Decade in Review: Where NCFR Has Been and Where It Will Go

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ Winter 2019 NCFR Report

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The end of one year and beginning of the next is a fitting time to reflect, and to take a thoughtful look ahead: What were our goals for the past year and what did we accomplish? How might that inform what we set out to achieve next?

This reflection certainly amplifies when the transition is from one decade to the next.

As we move into the new decade that begins with 2020, I’ve been reflecting on the last 10 years at NCFR—all during my tenure as executive director—and where our organization is positioned to go over the next 10 years.


The Right Systems, the Right People, the Right Work

It’s crucial for an organization to have the right systems and the right people in place to do the right work. As we progressed through the past decade, the needs of the NCFR organization and its members continued to evolve, and we worked to ensure that we strategically changed systems, staff roles, and the work of the organization so that we were always best meeting those needs.

Early in the decade we focused on bolstering systems that would create better experiences for our members—a more robust database tool, stronger technology systems and policies—and staff roles that could expertly manage those systems. Strengthening our marketing and communications efforts also became critical. I learned about new developments in association communications, and I knew we had to do more communicating with and listening to our members. As a result, we expanded NCFR’s communications staff further to increase our focus on digital platforms.

At the same time, we began to see the need for deep expertise in certain areas that we could meet only by tapping the knowledge of our expert members. We’ve since been grateful to have worked with many member-leaders to create essential programs and content for NCFR, in positions such as academic program liaison, Family Focus editor, policy and research briefs editor, and webinar coordinator.

Throughout the latter half of the decade, especially, we heard from many members a great desire—even a demand—to put more of the organization’s focus on policy work. As discussions became more prominent around social issues that greatly affect families, we had to evaluate and address how to bring Family Science and the work of our members to bear on those social issues. 

Although policy work remains central to NCFR today, developing the value of NCFR membership also has come to the fore to help retain and grow our community of members. In 2018, we conducted a large-scale membership survey, and since then, we’ve focused on creating new opportunities and benefits for members—free on-demand webinars, the NCFR Mentoring Academy, a résumé and CV review program—that speak to what you’ve told us you need from the NCFR organization.


NCFR and Family Science

Throughout much of the decade, NCFR and its members began to explore again, in earnest, the future of the Family Science discipline. With much work and input from members, and especially our Future of Family Science Task Force, we put a stake in the ground to say that our core discipline is Family Science, and we believe in it.

We came away from these discussions with a desire to make Family Science so much bigger—audaciously, the social science of the 21st century—and to make sure the world knows about its immense value. Across the past several years we created a website to define and explain Family Science to the world (see it at, worked with academic departments to support the changing of department and program names to include Family Science, talked with members about their passion for and work in Family Science, and more.


Future Visions: Sustaining the Organization, Strengthening Family Science

To ensure that NCFR and Family Science remain viable and successful in the following decade, it’s important to take stock not only of where we’ve been but also of where we are right now.

In the NCFR organization, as we’ve worked closely with members over time to strengthen the NCFR organization and Family Science, we also face these issues and potentially others that we will need to address:

  • the retirement of many accomplished Family Scientists who created Family Science academic programs and advocated for the discipline
  • the increasing number of adjunct academic positions that may receive less funding for professional memberships and development
  • the ability of our next generation of Family Scientists to obtain resources and join communities outside the context of an organization like NCFR

I’m also mindful that the current focus of NCFR and Family Science is largely on academia. Most NCFR members are faculty or students.

But to address some of the issues I mentioned above—as well as to make Family Science more mainstream—I believe NCFR and Family Science will need to bring more practitioners into the fold. Thousands of students graduate from Family Science programs and go on to practice work, and they leave NCFR. More Family Science practice jobs, more practice resources, and more continuing education for practitioners would bolster the NCFR community and, combined with stellar research, the Family Science discipline as well.

That brings me to the even bigger idea here, which I know drives NCFR members and Family Scientists—that knowing how to be in a family in a healthy, productive way is more important than ever.

Family Science, and our members’ work as Family Scientists, is the key to unlocking that opportunity for so many families over the next decade and beyond.