The International Communication Association (ICA) began more than 50 years ago as a small association of US researchers and is now a truly international association with more than 4,000 members in 76 countries. With its headquarters in Washington, DC, the ICA publishes four refereed journals (a fifth will begin in 2008), a yearbook, and a monthly online newsletter; sponsors a book series; and holds regional conferences and an annual conference. The annual conference meets around the world on a geographical rotation in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The ICA’s diverse structure of 21 divisions and special interest groups represent sub-fields of communication research. Since 2003, the ICA has been officially associated with the United Nations as a nongovernmental association (NGO).
The overall purposes of the ICA are to advance the scholarly study of human communication and to facilitate the implementation of such study in order to be of maximum benefit to humankind by: (1) encouraging the systematic study of theories, processes, and skills of human communication, and (2) facilitating the dissemination of research through an organizational structure responsive to communication study areas, a program of organizational affiliates, regular sponsorship of international meetings, and a commitment to a program of scholarly publication.
Because of its complexity, the ICA does not lend itself well to the typical “names, dates, and times” model when relating its history. Organizational development models provide a more useful way of understanding its history. Specifically, the Weick & Quinn (1999) approach of considering both episodic and continuous change within the same organization is most relevant. The ICA clearly exemplifies both change that is intentional and change that is unintentional or a product of forces outside the organization’s control.
Organizations emerge, change is constant, and the organization evolves. The ICA officially emerged in the US on January 1, 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 as to 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 SAA were about to recommend against the inclusion of basic communication in SAA, keeping its resources focused on rhetoric. The founders of the NSSC, 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, 608).
With this objective, the NSSC began what has thus far been a 57-year process of modification and change, which on many levels continues today. The key objective of the new society was to study communication. The NSSC was also unique in that it would do original research through a committee structure while supporting the research of individual members through publishing, conferences, and networking. Ultimately this structure collapsed under its own weight. Too many committees were established initially with too many rules and regulations, and, rather than researching problems or questions already posed, the committees were to develop new questions or problems, some of which may not have had any intrinsic value nor piqued enough interest in the committees or in individual researchers. The struggle, described by Weaver (1977, 610) as “furious battles in the National Council” with the committees and their various charges continued for over 13 years and consumed the energy of the leadership. Basic functions continued but the organization showed little growth.
Reorganization in the 1960s
In 1967 the society engaged in an intentional, episodic organizational development stage: It began discussions on changing its name and formally separated from the SAA. This separation, coupled with the general feeling that the primary focus of the NSSC had changed, 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 1973, 615). Membership began to grow and with increased numbers came new leadership ideas. New scholars began to assert their influence and, in the words of past President Frank Dance, “there indeed was the beginning of the changing of the guard” (Weaver 1973, 372).
With increased membership, the ICA continued to evolve. The membership diversified and for the first time achieved an early goal of the old NSSC, that of being an interdisciplinary society. To reflect this new, broader makeup, ICA’s by-laws called for the creation of divisions based on more narrowly defined research interests. This was to be a renewal mechanism for the association and provide a place for like-minded scholars to gather. Unlike the NSSC structure, 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. The debate on this issue continues as the original 4 divisions have increased to 21 divisions and special interest groups as of 2007. 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 the ICA has experienced both. For an academic, scholarly society, one measure of such changes is its publication program. The International Communication Association (still 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, submission rates had increased and the acceptance rate had 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 the research interests of its members broadened, so did the publishing program. The association has added journals and other publications 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 varying points of view and the different areas and types of scholarship being produced by the membership.
In 1973 the ICA launched Human Communication Research to focus on “quality research and scholarship in human communication” (Weaver 1977, 614). Communication Yearbook began in 1977 as a combination of selected conference proceedings and annual reviews from within the field. It was intended to address the state of the art of the discipline of communication. Communication Theory, begun in 1991, was to provide a forum, both interdisciplinary and international, for original theoretical contributions to the discipline. According to the founding editor, Robert T. Craig (1991, 1), “the appearance of Communication Theory [marked] the coming of age of an academic field.” In 2003, the ICA acquired the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, an online journal. This marked the association’s entry into online, open-access journal publishing. The ICA continues to expand its publication program as the need dictates.
