Increasing RIBA membership internationally
The RIBA’s Advancing Architecture Strategic Plan 2016-2020 stated that our vision was to become “A global, professional membership body driving excellence in architecture”
Ten compelling reasons to join
Uptake in membership is a function of how architects perceive its benefits. The more benefits, the more likely architects are to join. The more benefits, the more they will be prepared to pay, up to a point.
To be attracted to join the RIBA architects need to be able to agree with most of these statements wherever they are in the world:
- Membership is genuinely helpful and relevant to me regardless of my age or professional experience.
- It keeps me abreast of professionally relevant, essential, interesting and engaging news.
- It affords me free, subsidized or privileged opportunities to improve my professional knowledge and competence with high-quality, targeted, up-to-date training and development
- It affords me free, subsidized or privileged opportunities to network for professional gain
- It offers me free, subsidized or privileged high-quality help, advice, resources, tools and deals tailored to architects’ professional and business needs
- Clients and fellow construction industry professionals recognize membership as an added layer of quality assurance, boosting my status and appeal above that of non-member architects
- It offers clients a match-making service, making it easy for them to find out what members offer and to get in touch with them
- It promotes the value of member architects to society in ways that help those members directly, especially commercially
- Its governance is focused tightly on value for money for its members
- It is collegiate and gives me access to a community of like-minded people
Threats to increasing membership:
01 Membership is optional
Nowhere in the world must you be an RIBA member to work as an architect. The problem is compounded because to operate as an architect you generally are compelled to pay an annual professional registration fee to a body other than the RIBA.
02 Existing benefits are not well enough promoted or advertised
The range of services and benefits for UK members is already very good but perhaps not well enough understood or exploited. If members don’t know what the Institute does, it affects how they perceive the value of membership. In some places such as USA members are spread out whilst in others such as Hong Kong they are closer. This necessitates different strategies for engagement.
TACTICS: Improve marketing communications capability and strategy to promote the rich range of events, resources, services, and tools already available to members at home and overseas. Communications must be much more focussed.
03 RIBA does not appeal to newly qualified architects
The evidence is that the vast majority of student members of the RIBA do not migrate to paid membership on qualification. Of those that do, around 25%, many have their membership paid by their employers to keep their chartered practice accreditation.
The conclusion is that membership is not compelling to younger architects. Only business owners, directors and senior partners see the benefit. The cost is higher than it would otherwise be for chartered practices since they not only have to pay for their renewals but also, perhaps, those of their staff.
TACTICS: Target student and younger architects including those qualifying at RIBA-validated schools abroad. 75% of student members don’t migrate to full membership. Focus on the offer for newly qualified and junior architects. Give them compelling reasons to join by setting out a programme of accessible benefits. Communicate the benefits effectively, at the opportune moment. The planned 2019 international student charrettes in Chile and other countries where the RIBA currently validate a number of schools will provide a good indicator of how we can increase student membership abroad.
04 International membership is less valuable
Overseas members have access to fewer benefits, which discourages joining in the first place and minimizes the chances of renewal.
TACTICS: improve range of benefits by exporting RIBA brand and using digital communications technology to improve access to events. To improve the member services provide. The RIBA should establish a world wide community of architects working in particular sectors to share knowledge and collaborate on projects. Many architects work across borders often working in partnership.
05 Overall numbers of architects in the UK could fall in short term
In the post-Brexit era, the significant number of non-UK EU architects working for British practices will have fewer reasons to stay in the UK, reducing the overall number of architects in the country. This will tend to be reflected in overall membership numbers, especially as hiring in talent from elsewhere overseas is a comparatively difficult and lengthy process.
Equally, British architects are being encouraged to export their services abroad, which again might mean sojourns working abroad, sometimes for years. Indeed, this is one of the chief opportunities afforded by Brexit and is already a growing trend, and is celebrated in spirit by the new International Architecture Award.
TACTICS: focus membership recruitment efforts at eligible overseas architects as well as at universities. Give chapters a budget to promote membership, with SMART targets.
Lobby the UK Government for reciprocal barrier-lite arrangements to allow British architects to work abroad, and for foreign architects to work in the UK more easily.
