I've been wrestling with this concept for some time now. As a member of a University, I am affiliated with a number of organizations. Each of these were set up years ago, as part of various efforts to help connect and support individuals and groups in their work at any number of distributed institutions of higher education. Many are communities of practice, at least in name, and all attempt to offer services and resources to their members.
They all mean well. But they're largely ineffective, and mostly obsolete. On top of that, they are expensive. Maybe not extraordinarily expensive, but these organizations cost money to run. Money which is better allocated to support local efforts, rather than supporting an infrastructure that is no longer needed.
As an example, we recently let our membership in an organization lapse. We couldn't justify the cost involved with maintaining a membership, especially in light of recurring budget cuts on campus. Sure, it's nice to say you're a member of an organization. It's also nice to throw some coins into a hat to keep an organization afloat. But when faced with touch choices - do we maintain a membership, or let more people go, it's an easy decision to make.
Ironically, after our membership lapsed, we heard from a faculty member who was using some of the organization's resources. They were upset that the membership was no longer active, and started listing reasons why the membership was important to them. Except that every one of these reasons had been simply copied and pasted from the organization's marketing info. The only valid complaint was the sudden removal of people from the organization's listserv. Which is hosted not by the organization, but by a large, high profile institution in the States.
We talked about the issues related to membership in the organization for some time. Each time we discussed it, we came back to a single conclusion - we don't need an organization to provide infrastructure to allow us to connect with others anymore. We are fully able to make these connections on our own, as we have been doing anyway. The informal, direct connections made between individuals are much more valuable than organizationally-fostered ones, at least in my experience.
I really don't think we need many of these organizations any more. It would be better to allocate the resources locally, while using these great "web 2.0" tools and social networks to build connections. Maybe an occasional conference, more akin to Northern Voice than to these giant organizational conferences, in order to provide a venue for face-to-face interaction.
In an era of decentralization and individually generated and managed content, the role of the central organization should be changing. To what? I'm not sure. But it's no longer necessary as a broker to connect individuals and groups.
Further, these same changes are pending for the Institution as well - what is the changing role of a University when individuals are empowered to the level that they don't need many of the traditional services of such an Institution?