Debates About Structure
Questions and debates continue to challenge the ICA leadership – and create the probability of future change. One such question regards whether the association structure should allow for the proliferation of special interest groups and divisions or maintain fewer but broader areas of scholarship interest. Another 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 of enhancing and advancing a member’s academic career. Yet, the ICA has retained a smaller, more intimate association than some others in the field. After four decades, the perception of the ICA as having a narrow empirical social science scope has given way to a perception of being open to a broader range of research approaches. Again, this is evocative of an organization for which change has been constant, evolving, and cumulative.
During the 1980s and 1990s the membership remained 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 depending on whether or not they had a paper or panel accepted for the annual conference. Any conferences held outside North America had a ripple effect, drew fewer scholars submitting and presenting, and membership numbers declined significantly when conference attendance was lower. The 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 severely limited funding for conferences held outside the US. In the past two decades, the membership has remained largely US-based. As the ICA entered the twenty-first century, however, this pattern no longer held.
The international identity of the ICA has been a key issue since the name change in 1969. 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 when the ICA purposefully set about to change itself from a US-based organization that happened to have international members to a truly international organization that happened to be based in the US. In the mid-1990s, the ICA board of directors established a global connections committee (later renamed the internationalization committee) to consider this objective. Four significant initiatives originated in this committee and, with implementation of these initiatives, the association continued on its evolutionary path.
The most significant innovation was to change the composition of the board of directors to reflect the international mission of the association. The ICA needed to look international on all of its public faces, which meant that members of the board, of committees, and of editorial boards needed to have representation and active participation from all areas of the globe. As it did with many of its decisions on internationalizing, the organization searched for a foundation and rationale as the basis of its decisions. The United Nations and World Bank classifications became the basis for the structural evolution of ICA.
In 2000 a change in by-laws established five regional at-large board seats. Discussions reported in committee and board minutes indicate that these positions were created with no specific charge assigned to them. As a group, the regional at-large members have struggled to define their role and have been inconsistent in representing their geographic areas. They now constitute some of the membership of the internationalization committee, the descendant 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 US, a strong indication that the 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 an international image or allow the degree of interaction with relevant agencies and other scholarly associations that the board felt was needed. The ICA relocated to rented office space in Washington, DC 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, DC, which will provide a permanent home for the organization and its records. With this move, the association evolved from one that, like many professional associations in their early history, required each president personally to store and maintain association documents to one that had “arrived,” with a home of its own and the visibility that comes with it.
With its new emphasis on internationalization, 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 directly tied to conference presentation to one that provided a number of consistent services and benefits in addition to those centering 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, the ICA developed a tiered dues and conference registration structure. With these changes, the membership again demonstrated a significant increase, largely from non-US 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 was 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 suggested that ICA publications were open to all scholarship with no inherent bias or discrimination toward any scholar, group of scholars, or research methodology. A look at the annual reports of each of the journals and the yearbook would lead one to the same conclusion. Yet, there was clear disagreement from some scholars about the extent to which editorial decisions were biased against methodologies and international work generally.
In its drive to take on an international face, the ICA focused on committees, task forces, and the composition of the board, but failed to look at the areas that fell outside the typical organizational structure. The editorial boards of the various journals were neglected. When scholars look to publish their research, it is natural to look for “like-minded” individuals on a review panel or editorial board. The ICA’s publications did not have the international look and therefore received relatively few submissions from outside of North America. Those that were received often had difficulty finding reviewers who understood or accepted the methodology 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 gave the organization better press coverage and more financial resources to develop other projects and programs. It revised its Guide to Publishing and launched a handbook series and a book series on communication in the public interest. An ad hoc task force studying specific criticisms suggested creating 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.” The ICA board of directors adopted this recommendation and the new journal was scheduled to be launched in 2008.
As an organization, the ICA was, and continues to be, one that fully demonstrates Weick and Quinn’s (1999) 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, it continues 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 the International Communication Association will continue to be a good story, and will continue to reflect the nature of those who call it their scholarly home.
- Craig, R. T. (1991). Editorial. Communication Theory, 1(1), 1–3.
- Weaver, C. H. (1973). A history of the International Communication Association. Unpublished manuscript.
- Weaver, C. H. (1977). A history of the International Communication Association (ed. L. M. Brown). In B. D. Ruben (ed.), Communication yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, pp. 607– 618.
- Weick, K., & Quinn, R. E. (1999). Organizational change and development. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 361–386.