Tonight Russ Unger, Matthew Milan and I organized an open discussion about the Information Architecture Institute via video/audio/text chat. If you were there, please take 2 minutes and give some feedback before you read my biased impressions.
Thanks for crippled technology there was to way to capture the text chat or video discussion – really, you had to be there so see the crazy mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication going on. I’m totally exhausted – it was 3 hours long and we had 15-25 people at any given time (web stats tell me about 160 different visitors came and went but I have no idea how accurate that is).
Technical note: This was a pilot exercise and we learned a lot. We went in knowing that Y!Live is not the best tool and has lots of UI issues, but we confirmed that it STILL is the best one around that allows multiple participants in two modes (audio and video). Get a bunch of UX practitioners using a tool like that and you can feel the frustration about fixing the problems and ‘solutioning’ going on in the room.
Here’s a quick recap based on my fallible memory (please add to it in the comments):
Matt kicked off the conversation by reading our Position Statement for the IAI Board of Directors election:
We are running on a common platform in the hopes of being able to make a more meaningful impact to the Information Architecture Institute, if we are elected.
We believe that the IAI needs to be a more transparent organization. We need to open a dialog with our members, encourage their involvement and find improved methods of making people aware of what is happening within the organization.
We believe the IAI should take a leadership role in educating our membership, people who are new to the workforce, new to working within our field and the companies that will hire them.
We believe that the IAI needs to get better at marketing and selling Information Architecture. We need to, as an organization, provide the services to companies who want to hire our members and begin practice areas where our coaching would be invaluable. Likewise, we need to train our members how to do this within their companies.
Finally, we strongly believe that the IA Institute should have a clear vision of its role within the User Experience community and more importantly how it contributes to the advancement of the field of Information Architecture. With strong vision comes strong capability, and we have a duty to our membership to provide this role.
There was some clarification and request for examples of concrete actions that we would take based on this platform. We discussed many! For example, sharing board of director minutes immediately after meetings, holding open meetings so that any member can join/listen in, do more of these ad-hoc online get-togethers to tackle an issue, figure out a good program to on-board new members when they join, leverage our relationships with people in other areas and organizations to help get things done for the IAI, make it incredibly easy for anyone to volunteer for anything at all, evaluate if developing a Body of Knowledge (like BAs and PMs have) will help the cause THEN do it, etc…)
We discussed some questions about what everyone feels is the core issue for the IAI today and the transparency theme emerged as a predominant one. It was definitely the big theme throughout the evening. For us, it was nice to see the basis of our platform validated, but the big take away from the evening is that for whomever ends up on the next Board of Directors, if transparency is not the #1 risk to consider when doing anything, then = FAIL!
Some really big (and surprising) questions came up: Does the IAI need a board of directors? (we need a president, treasurer and secretary to maintain our non-profit status); Do we need the IA Institute at all? (critical mass of people who keep pushing forward for an entity to advance the practice plus continued inflow of members seem to indicate yes); Should the IAI be a for-profit business? (turning initiatives into products was a suggested approach).
We asked if people feel like they get value out of their membership and sounds like the membership is actually undervalued (this is not a new idea, we are aware) – this led to conversations about other organizations and what value people get from them. It wasn’t clear how much collaboration is going on today between the IAI and other orgs (there were some references to past actions), but I particularly liked Erin’s point that AIGA has 100 years on us – are we learning from them? Are we learning from others?
I felt like there was a lot sharing of information about the IAI, like we were painting a picture together of what the IAI has accomplished recently. It blew me away that several people didn’t know about the monthly newsletter, but that really drove home the point about transparency and that we can pursue other platforms to (not just communicate things TO the membership, but also) have a conversation with the membership, in addition to communicating outside our current reach. In Russ’ words “we do a fantastic job of being at all of the places where we all are supposed to be. We need to get better at being at the places we currently are not at.”
From the conversations, it seems like there is a lot of wheelspinning at the effort level today. Many expressed frustration with the IAI not because they don’t see value in their membership, but because they don’t know how to contribute. There were several stories volunteered about past attempts to start an initiative or help move something forward that didn’t happen because there wasn’t support or the person didn’t even know where to start or who to ask about it.
Of course we talked about defining the damn thing. And you know in how many directions that conversation goes — however many opinions and complementary angles we look at that question, there was a very clear agreement that the IAI is expected to drive the dissemination of the practice and expressing its value and how it benefits people is a fundamental part of success in that direction.
In asking what people would like to see the new Board of Directors accomplish in its first 90 days we heard: defining clear roles for the directors and communicate what that means to the membership (accountability!), pick an agenda for the next year and execute against it (focus!), define the damn thing (see my comment previously), get rid of withering efforts that eat up the limited capacity we have, stop talking and do more stuff. It’s a tall order – but really drives home one of the comments about how the IA community has something about it that makes it unique and people gravitate towards it. We expect a lot from this smart group of people, so no surprise that the organization representing us is expected to freaking rock.
It was fantastic to see so many showing up, including current IAI directors, other candidates and many interested members. The energy, capacity and drive in all the people who came to discuss these things tonight can not only push the IA Institute forward, but in a direction that will truly enable it as an organization to fulfill its commitment to support and foster the IA practice.
And the best part, it was damn fun! Being part of an organization that’s driving the future of our profession should be fun! And rewarding! And inviting! And fruitful! I really hope we have a lot more of these.
This is too long and I’m falling asleep so if you remember nothing from what I wrote, remember this: We are all equally valuable and necessary for the advancement of our practice. It’s in the community that things get done. The IAI Board of Directors is a facilitator, period. A facilitator for the community to drive the IA Institute mission to advance Information Architecture.