Tag Archives: information architecture ia IAI institute board

Help me write my job description

A few weeks ago I joined the IA Institute board of directors. At the IAI, you run to be part of the board and later the specific roles and responsibilities are defined (first electing a president, a treasurer and a secretary to satisfy our non-profit legal requirements, then assigning particular responsibilities to the other directors).

When we first started discussing roles, my main desire was to become the IAI Ombudsman. Having ran for the board on a platform of transparency, I thought the Ombudsman role would be a good way to introduce an initiative-agnostic role that remained 100% accessible to the membership and was able to directly respond to their needs.

Regardless of my desire to play the role of an open channel of communication that helps things get addressed, someone needed to take on the oversight of the Institute’s IT and Membership (which is corresponds to customer service, tech ops, and all systems). I volunteered to take these on because they seemed to be the most related to the things I wanted to do as an Ombudsman.

A problem became apparent to me right away: an Ombudsman, by definition, is supposed to be independent, neutral and impartial to do their job well. From the IAO Standards of Practice:

1.1 The Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman are independent from other organizational entities.
1.2 The Ombudsman holds no other position within the organization which might compromise independence.

I have been trying to reconcile how I could play the Ombudsman role while being the director responsible for infrastructure oversight and the reality is that it’s just incompatible. Having spent the past few weeks learning about how the Institute runs, what the various systems are, who does what and what is currently understood as needs of the membership, it was not a big leap to figure out I needed to re-frame my role.

I thought lots about whether I should withdraw from the board so I could become the Ombudsman, but seeing where the current infrastructure is today, I think being the director of infrastructure is a better match for me and for the Institute *right now*. To address my concerns on the Institute’s transparency and foster a culture of openness, communication and accountability, we need systems and tools that support people working that way.

I know I have the right skills to lead that charge (as I design systems for a living) and I am interested in the kinds of infrastructure issues the Institute has today (more on that in a future post). There is plenty of work to do so I decided to write a job description to help me focus the time and energy I’m volunteering and so anyone knows how to use that time and energy. Please help me refine!

Director of Infrastructure

The director of infrastructure is responsible for overseeing the planning and development of systems and technologies needed to support and maintain the services and initiatives associated with the Information Architecture Institute.

Key responsibilities

  • Evaluate the short and long-term value and impact of technology decisions.
  • (When someone chooses to deploy a CMS, create a new feature or tweak existing services, I should be able to assess how this affects our overall infrastructure in terms of technology, cost and effort, and help them make the right choices).

  • Ensure infrastructure projects are properly managed and executed
  • (When we need to do something that contributes to the Institute’s infrastructure, I need to make sure projects have a clear purpose and sufficient resources to succeed, in addition to support and encourage contributors to move things along).

  • Keep the Institute and members abreast of infrastructure improvement plans
  • (During my time in this role, I need to involve institute members and keep them informed about what’s going on and set expectations about the direction things are going to ensure it’s in line with what everyone needs.)

  • Assess the infrastructure wants and needs of new initiatives
  • (When a new project comes around, I should offer advice and guidance so project champions are aware of what’s available to them and what they can build on)

  • Direct the Institute’s resources towards the highest value opportunities
  • (To get things done, I need to be mindful of the cost and benefit of utilizing our staff versus reaching out to the community for help and support)

  • Assess the organization’s ability to maintain core systems operational
  • (Evaluate, on an ongoing basis, how well the Institute can maintain it’s various services and advise the board of directors on areas of opportunity and risk)

  • Ensure a smooth role transition to the next director of infrastructure in office
  • (By the time I’m done with my term on the board of directors, I will have a transition plan for the next person who will take this role to ensure quality knowledge transfer and continuity of permanent efforts)

    My goal is that my platform of transparency, vision and empowerment is well translated in the openness, communication and accountability of this role. Any thoughts, edits and additions much appreciated.

    IA Institute Board of Directors

    How very awesome. I’m humbled by being voted for the Information Architecture Institute‘s Board of Directors; I appreciate it immensely. This means I’m spending the next year or two working with Russ Unger, Christian Crumlish, Andrew Hinton, Jorge Arango, Stacy Surla and Peter Boersma along with the great staff (shout-out to Melissa Weaver and Noreen Whysel!) and team of volunteers.

    A lot has happened since the Institute started. The IA practice has matured, we defined the damn thing a few more times, the membership has grown and evolved, several IA Summits and other events happened. I moved to another country, got married and bought a house. Wow!

