ICA History

There are any number of ways to tell the history of any organization, and one with the relatively long and complex history of the International Communication Association (ICA) does not lend itself well to the "names, dates, and times" model. While reviewing the many relevant documents at ICA headquarters, this writer considered various perspectives before deciding to frame the history using an organizational development model.

Poole and Van de Ven (2004) argued that "instead of attempting to stipulate one theory as the best theory of change or derive a single broad integrative theory of change...it (is) more productive to consider a range of theories and models that can be applied to understanding change and innovation" (p. 374). In reading the various fragments of ICA's history, it is difficult to "force" the organization into any one model. "Despite the empirical evidence supporting the sequential development of groups through predictable transitions, the notion that organizations pass through separate, sequential stages is controversial among organization theorists. Organizations are more complex entities than groups, they are affected more by external environments, and their purposes and tasks are generally more elaborate" (Cameron & Whetten, 1983, p. 281). Hence, organizational process models and theories seem to best fit ICA's dynamics. Specifically, the Weick and Quinn (1999) approach of considering both episodic and continuous change within the same organization is most relevant. The International Communication Association clearly exemplifies both change that is intentional and change that is unintentional or a product of forces outside its control.

The history of ICA is a "story of a microcosm. It is a story of a learned society, born of necessity and reared with great difficulty. It is not a history of ideas, nor an intellectual or motivational analysis. It is not a system oriented of why things happened as they did. It is only a story of what happened and how it happened…" (Weaver, 1973, p. i). Organizations emerge, change is constant, and the organization evolves.

The International Communication Association officially emerged on 1 January 1950 as the National Society for the Study of Communication (NSSC). Like many births, this was the result of a long labor, a few complications, and some confusion about what was actually occurring at any given moment. A review of letters, notes, and meeting minutes clearly reveals that several members of the parent organization, the Speech Association of America (SAA; now the National Communication Association), had concluded that committees within the organization were about to recommend against including basic communication in SSA, keeping its resources focused on rhetoric. Many scholars, led by such individuals as Elwood Murray, Paul Bagwell, Ralph Nichols, and Wesley Wiksell, not only saw the beginnings of growth in basic communication at universities and colleges throughout the United States, but also led the way in conducting, presenting, and publishing some of the initial research in the discipline. They were active in encouraging speech departments to embrace, rather than avoid, the new trend of communication.

The founding core of scholars identified the objective of the new organization as "fostering methodologies, philosophies, courses and curricula in so-called basic communication, speech, journalism, radio and other mass media (including English, etc.) which would implement training more directly for the needs of human relations at all levels" (Weaver, 1977, p. 608).

With this objective, the NSSC began what has thus far been a 56-year process of modification and change. The society launched as a work in progress, which on many levels it still is today. The key aspect of the new society was to be the study of communication. It was also unique in that it would endeavor to do its own original research through a committee structure. This would then be supplemented by the usual societal activities of publishing, conferences, and networking that supported individual members' research. Ultimately this committee approach did not succeed. While no definitive reason is ever identified in the historical documents, it seems that the structure collapsed under its own weight: Too many committees were established with too many rules and regulations. As well, the questions or problems that the committees developed had no intrinsic value, nor enough interest among the committees or individual researchers to actually pursue the research question. The struggle, described by Weaver (1977) as "furious battles in the National Council" (p. 610) with the committee structure and their various charges, continued for over 13 years and occupied the energy of the leadership. Basic societal functions such as publishing and conference continued during this time, but membership remained static and the society showed little growth.

In 1953, creation of a student membership category had begun the organization's enduring commitment to mentoring students and incorporating them into active membership status, conference presentations, and today, voting membership on the board of directors. A look through any ICA conference program reveals the egalitarian nature of this organization--there is no formal distinction between a department chair, a faculty member, or a student. The only distinction is on the quality of scholarship the person presents. That cultural norm continues to push the organization forward to this day.

Beginning in 1967, membership records show a marked increase, bringing with it new leadership ideas. That same year, the NSSC engaged in an intentional, episodic organizational development stage: It formally separated from the SSA. This separation, coupled with the generalized feeling that the primary focus of the NSSC-study-was no longer a goal, led to numerous discussions about a new name for the organization. In 1969 the group coalesced around the moniker of the International Communication Association. "At that time, the organization had more than 150 members from 27 foreign nations" (Weaver, 1977, p.615).

