President's Report: Playing Our Position in Family Science

William D. Allen, Ph.D., LMFT, NCFR President
Fall 2017 NCFR Report

See all articles from this issue


As I write this, my last President’s Report for the NCFR Report, my mind is on the future. While many of you may be aware of the Future of Family Science initiative, I’m thinking more specifically about the future of NCFR. The two may seem synonymous but, though related, these two futures may call for some different as well as some shared strategies. NCFR is the leading member organization in the Family Science field. As both the world and families continue to evolve, it is worth thinking about how NCFR may need to evolve to remain the best “custodians” of Family Science.

The Family Science field includes a range of researchers, educators, and practitioners from related disciplines. This multidisciplinary aspect of Family Science puts NCFR (as an organization) in a decidedly different stance vis-à-vis our foundational discipline than other professions (such as psychology and psychologists, or medicine and physicians). To a large extent, NCFR is built on the notion that its membership comprises individuals who are from Family Science degrees and individuals from related fields who see themselves and their work focusing on family relationships.

I mentioned earlier that I see NCFR and its members as custodians of Family Science. I realize that some may read that term as odd for describing the work of professionals, most of whom have postgraduate degrees. However, I think the term is appropriate given that NCFR has been a good steward of the family field for over 75 years. At our best, we’ve remained collegial despite methodological, professional, personal, and political differences, and we’ve constantly pushed one another to maintain the highest levels of scholarship and academic rigor in our research and teaching. We’ve also strived to be generative in mentoring successive generations of family scholars, encouraging them to explore new frontiers in the field while socializing them to accept that diversity and differences of opinion come with the territory of being a multidisciplinary organization.

As good custodians, we must recognize the limits of our power as scholars and healers (no, we are neither omnipotent nor omniscient), as well as the dignity of those we study and serve. I also believe that our most effective role as social activists is not in the periodic statements or activities we do collectively, but rather in the work we do individually every minute of every day in our roles as teachers, researchers, and practitioners. This is not to deny the power of collective action (which can augment our individual efforts), but to shine a light on what we can do individually. And when this happens again and again in classrooms, day care centers, social service offices, and homes across this nation and around the world, that momentum over time inevitably has more effect more than any one action.

I am reminded of the words of a high school coach who drilled into our heads, “To be a winning team, each of you has to play your position.” I believe what he meant by this was we first needed to understand what role our actions played in the overall function of the squad, and then ensure that particular action was performed. This often meant resisting the temptation to abandon what we were uniquely qualified to do (and what the team was relying on us to do) in favor of trying to do something that seemed more important in the moment. The key was to appreciate and leverage our individual positions in order to promote the success of the entire team. (A fairly systemic notion for mere athletic coaches, no?)

What, then, is NCFR’s position in the field of Family Science and human development, and how might we best play it, going forward? These are questions that your Board has been working on intensively. The Member Surveys and other communication with members throughout the organization have contributed to this process. Please refer to the results of the NCFR Member Public Policy Survey 2. You will also find on this webpage an update on the Board’s ongoing work to develop a more systematic process for discerning when NCFR might comment publicly on policy matters. But our work is far from done. In the coming months and years, we are going to need the collective wisdom of our entire organization to answer those questions and to explore the following:

  • New ways to get our research (or resources?) into the hands of families, their communities and the policymakers serving them.

  • New sources of revenue resources to support the organization’s mission. .

  • New methods to attract members who share our dedication to the family level of analysis and service.

  • New ways to support each other in our work with families as resources for that work (and the families themselves)

I plan to say more on this topic at our Annual Conference in Orlando, but for now would ask you all to start thinking about how these topics (and others) will directly affect NCFR’s future. I invite you to share your thoughts at any time with the Board and your colleagues. These days, it seems like the world is more unsettled than usual. Given terrorist attacks and shootings here and abroad, not to mention political strife around the globe, the need for calm, collaborative relationships at all levels of human interaction are more important than ever. I have great confidence that our work together will provide a beacon of hope to one of our most precious resources of all: families.

See you at the conference,

Bill Allen