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First Open IAI (Open) Discussion

Open IAI Discussion

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.

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Jennifer b. said,

September 10, 2008 @ 10:40 am

I wish I could have been there, but it sounds like there will be more opportunities for participation. These things all sound right on to me in terms of transparency and helping people understand how they can participate. Thanks to all who did participate. :)

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Austin Govella said,

September 10, 2008 @ 11:39 am

That sounds like it was fantastic. I wish I could’ve been there.

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Whitney Hess said,

September 10, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

Really wish I’d been there. It sounds fantastic. Can’t wait for the next session

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Amy Brown said,

September 10, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

Hate I missed the conversation, because I want to be a more active member.

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Aaron Watkins said,

September 10, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

It’s been great to see so much activity within the IAI this week. Thanks for having this discussion!

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James Melzer said,

September 11, 2008 @ 12:04 am

Livia, Great job running the show. I had major technology issues and only about 10% attention to spare (wireframing late again) – but I still got a lot out of it. My main takeaway was from our discussion of the first 90 days for the new board. The Board needs to set achievable goals, agree on roles/responsibilities and communicate all that to the members in a way that engages them. I am also super excited about Leisa’s project with Drupal and the lessons she learns engaging a huge vocal international community (no pressure Leisa!). My one mental block is trying to apply open source ideas to a member organization. It may be my own naivety, but it seems that open source communities fundamentally are about forging the best possible product, instantiated in code. Arguably, IAI is about services (not a product) so I’m struggling to see how a product-centered community contribution model applies to it. Maybe it’s just late and my brain has stopped. In any case, bravo on the event! OpenIAI should definitely do it again soon to keep the momentum going.

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Information Architecture Today :: Findability.org said,

September 11, 2008 @ 1:08 am

[...] it’s great to see so much energy and innovation coming from within the information architecture community today. There’s an impressive slate of candidates running for the IAI Board, and I love what Livia Labate, Russ Unger, and Matthew Milan are doing with Open IAI. [...]

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Livia said,

September 11, 2008 @ 1:53 am

Jenn, Austin, Whitney and Amy – I’m counting on seeing you there next time!

James, that’s a question I have myself. When we picked ‘open’ for Open IAI it did come from the identifying how these ideas seemed very in sync with what the Open Source movement accomplishes.

However, you are dead on the problem. We aren’t working together to create the best possible product. But I do think we can figure out how to extrapolate the model in service of advancing a discipline for example.

I am curious however, about what you perceive “a member organization” to be (for the IAI). One of my observations about the IAI has been that when it started out I felt violently how much of a volunteering effort it was. Today, it feels very very different. This is only my perception, but volunteering doesn’t sound like the assumed, primary force there. I could be wrong, but anyway, I don’t know why that happened.

Regardless, I’m really hoping you’re one of the smart brains that’s going to figure this one out. ;) One way to look at it is actually something I just came across – the concept or Radical Transparency. In contrast to accountability, it requires decision making to be transparent from the get-go in the decision making process, while accountability is a process of verifying the quality of decisions or actions after they have been taken.

In that lens, accountability is almost punitive while Radical Transparency is less judgmental and encourages corrections and improvements before poor decisions have the chance to be enacted. I like that as a model. I just wrote a little bit about trying to figure out how ‘transparency’ gets implemented: http://livlab.com/thinkia/2008/09/do-or-do-not-there-is-no-try/

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xian said,

September 11, 2008 @ 11:53 am

Though I was initially put off by the idea of a branded slate, I enjoyed the freewheeling discussion via ylive and I believe that the conversation is moving things in a useful direction.

As we discussed live, if everyone in that conversation, whether elected to the board or not, continues to press for these kinds of improvements, then the IAI and (more importantly) the IA and larger UX communities will benefit.

I am curious to to know which IAI efforts you think might be “withering” ones “that eat up the limited capacity we have”?

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