With increased membership, ICA continued its evolution. The membership diversified and for the first time, achieved an early goal of the old NSSC: an interdisciplinary society. With this new, broader makeup, ICA's bylaws called for the creation of divisions based on more narrowly defined research interests. This was to renew the association and provide a place for like-minded scholars to gather. It was the complete opposite of the preceding organization: committees would be generated by the divisions only if they were needed to solve specific issues. Guidelines, such as those requiring divisions to maintain a certain level of membership, were designed to prevent a proliferation of divisions and a loss of focus. A debate on this issue continues to the current day. From the original four divisions, ICA has grown to 21 divisions and special interest groups. This growth reflects the complexity of the world in which the association finds itself today, as well as the global nature of much of communication study and research.

A healthy and vibrant association requires both episodic and continuous change and ICA has experienced both. For an academic, scholarly society, one measure of such changes is its publication program. The International Communication Association (as the NSSC) produced the first issue of the Journal of Communication in 1951. Initially published in-house, the journal grew with the association such that by 1967, the submission rates increased and the acceptance rate declined. Historical documents draw correlations between the prestige of the journal and the prestige of being a member of the association. As the membership developed and their research interests broadened, so did the publishing program of ICA. The association has added journals and other publications over the years to address the ever-changing field of communication and the research being done by scholars in the field. The addition of new journals, and of editorial boards representing more diverse research interests, offers more publication opportunities for the varying points of view and areas of scholarship produced by the membership.

In 1973 ICA added Human Communication Research to its publication program. This new journal focused on "quality research and scholarship in human communication" (Weaver, 1977, p.614) and was designed to have a broad interest. Communication Yearbook began in 1977 as a combination of selected conference proceedings and annual reviews from within the field; it was to be a volume addressing the "state of the art" of the discipline of communication. Communication Theory, launched in 1991, was to provide a forum, both interdisciplinary and international, to address questions about the scientific status of the discipline of communication. According to Craig, "the appearance of Communication Theory marks the coming of age of an academic field…" (p. 1). The International Communication Association continues to expand its publication program as the need dictates.

Questions and debates continue to challenge ICA leadership - and create the probability of future change. There has been a debate within ICA since at least the mid 1960s about membership objectives: whether the association should be open to all who are interested or to a select few who have a well-established record of published research. Another debate centers on the size and structure of the annual conference. Clearly, a primary goal of the association is to provide opportunities for members to present research for the dual purposes of receiving feedback on the research and to enhance and advance a member's academic career. Yet, ICA has historically remained a smaller, more intimate association than others in the field. An early desire to maintain a more elite membership has gradually given way to a more inclusive approach to membership goals. Again, this is evocative of an organization for which change has been constant, evolving, and cumulative.

During the 1980s and 1990s the membership remained rather constant overall, but developed a cyclical pattern. Membership, and to some degree the financial health of the organization, rose and fell as members flowed in and out of the organization primarily depending on whether or not they had a paper or panel accepted for the annual conference. Any conference held outside North America had fewer scholars submitting and presenting and membership numbers declining significantly when conference attendance was lower; ICA had entered a practical phase of its history. Attending a conference and presenting a paper required funding from the members' institutions, many of which had policies that severally limited funding to conferences not held within the U.S. In these two decades, the membership remained largely U.S. based.

The international identity of ICA has been a key issue since the name change in 1969. Whereas several debates about what it means to be international-or how to put the "I" in ICA-have been documented in board and committee minutes, the most significant change began in the late 1990s. The organization once again engaged in the episodic change process: it set out to purposefully address the dynamic of how to change from a U.S.-based organization that happened to have international members, to a truly international organization that happened to be based in the U.S. In the mid-1990s, ICA's board of directors established a global connections committee to tackle this objective. The committee recommended a series of actions, four of which were adopted by the board.

The most significant of these innovations was to change the composition of the board to reflect the international name and mission of the association. If an organization is international, then it needs to look international on all of its public faces. For ICA, this meant that the board of directors, committees, and editorial boards needed to have representation, voices, and active participation from all areas of the globe. As with many of its decisions on internationalizing, the organization searched for a foundation and rationale as the bases of its decisions. The United Nations and World Bank organizations' classifications became the basis for the structural evolution of ICA. A bylaws change that established five regional-at-large board seats was approved by the membership in 2000. Discussions reported in committee and board minutes indicate that although these positions were created, a specific charge was not assigned to them. As a group, the at-large members have struggled and have been inconsistent in their representation of their geographic areas. They now constitute some of the membership of the internationalization committee, the antecedent of the global connections committee. A review of governance documents demonstrates as well a concerted, purposeful effort to have at least one non-North American on every committee and subcommittee. Beginning with the election of division officers in 2003, almost half the board of directors were from countries other than the U.S., a strong indication that ICA's stated objective of becoming truly international was being realized.