06 Correlation of quality and value with CPD is unclear
The CPD requirement is one of things that differentiates RIBA chartered members from non-member architects from the point of view of quality assurance. However, it is unclear how much of a factor this is in clients’ decision-making. It is British architects, not RIBA chartered members per se, that are held in such esteem. Swiss architects (in common with Bulgarian, Maltese, Portuguese and Slovenian architects) have no requirement to undertake CPD and yet they are also highly respected across the world.
TACTICS: Gather evidence about the value of RIBA members compared to non-members on agreed metrics, perhaps as a condition of chartered practice membership. The RIBA could increase revenue substantially by producing better on line life long learning modules.
Opportunities to grow membership:
01 The Institute’s international reputation is strong
The RIBA is well recognized and highly respected internationally. The tag does not just mean great architectural design, it comes with high standards of ethical behaviour, professional integrity, and a commitment to social value and sustainability. Actively promote membership’s power to open doors to work opportunities in parts of the world with the highest concentrations of architects eligible to join the RIBA either because they are British or because they qualified from an RIBA-validated university course. Now that international practices can become chartered practice members, there is a tangible benefit to promote.
TACTICS: collaborate with sister institutes with a similar agenda, such as the RTPI, to promote this agenda globally. We can extend our outreach by partnering with other institutes such as the AIA and RIBA USA chapters on the proposed Bauhaus anniversary events for example.
Run more competitions, awards and exhibitions abroad to promote the high standards RIBA expects of architects, raising client expectations accordingly.
Extend existing client matchmaking services to all members, and set up a searchable database of practices looking to collaborate abroad with local firms, and local firms abroad looking to collaborate with UK practices.
02 Digital communications technology can bring the RIBA to members
Ever-improving digital communication technology and tumbling costs of applying it should make it possible to reach a widely dispersed membership, No matter where you are in the UK and the rest of the world, with a good internet connection and a smartphone or average laptop computer it is possible to tune into live events and participate. People are no longer constrained by their physical location.
This capability would help to make many of the benefits currently unavailable to international members accessible: CPD, talks, seminars, exhibitions, conferences. It could also facilitate other kinds of live event – Pecha kuchas, live debates between cities, design charrettes, dragon’s den style business workshops etc.
TACTICS: partner up with a publisher or academic institution to write, administer and deliver. There are a number of planned lectures at 66 Portland Place throughout 2018 by UK practices on the pros and cons of working abroad. These include Hopkins, Fosters, RSHP, and Wilkinson Eyre. These should be made available digitally to be accessed internationally. Practices abroad should be encouraged to do the same in Singapore, Hong Kong, USA etc.
03 Emphasize extra quality assurance through certified life-long learning
The 35-hour annual CPD requirement of chartered membership distinguishes it from professional registration, where there is no equivalent. Formalizing this into a more rigorous, mandatory programme of life-long learning (50 hours annually) would make RIBA membership tangibly different in a way that offered clients extra quality assurance – the gold standard globally. Perhaps organize the new CPD curriculum into core competencies, the achievement of which could be formally recognized with professional competence certificates. Instead of a separate entity to the formal education route to qualification, it could be conceived as a continuation of the PEDR.
This would signal ‘best quality’ to clients across the world and contribute to arguments about the value of architects, giving them a reason to choose a RIBA member over a non-member architect. An architect in Shanghai who was also a chartered member of the RIBA would thus be held in higher esteem than another architect who was not a member.
Finally, certificating life-long learning is a tangible difference from mere registration, making architects more likely to see the value in joining.
TACTICS: Lobby for the economic, social, and environmental value of architects to targeted audiences, particularly to client bodies at home and overseas, and relevant government departments.
If the RIBA embraced the concept of and excellent life long learning programme as a unique distinguishing identifier it could attract thousands of architects from many different countries looking to stand out from the crowd. We should target increased membership in those areas with the greatest opportunities such as the UAE then moving to Hong Kong as a route to China then the USA. We should target cultural outreach in those places where we can build on existing links such as education validation and the commonwealth to influence issues such as sustainable urbanisation.
To double our membership without compromising our founding principles of quality and integrity will take a radical repositioning of resources and thinking. The original Charter of 1837 set out the purpose of the RIBA to be: ‘… the general advancement of Civil Architecture, and for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith…’ By enhancing the importance of life long learning and using technology to create CPD modules the RIBA can exceed these modest targets. There are hundreds of thousands of architects worldwide who might join the RIBA if they are persuaded that it is seen as the gold standard of qualification.