    I am excited, but more than that I’m interested in working with you. Yes you, reader. Odds are that if you are reading this you are either my mother-in-law or you have some interest in information architecture. If you are the later, then some aspect of what the Information Architecture Institute does is relevant to you.

    Our official duties start October 1st and I’m spending the next couple of weeks learning. I have been part of the board of directors before, I’ve been a treasurer, I led and contributed to the translations initiative, worked with local groups, I’ve mentored people and spent many hours chatting away on the members list. All the time I have spent in my life doing these things has made me a better professional and a more fulfilled person. I enjoy giving back to the community I feel such strong affinity to.

    Again, that’s why I want to work with you. You are a practitioner (perhaps a scholar? less likely but still), information architecture is part of your day-to-day. You may call yourself an information architect, or an interaction designer, or a product manager, doesn’t really matter. I want to work with you to help further the IA practice. But why would YOU care?

    I am not a fan of advancing the practice by focusing on the role of information architects. I think this really is indicative of how the practice has evolved and grown. At one point, information architects and information architecture were synonymous. To gain the recognition for one, you pretty much needed to push the other. If you were trying to do this job 5, 7 or 10 years ago you know what I’m talking about.

    These days, I don’t feel the same way. I have seen a significant change in how people are hiring, building teams and collaborating across functions. In fact, I feel like it can be detrimental to the practice of IA to be associated ONLY with information architects. Before you freak out, I’m an information architect. And most of my close professional circle is made up of other people who identify themselves as information architects. I work in a team of 12 information architects. A.K.A I <3 information architects. My point is, not ALL contexts require or can AFFORD to have a dedicated individual whose primary concern is information architecture. With that, how can the IA Institute best serve its goal to advance the design of shared information environments, the practice of information architecture? We can’t afford to limit our reach and need to extend where and to whom this practice can benefit. To broaden our ability to be effective at this mission, we should focus on the practice, not the practitioner.

    This is my personal and professional stance on what kind of role the Institute should play. That’s why I am saying I want to work with you. Why the <curse> would you care about information architecture? If you don’t have an answer for that today, I really hope you can take some time to work with me and the good people volunteering at the IAI to figure it out. If you do have an answer for that, ask that question of three people who work with you that have a different job title. If you get a blank stare, then come volunteer with me so we can make it relevant to them as well.

    Just imagine the three people in your work situation (colleagues, clients or superiors) who couldn’t care less, or just don’t get it, or just don’t want to hear about whatever you are trying to put forth that’s associated with information architecture. Whether you are trying to get a card sort done or transform the way your business thinks about new opportunities or X, wouldn’t it be nice to have a community to turn to that has tried AND done all those things? (No, you are not a special little snowflake. Somebody has done what you are doing or something like it, that you can leverage or learn from in some way).

    Well, we have that! I have no idea how many people in the world share these same values and struggles, but I know that there are at least 2000 worldwide who have taken a step forward to say a)I care about this practice and b)I have something to share and something to learn. That’s how I see the IA Institute membership. I want to welcome you and your three blank-stare friends to this pool.

    I don’t know if you are an information architect, interaction designer, technical writer, product manager, UX demi-god or a webmaster. I will never find out, but – assuming your trade falls somewhere in the field of user experience – I fully expect you to become aware, knowledgeable and involved with the information architecture practice if you want to be successful in your trade.

    And that’s also why I’m spending the next few weeks learning. Every year the Institute does more stuff than the year before. Every year our practice changes in some way. I feel like I need a two-week immersion to get up to speed and get perspective, so I can play the role I want to play in the Institute.

    More than anything, being on the board for me means being a facilitator. The Institute is made of people (I know, Soylent Green anyone?). It doesn’t matter at all how stellar the board of directors is if you and your colleagues, are still not caring about information architecture. I want to see you and them engage in something with the IA community – going to a happy hour, attending a talk, participating in an online discussion, reviewing a book, mentoring a new professional, anything. I really don’t care what specifically, as long as you do something.

    It’s like broccoli. You can’t say you don’t like if you haven’t tried it. Of maybe you love broccoli. It’s like kohlrabi – have you tried that? You should, you have no idea how good it is. But me telling you will make no difference and you looking at the Wikipedia description will not get you interested (It will probably detract you from it).

    My hope is that my term as an official volunteer-with-a-title will help us all make information architecture more relevant to everyone. And hopefully in some time, you can ask that same question to your colleagues, clients and superiors, and they will tell you why IA is relevant to them. And their answer may be vastly different from yours, but they will KNOW what role it plays in what’s important to them.