The turn of this century also saw a second episodic change aimed at specifically addressing the international image of the association. Three decades ago, the association settled into offices in Austin, Texas with a paid staff of one. This arrangement met the needs of the organization for many years but did not present the international cache that the board felt was needed. ICA relocated to rented office space in Washington, D.C., in 2001 and shortly thereafter began searching for permanent central offices to manage the growing association and provide long-term stability for the organization. In 2006, the association realized another goal with the purchase of an office building in Washington, which will provide a permanent home for the organization and its records. With this move, the association evolves from one that required each president to store and maintain association documents to one that has "arrived," with a home of its own and the visibility that comes with it. This is yet another step toward furthering its commitment to scholars in the field of communication.

With its new emphasis on internationalizing, the board also restructured membership in 2002 with two purposes in mind. The first was to stabilize the membership by aligning the membership year with the fiscal year. This began to move the organization beyond one where membership was directly tied to conference presentation, providing the member with a number of consistent services and benefits in addition to those that centered on the conference. By 2004, membership in ICA had grown to over 4,000 scholars in 76 countries and the cyclical pattern ceased to be the focus of governance meetings.

The second purpose was to recognize the differing resources of scholars around the world. Using the World Bank ranking of national economies, ICA developed a tiered dues and conference registration structure. With these changes, ICA's membership once again demonstrated a significant increase, largely from non-U.S. countries. Other outreach activities began at approximately the same time. ICA newsletters published columns that addressed international issues and profiled communication scholarship in various regions of the world.

With greater diversification in membership, scholarly focus, and research methodologies has come the search for meaningful participation and discourse. Once again, the focus is on the publication program. As in the early 1970s, the organization experienced increased criticism about a perceived narrowness in editorial decisions and responsiveness to alternative methods of research deemed acceptable for publication. A review of newsletter articles, meeting minutes, and personal memory of conversations suggests that current publications "felt open" to all scholarship with no inherent bias or discrimination toward any group of scholars or research methodology. A look at the annual reports of each of the journals and the yearbook would lead to the same conclusion. The real question, then, is why the data do not match the perception?

In its drive to take on an international face, the International Communication Association focused on committees, task forces, and the composition of the board, failing to look at those areas that fell outside of the typical organizational structure. Neglected were the editorial boards of the various journals. When scholars look to publish their research, it is natural to look for "like-minded" individuals on a review panel or editorial board; ICA's publications did not have the international look, therefore receiving few submissions from outside North America. Those that ICA did receive often had difficulty finding reviewers who understood or accepted the methodology they had utilized.

To address this issue and others, beginning in 2005, the association embarked on its largest expansion of the publication program. It began by selecting an entrepreneurial publisher for its journals, which gives the organization better press coverage and more financial resources to develop other projects and programs. It published an updated version of its Guide To Publishing, launched a handbook series and a book series on communication in the public interest, and specifically addressed the criticisms with the launch of a new journal, Communication, Culture, and Critique, to provide an "international forum for critical, feminist interpretive, and qualitative research examining the role of communication from a cultural and historical perspective" (Pecchioni, 2006, p.1).

As an organization, ICA was, is, and always will be one that fully demonstrates Weick and Quinn's theory of organizational change. It is an organization of continuous change that highlights the fluid nature, improvisation, and cyclical process without any seeming end state. At the same time, ICA will continue to engage in the clearly purposeful, infrequent, and divergent behavior that is symptomatic of episodic change. The two processes have served the organization in complementary fashion. The history of ICA will continue to reflect the nature of those who call it their scholarly home. There is no end to the story and it can and will be rewritten from many different perspectives in the coming years. Some will be written with much more detail; none will be entirely accurate. Memories fade and alter; facts change; records become lost to history; emphases change. No matter what form it takes, the history of ICA will always be a "story of what happened, how it happened, told is some places in the words of the people who made it happen" (Weaver, 1973, p. 1).

 


 

References

Cameron, K.S. & Whetten, D.A. (1983). Models of the organizational life cycle: applications to higher education. Review of Higher Education, 6:4 pp. 269 -299.

Craig, R.T. (1991). Editorial. Communication Theory, 1:1 pp. 1-3.

Poole, M. S. & Van de Ven, A. H. (2004). Central issues in the study of change and innovation. In M. S. Poole & A. H. Van de Ven (Eds.), Handbook of organizational change and innovation (pp. 3-31). New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press.

Weaver, C.H. (1973). A history of the International Communication Association. Unpublished manuscript.

Weaver, C.H. (1977). A history of the International Communication Association (L.M. Brown, ed.). In B.D. Ruben (Ed.), Communication yearbook (pp. 607-618). New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Books.

Weick, K. & Quinn, R. E. (1999). Organizational change and development. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 361-386.

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