Professional Association of IAs: Good Idea?

Ultimately I don't see a professional association as a good goal, at least not for the next few years; here are my reasons:

  • competition for membership dues with existing associations
  • not enough revenue to make it worth the hassle
  • complex legal issues regarding operating in many states and countries
  • most professional associations aren't perceived as especially efficient or forward-looking; shouldn't we take this opportunity to try something different (i.e., what I'm calling a "community infrastructure")?
As it may make more sense to partner with existing associations, why antagonize them by competing for memberships?

Speaking of which, what about ASIS&T? In a nutshell, ASIS&T is most definitely "good people," but remains a volunteer organization that is focused on serving the needs of a different audience (information scientists) with only some overlap with information architects. Additionally, ASIS&T is good at providing "traditional" professional association services (e.g., group rates on life insurance); however, it has less ability to take advantage of today's technologies (for example, the SIGIA-L archive has not been running properly for several months).

More importantly, information architects should question the approach of allying with any established association (and, indeed, any established field). Close alliance with information science may alienate those who come from other backgrounds, such as the STC crowd (technical communication), CHI (human factors), AIGA (visual design), and so on.

This is a huge risk, and probably not worthwhile.
 
Perhaps a better approach would be to pioneer a complementary relationship with ASIS&T that could be duplicated with other organizations. This might include mutual discounting of memberships, sharing mailing lists, and so on. (Any other ideas?)

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Organizational Structure: Who, What, and Where Should We Be?

We will need to determine a logical structure for our efforts, assuming we need some structure at all.

First, it's not clear if we need to centralize any aspect of the work described in this site. This work could continue to happen independently and organically. If we decide to collaborate and possibly centralize, there needs to be a compelling reason to do so.

Or we may decide that this centralization takes the shape of an "umbrella web site" that ties together our projects. Or an organization that is positioned and funded to advocate on the field's behalf. Or something else altogether.

Thoughts?

If a decision to formally centralize is made, it should be captured in a mission statement and encoded in an organizational structure, such as a US 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It should be noted that the international nature of the field and its practitioners might complicate any efforts to incorporate in the US.

Finally, a location--a PO Box if nothing else--should probably be set up. Right?

Another way to think about this issue of organizational structure is to think backward. What would be the ideal structure to have? When would it be realistic to achieve it? One year? Five years? Pick a date, then work backward, prioritizing along the way. Phases will fall out of this process, helping us determine where to start.

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Decision Making: Who Gets a Say?

In the near term, we may wish to not formalize decision-making, which might be overly ambitious anyway.

Instead perhaps we should act as independent teams working on individual projects (e.g., a team dedicated to fixing the SIGIA-L archive, another building a job site). If we can start doing this, we should also make sure we communicate to each other what we're doing. What's the best mechanism to make sure this communication happens?

In the longer term, if we become formalized as an organization, we would need to determine who is allowed to be a member and what issues they will be able to vote on. And how.

Ditto for governance; would we have a board of directors and executive officers? What would be the nature of the relationship between paid professional staff and volunteers?

I ultimately hope we do not recreate the traditional professional association. In this post-Web world, we can replace bureaucracy with communications technologies to some degree.

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Funding and Resources: What do We Need, How Will We Pay for It, and

Financial and other resource needs obviously will depend on just what exactly we want to do. I've already gone out and purchased the domain name "info-arch.org," and set it up with a virtual host at pair.com. I'm willing to donate this to the cause.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole host of services we may need, ranging from professional services (i.e., lawyers to set up corporate entity, accountants and bookkeepers, conference organizers) to web development services (programming, coding, IA, visual design). And probably some more; what else?

To come up with the money to pay for these, there are a number of business models that are worth considering, but none are obvious. Potential business models include:

  • the "PBS Approach": get corporate and other sponsorships; perhaps the intelligence community would be interested in supporting us these days?
  • traditional member dues approach: rely on funding from individuals, but dangerous because we risk competing with other associations; additionally, membership dues don't bring in much
  • the foundation route: approach Mellon, Kellogg, or another foundation with a history of supporting either one of our source disciplines (e.g., LIS) or community development in general (although we can't argue to be a disadvantaged community)
A hybrid approach is probably the safest way to go. We may also consider a phased plan that involves free membership for the first one to two years, with reliance on "seed money" from a foundation or major sponsors to bridge the near term gap.

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Participation Models: Money and/or Attention?

At least initially it will be hard to make a case for financial support from individuals in the community, many of whom are already shelling out for other associations' dues or are unemployed. This might change in the future when we've established some valuable services, but for now it's probably not worth the bother of trying to collect dues.

Instead it would be interesting to explore some alternatives for enlisting that other kind of support, namely participation. Perhaps if we consider some economic models of attention and participation (e.g. SlashDot), we might hit on some way of incenting individuals to participate in an ongoing way?

And let's not forget larger investments of volunteer time, such as will be required for each of these projects to get up and running. We may want to advertise the active projects, each with a contact, with the hope of getting members of the community excited about participating. Therefore a marketing plan to enlist volunteers is perhaps a first order task. Volunteers?

And it's important not to forget that many efforts at building community infrastructure are already underway. IA Slash and the IA wiki are just two great examples. What would be the best way to get the owners of these projects to begin coordinating their efforts?

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Member Services: What Does Joe Information Architect Want?

What do information architects really want? We need to do some market research. Anyone care to create a survey?

My assumption is that conventional professional association offerings, like discounted health insurance and low rate credit cards, would probably not be attractive to information architects who could easily find them elsewhere. But I may be wrong. In any case, we should probably perform a basic market research survey of practitioners' needs.

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Relationships and Partnerships: With Whom?

There are a number of relationships for us to consider, including:


  • existing professional associations: how can we help each other without competing? exchange membership lists, discount each others' dues, etc?
  • private sector: aside from sponsorships, can we help them by, for example, matching student or new IAs to their projects at low or no consulting costs? (perhaps this would be more appropriate to offer to non-profits)
  • academia: how can we enlist their support?
  • consulting agencies: what are their needs from the IA community, and what are they prepared to offer in exchange?
Although we may not have concrete proposals for each of these communities, the more important thing is to initiate conversations with each. The sooner the better.

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Implementation: Moving Forward

Whatever we dream of doing, ultimately we need a plan for getting things done, especially with designing and developing the one or more web sites that will be needed to serve the community.

Ideally we could solicit groups of volunteers to handle the fundamentals of the process, including:

  • project management
  • IA design
  • branding and visual design
  • content creation
  • user testing
  • coding and programming
  • ...and lots more

Does anyone know of models for distributed voluntary collaboration that have worked elsewhere?

More importantly, do you want to step up to the plate?

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Other Stuff?

What else do we need to do? Let me know.

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