Institutional Memory

I’m on the L.A. Chapter board for a professional association – IABC. ( At a recent leadership conference, they stated that a Chapter’s institutional memory disappeared after 5 years (for our chapter it’s more like 3 on a lot of topics). Boards are volunteer-run and people usually do several years’ service and then move on to other things. 

No matter how much gets set down on paper, you lose the history when people leave – it’s usually difficult to figure out what’s important in the data left behind, why decisions were made and ESPECIALLY what outcomes resulted.

In our chapter at one point, I asked: what about having meetings every month in our four regions?  Turns out some years ago this used to be the case – they had a lunch bunch that met to share ideas, network in the South Bay. They stopped it for a couple of reasons – it was always the same people that attended(and interest was waning) and the event organizers were overstretched.

It seems to me we have this same problem with Congresss and the Executive – institutional memory is lost. Programs have been tried before and failed (i.e. subsidies, price controls), but a few decades on, they sound fantastic, they sound new – their intent is to help certain people, right wrongs, extend opportunity – and everyone’s forgotten that in the past they didn’t work: the desired outcomes didn’t eventuate and unintended consequences create new, more difficult problems.  Or maybe they are fully aware that these things don’t work – but they sound good and since politicians won’t ever be held responsible for actual outcomes, why not?

Journalistic research only goes back a few decades – not surprising, as they’re all online and older records would be in print probably, harder to access probably. I can’t say journalists are keeping politicians honest in terms of their legislative record and factual impact on our lives (they may keep them honest when it comes to trips to the Caribbean).

And there’s a feeling that anything that happened more that 40 years ago is obsolete.

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