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Growing ASHRAE: The Society’s First Strategic Plan

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pdf_icon.png ASHRAE Strategic Plan 1985

The ASHRAE of 1983 had evolved into a much different organization than the ASHRAE formed in 1959 by the merger of the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers and the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.  Much of the change was due to recognition during the 1970s of ASHRAE by the US Federal Government as a key contributor to improving energy efficiency.  Other key factors were a booming global economy that fueled worldwide demand for American technology, growth of urban environments in the southern US where air conditioning was considered a necessity, and a growing appreciation of the productivity impacts and health benefits accruing from proper management of the indoor environment.

By 1984, ASHRAE membership stood at just under 50,000 persons, including 10,700 members outside the US.  Members resided in 120 countries.  The Society approved opening an office in Washington, DC, and ASHRAE had agreements of cooperation with national associations in 23 countries. 

ASHRAE was growing.  And ASHRAE’s leadership realized it was time to plan for continued growth by implementing a strategic plan.

Donald R. Bahnfleth, who would serve as ASHRAE President 1985-86, chaired the presidential ad hoc committee charged with drafting the plan.  “ASHRAE long recognized the importance of strategic planning,” Bahnfleth says looking back.  “The Society had a Long Range Planning Committee since 1967.  But strategic planning had become even more important because of a sustained period of membership growth, increased delivery of membership service, and great recognition of and reliance upon ASHRAE’s technological resources.  The demand for energy technology is one factor that largely contributed to ASHRAE’s prominence.”  In an era when ASHRAE first attained prominence on a national scale, the need for consistent direction became apparent.  “We could not fully capitalize on the strength of our members’ volunteer commitment if we did not provide a stable platform on which progress towards a collective goal could be built on from year to year,” Bahnfleth says. 

In 1983, the Board of Directors initiated development of a wide ranging strategic plan to guide ASHRAE.  Consultants from Emory University’s School of Business Administration assisted.  The plan was to take into account broad society issues, technological challenge and past ASHRAE experiences.  “We believed that by guiding application of its resources in accordance with a plan that anticipates future needs, members, and the public, the Society will best be able to accomplish its mission,” Bahnfleth says.

The planning process had five phases:

  • Phase 1:  A group of some 30 Society leaders identified key developments, trends and issues that would affect ASHRAE during the next five years.
  • Phase 2:  Based upon the conclusions of Phase 1, the same group of leaders drafted specific objectives and assessed the probability, importance and desirability of their attainment.
  • Phase 3:  More than 100 highly involved members were selected to rate the probability, importance and desirability of the draft objectives identified in Phase 2
  • Phase 4:  A presidential ad hoc committee, chaired by Bahnfleth, selected the highest rated objectives and provided descriptions in a strategic planning document.
  • Phase 5:  After review by the Long Range Planning Committee, the President-Elect Advisory Committee and the Society’s Executive Committee, the ASHRAE Strategic Plan was presented to the Board of Directors for approval.  That approval was given in June 1985 at ASHRAE’s Annual Meeting.

So what were some of the 25 objectives that made up ASHRAE’s first Strategic Plan?   Research will continue as the core of ASHRAE activities, with expenditures on research increasing to 24% of all Society revenue or $2 million by 1990.  Initiatives to promulgate voluntary consensus standards will be continued to retain private sector responsibility for industry guidance with a survey initiated to identify needs for specific standards and guidelines.  A formal mechanism will be developed for responding to public inquiries, including monitoring selected issues, developing timely position papers and statements with particular attention to energy and health and safety issues, and creation of a network of experts to respond to inquiries.

Looking inwards, the plan called for overseas membership and the participation of overseas members in ASHRAE to increase.  Membership growth would be achieved by broadening the membership base to included related disciplines.  Greater use of student branches would be a source of membership. ASHRAE promised to assist developing countries through development of technology transfer programs.   Electronic access to society technical material would be provided, a variety of manuals and special publications to supplement the technical material in the Handbook would be developed, and use of electronic mail to transmit information to and from volunteer leaders would be instituted.

Looking at the ASHRAE of today, remarkably most of what was in the 1985 Strategic Plan has come to pass, either because of specific Society action, like the development of publications to supplement the Handbook or chapters outside the US and Canada, or because of a broader based societal trend, like use of email.  Meeting that objective, as it turned out, was unavoidable.

The ad hoc committee identified the fiscal resources and the human impact resources needed to accomplish each objective.  In the five years following adoption, with those impacts weighed against what was accomplished, ASHRAE modified the plan as needed, taking into account comments from the grass roots membership.

What made the strategic plan successful, says Bahnfleth looking back, is that it was member driven.  “In my address as the incoming ASHRAE president in 1985, I noted that the majority of objectives – 16 objectives – had a direct impact on individual members by making it easier to do a good job better and smarter. This was through research, new technical publications, standards, and a strengthened continuing education program.”

The plan accomplished a lot, says Bahnfleth, but he notes that behind the plan are people.  His words to the membership from 1985 hold true today.  “I would like each of you to think for a moment or two about the individuals within ASH RAE whom you have come to know, respect and call your friends.  My purpose in doing this is to remind you that the fabric which holds ASHRAE together is not publications or research papers, but rather it is the people who voluntarily come together to provide their collective wisdom in developing technical materials that will be of significance to society at large.  We often have focused upon financial resources, upon research, and we still do so in the Strategic Plan. But the underlying success of ASHRAE is in its human resource.”

Some elements of ASHRAE never change.