a member survey by June 2015
    My comment- I cannot find any reference to this on the website?
  3. To ensure representation at all Heads of Schools meetings
    My comment- Seriously? Turning up at a meeting to which we have a standing invitation is not a strategic measure!
  4. To develop an active project partnership with the Heads of School group
    My comment- If this happened, I would love to hear what it is.

The five measures on self regulation are,

  1. At least 3 employers in any state or territory actively recruit social work with the accredited trade mark
    My comment- This seems to me to show a fundamental misunderstanding of how employers operate in the human services labor market. I would be surprised if this measure is ever achieved. If I am wrong- please let me know and I will post it here.
  2. To have 10% of members using the collective trademark by 2014.
    My comment- Given our significant membership in private practice, this exercise in branding may have reached the target. Can anybody confirm?
  3. Actively contribute to the development of the National Alliance of Self Regulating Health Professionals (NASRHP) model
    My comment- It is one thing to develop a model, but the implementation of the model seems to be stalled because the Federal Government is not prepared to fund it. As I have repeatedly said we should proceed with this model as soon as possible, funding it from within the participating associations, including the counseling associations.
    The AASW is still pursuing the cause of registration via the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Ministers meeting. As I have discussed at length elsewhere, this is futile. Unfortunately the AASW has committed another $10,000 to the campaign.
  4. Complete NZ Mutual Recognition Agreement by July 2014.
    My comment- I am certainly in favour of ease of movement between countries. This recognition is done and dusted, driven by overarching issues in the Australia/NZ relationship.
    It is worth noting that the many holders of 3 year degrees in NZ have caught a lucky break, given the extra requirements that the AASW puts on holders of 3 year degrees from any other country. NZ social work has long recognised both 3 and 4 year degrees, and is now transitioning to exclusively 4 yr degrees.
  5. Active mutual recognition negotiations with one other country
    My comment- I have seen nothing about this. Can anyone help? Has the AASW chosen a country (or countries) to talk too? 

Summary for goal 2 on being a strong voice for social justice

Apart from developing and publicizing policy papers, I fail to see what the rest of these measures have to do with being a “strong voice for social justice”.

My overall rating for Strategic Goal 2- Five out of 10.

Strategic Goal 3 is “provide responsible governance and management of the AASW in partnership with Branches and National Committees”.

For this goal, the AASW lists nine measures on which to judge its performance; three for enhancing governance capability, three for having satisfied and engaged staff, and three for engagement between the Board, National Committees and Branches.

The three measures for enhancing governance and management are,

  1. Publish reviewed and updated policy and procedures by October 2014
    Comment. I have written extensively on the governance review here on my blog. Sadly many members were not exposed to the full arguments against some of the AASW proposals, and would have been puzzled by the tense environment at the AGM.
    I cannot recall an instance in the past few years where the AASW has published submissions for any review on its website. This is fairly common in other organizations. It stimulates discussion and debate during the review period and it promotes the kind of transparency that the AASW ought to be embracing.
  2. All Directors complete governance training within 6 months of election
    This is a baseline expectation of any sensible organisation. Nothing strategic about it.
  3. Review the Risk Management Strategy quarterly
    Ditto point 2.

The three staff measures are: completing performance appraisals for all staff, offering professional development opportunities to all staff, and having annual staff surveys and acting on them.

Comment. Frankly these measure are so basic to any organisation, they do not merit the description of “strategic”.

The three measures for engagement between the Board, National Committees and Branches are,

  1. Board to meet at least annually with Branch Presidents in conjunction with monthly teleconferences
    It is the content of meetings that may or may not be strategic- not the fact that meetings simply occur.
  2. National Office to convene bi- annual meeting with Branch Managers
    Sounds worthy. Nothing strategic about it
  3. Active liaison between National Committees and the Board
    I would hope so. (again – a standard expectation)


Is it just me? I cannot find any reference to National Committees on the website? The AASW used to publish details of National Committee membership, email addresses and terms of reference.
If there is a theme here it is the decline of transparency and accessibility. Each National Committee should have its own blog and publish drafts of policies and submissions for comment.
State and Territory Branches do not have a defined role or unique responsibilities within the AASW. Until this is sorted there won’t be much change.

As a NSW Branch Committee member, I have found the one-size fits all approach imposed by National Office on recruiting a Branch Professional Officer very frustrating. NSW has been without a professional officer for 8 months. Branches need the flexibility to determine needs locally and find local solutions.

My rating on Goal 3 is three out of ten

Strategic Goal 4 is “build a strong sustainable membership and equity base”.

For this goal, the AASW lists three measures on which to judge its performance.

The three measures for building a strong sustainable membership and equity base are,

  1. To grow retained earnings by $300k per annum
  2. Implement a cash management strategy
    Why can’t this strategy include ensuring we do not invest in funds that support fossil fuels?
  3. Grow membership by 10% per annum
    Comment. There is no doubt that the AASW has done well in building savings and growing the membership. The Board should be commended on this.


The question now is- how to invest savings wisely to build for the future of the AASW?

And the related question- how are we to retain and sustain the newer, younger members we have recruited?

Without a mentoring program and an open and accessible way for members to connect with each other, our member renewal rates may falter and our membership numbers plateau.

My rating for Goal 4 is eight out of 10

Overall, this document confuses standard operational issues with strategy.  What strategy there is does not do enough to move us towards closer and more “collaborative relationships with educational institutions, industry, government, client associations and the community”, (a key element of the AASW vision). There are serious gaps related to member engagement, member mentoring, transparency and connecting with our education and industry. Currently the AASW is simply treading water- my global rating- five out of ten.

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