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A history of the ASTD/ADT Consultants Forum – Celebrating 20 Years

Prepared by Marilyn Marles     August 2018

In the summer of 1998, the Presidents of two ASTD Chapters met for lunch to discuss the possibility of their respective chapters - the Eastern PA Chapter and Reading Area Trainer’s Organization (RATO)- collaborating to launch a Special Interest Group (SIG) for consultants.

Marilyn Marles and Rebecca Bechtel saw a need, but at the time neither chapter had a critical mass of consultants to launch on their own. The idea of a joint SIG was approved by each chapter Board and announced to the members.

The Eastern PA Chapter graciously sponsored a breakfast meeting at Moselem Springs Inn near Kutztown in November 1998. More than 30 external consultants met to form a new Special Interest Group specifically for independent consultants in the area.

Individuals came from Allentown, Easton, Reading, Lancaster, and surrounding communities to form the first of its kind joint SIG. Over time, members joined us from Jim Thorpe, upper and central Bucks County, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Montgomery County and New Jersey.

At the first several meetings the group decided on its charter, membership parameters and Code of Ethics.  Members are independent consultants with firms of five (5) or fewer employees, or people in transition who are exploring the field of consulting.  The rationale for the limit is that the challenges and issues of small business owners and entrepreneurs are significantly different from the larger consulting firms and those working as “internal consultants.”

It was agreed that the SIG would be called the Consultants Forum and would be a support and networking group, not a business development group. The Forum, or CF, would operate as a leaderless team, with members sharing and rotating the necessary tasks. These included sending meeting notices and notes, providing continental breakfast, collecting a small fee to cover food and room rental as needed. Discussion topics are decided by consensus and range from how to find liability insurance to trends in leadership development to how to manage the isolation that can stem from being a sole proprietor.

Using pushpins and a map of Pennsylvania, it was determined that Kutztown was the “center of the universe” for this group of consultants; future meetings would be held there. A variety of venues have been used including Moselem Springs (until it closed), St. John’s UCC Church, Kutztown University Career Center.  Occasionally meetings with low attendance are relocated to a local diner.

Members consult in varied fields and specialties – for example: executive coaching, organization development, nuclear engineering training, food service training and consulting, frontline supervisory and management training, leadership development, meeting and retreat facilitation, instructional design, gender issues, strategic planning and goal setting, cross-cultural training, team development, and others.

The Consultants Forum meets on the last Friday of each month unless there is a holiday, then another Friday is chosen. The group does not meet in August.  Meetings are from 8-11 a.m. They include networking, a discussion topic, and the opportunity for any member to showcase their work, test a new activity and receive feedback, or discuss a consulting challenge.

ATD Eastern PA Chapter
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