Membership Engagement - Who Represents People Best?

Originally published in HQ #90
15th Nov, 2019

Jeffer London speaks with Ignasi Guardans about how associations shape society and culture. Versed in law, politics and media, Ignasi has lead collaboration for film funding and festivals as well as the public affairs of Eurovision and advisory services at K&L Gates. He was previously elected to Spanish and European Parliament. Today, Guardans is CEO of the association CUMEDIAE that advises creative industries on EU funding, communication and project management. Jeffer London is a facilitator at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®), a top-ranked global provider of executive education that develops better leaders through its exclusive focus on leadership education and research.

The culture of society is in the hands of people. Politicians and governments may want to be the voice of people, but it is difficult for large institutions to be fully inclusive and engaging. Associations are the experts in representing people’s interests and they can be the ideal partners for governmental bodies who want to connect with the diverse voices of citizens. While governments and associations have very different ways of working, they are gears in the same wider system ensuring individual’s views are represented by the institutions. Governments need associations in order to interact with people in a meaningful manner, as much as associations need to operate in a way that suits both members and governmental partners.

Jeffer London: Why does the association – government relationship matter?

Ignasi Guardans: It’s about democracy and transparency. Governments need to reach out to citizens, but they can’t do that as well as an association can. Associations’ clear focus and non-profit status create trust and engender involvement. A government may want inclusion, interaction and engagement, but people are much more likely to offer their goodwill to an association they feel connected to. Associations play a critical role in the overall system, connecting the interests of people with the mechanics of government.

JL: What's the secret to get people on board?

IG: People get together to do something. When the players involved realise that your association can make it happen, they jump on board. There is no point to just talk – whether the team is fighting for an idea, creating an event or producing a film. If you show that you are committed to make the concept become a reality, everyone gets motivated.

JL: How do you choose which projects you should take on?

IG: It’s a matter of purpose. Associations need to be clear and succinct about their purpose and the goals need to be known to all parties. It should not come as a surprise that your association is behind any of your projects: if you have been explicit about your vision, purpose and goals, your project portfolio should be a natural consequence. We take on projects that fulfil our purpose, fulfil our raison d'être and justify our existence.

JL: How is collaboration different in the cultural sphere?

IG: Most cultural programmes are run by associations. Individual artists are vulnerable, so associations offer a protected space for them to create. Collaborating within cultural programmes is not that different than managing in the private sector: it works best when there is rigour for goal-setting, processes, finances and management. For instance, it’s true that the NGO world is idealistic by nature and that players include artists, but the team rallies together for a cause that can only be done together. Associations are able to accomplish things like the defence of rights, the training of musicians, the running of festivals. All these initiatives enrich our cultural life as citizens and are best done by associations...

JL: How is your twitter voice @iguardans different from you in person?

IG: Work is about doing, while on twitter I say what I think. Of course, verba volant [spoken words fly away, written words remain] so, you need to be careful not to damage others or accidently disseminate a lie. I simply give my honest views as a person, a citizen, an arts’ lover. As a habit, I tweet my opinion after experiencing an event or a film.

JL: Why are inclusion, participation and engagement so important now?

IG: How we live together is at the center of society. It is how a democracy works. Life is far too important to leave it in the hands of politicians – we need people to be involved and we need to be involved ourselves. Active participation gives counter-balance, without diverse voices we cannot understand things fully. The issues we face today are increasingly complex and they require us to hear multiple views before taking a decision. I remember preparing to vote in parliament on issues like agricultural policy. There were so many contradictory interests, each with a view that was right: you would hear farmers, pesticide producers, ecologists, health workers, consumer groups – they all had valid points. To take a wise decision, we need to hear them out and understand the way each one fits together in a system. So many of our issues are like this, health, privacy, security… As individuals and associations, we need to solicit views, listen, state opinions and have a dialogue that enriches our understanding.

JL: Any advice for associations’ leaders seeking engagement?

IG: Know your purpose and focus on it. Play your role. Don’t try to do everything for everybody. Look for inspiration in others (big progress in associations is usually driven by a few leaders), see how they make things happen and then do what you think is best for your association’s purpose.

JL: Words to live by?

IG: Trust. Respect. Honesty.

For insights into the facilitation of engagement, see Jeffer’s blog about stimulating conversation at

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