During the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) Strategic Planning Session in 2014, Dr Michelle Sprague led a very thoughtful review of the AASV mission statement. At the time, our industry was experiencing another painful summer of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). The way forward was not clear. Roles and responsibilities for dealing with an emerging disease had not been defined. Our AASV staff had taken on an important leadership role in our industry’s response to this devastating disease. Because all of the regular work of managing our association still needed to be done, it was clear that this level of response was not going to be sustainable. A rethink of our mission statement was very timely. The result of that exercise was a broader scope of advocacy that added industry and public-health issues to the traditional veterinary issues. The AASV sets out policy statements that help to guide our members. The AASV also plays an important role in influencing broader industry policy through advocacy.
Issues management starts with early identification of issues before they reach a crisis level. This early identification requires continuous scanning at a global level. William Gibson, the American-Canadian science -fiction writer, perhaps best known for coining terms like “cyberspace,” was quoted as saying that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”1 For anyone that spends time scanning for potential issues, this statement will ring true. Animal welfare issues, for example, are well advanced in nations with food security and developed economies, while this issue barely hits the radar screen in the poorest nations. Gathering intelligence about these issues in other regions can provide insight about how an issue might unfold in North America. Unfortunately, the process of scanning can be somewhat tedious and often about as exciting as watching paint dry. Every so often there are clear signals that an issue is heating up.
The AASV has developed a level of respect and trust over the years despite being a relatively small organization. I have always thought of AASV as being “small but mighty.” Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Faster than a speeding locomotive? Unfortunately, no. Having said that, I sometimes secretly wonder when AASV staff or colleagues slip out to make a phone call if they might be changing into a uniform with a bright red “S.” Because our resources are limited, we need to be able to prioritize the issues that we will tackle. Will the issue affect the entire pork supply chain or one small sector? Will the issue affect our association’s reputation or our ability to create veterinary policy? What is the probability that an issue will gain momentum? Is the issue being “championed” by another organization that already has some influence?
If our goal is to influence, then it is important to identify the key players that are involved in any particular issue. This list includes those that act by influencing and those that are influenced to act. Because many players can be involved in any one issue, the process of issues management becomes less predictable than normal project management. It is important that plans and timelines remain flexible.
Awareness, information, and understanding of an issue are important first steps in paving the way to action. Without action, however, all of this increased understanding may only result in a better informed rant about how someone else needs to address the problem. Issues management is alive and well at AASV. Thanks to Dr Sprague’s leadership, we have a mission statement that is more clear about the AASV’s role in advocacy and issues management. Our AASV staff work tirelessly at gathering and analyzing information, as well as sharing our positions with other players. Our committee chairs and volunteers provide insight by getting down into the weeds on many developing issues. Our members are woven into the fabric of the entire industry and are in an excellent position to inform our supply-chain partners at a grass-roots level. We truly are small but mighty!
1. Wikiquote. William Gibson. Available at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson. Accessed 24 August 2016.George Charbonneau, DVM