The IAI Vision project

Think big!It’s important that we refine our definition of what IA is and what IAI does. However, it’s essential that we think about this in the context of the overall vision of the organization.

A few months ago, I started a project within the IAI board of directors to help us hone the organization’s vision. As a longtime member of the IAI, I was missing some of the verve of the early days when it felt like a new field was being born — one that would change the world — and our organization would be its midwife. I felt that somewhere along the line we’d lost track of why we were doing things to focus on what we were doing, and that re-stating our vision could help bring us back on track.

We have a natural resistance to pinning this down because the word “vision” evokes tacky posters wallpapered over gray and tan cubicles. However, it doesn’t have to be like that! Some visions are incredibly energizing and can lead to great things (e.g. “A computer on every desk and in every home.”) The objective of this project is to develop such a vision for the IAI. The “how” is something that we’ve struggled with; we started by having a series of discussions with our board of advisors, and then surveying them to get their individual hopes and expectations for the profession. It was a good start, but clearly not enough.

The impact we can achieve using online tools and conference calls is limited. Creating a powerful vision is an activity that requires the special mind meld that can only occur when people meet face to face in an isolated setting. Inspired by the prospects of such a meeting (being discussed now in the IAI mailing list), and in the hopes that this will help spark a broader discussion, I share with you here the initial “call to action” posted on the internal IAI board’s Basecamp site earlier this year. Your thoughts are most welcome.

The IAI Vision

What is this project about?
This project aims to develop a compelling vision statement for the IAI, and a strategy (and roadmap) for the implementation of this vision.

That previous sentence makes this exercise sound much more bureaucratic than it is — this is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us to grow the IAI and have a more meaningful impact!

Why do we need to do this?
Because most of us are passionate about IA, and believe that it will change the world for the better. Unfortunately that passion is not being accurately conveyed, represented or harnessed by the Institute.

We see signs of this in our members’ confusion about our role vis-a-vis other professional organizations, comments made by our advisors in our last meeting, comments made by Glenn Harvey [1] in his report to the board, the low turnout during our last annual members meeting, and the (relatively) low posting frequency in the IAI Members mailing list.

We all want the IAI to grow. The vision will help us grow in a coherent way, and will make it clear to all of us why we must grow. It is a critical part of our growth strategy.

But don’t we have a vision already?
Our current business plan has a section titled Mission and Vision, which defines the IAI’s current mission: “The IAI is a global organization that supports individuals and organizations specializing in the design and construction of shared information environments.”

The business plan also presents a 2-year goal of making “Information Architecture” a household term, and details our positioning, strengths, and opportunities.

I suspect these statements contain the seeds of our vision, but they are not the vision per se.

What is a “vision”, after all?
It is our shared understanding of how Information Architecture — and the IAI — will change the world, and what we’re willing to do to achieve that change. In other words, the vision provides an answer to the question “Why does the IAI exist at all?”

What are the outcomes of this project?
Like the word implies, visions are nebulous things. The primary outcome of this exercise is a vision statement, which is another term that sounds more bureaucratic than it should be. (I personally prefer “elevator pitch” or “mantra”.) The vision statement captures the vision in a form that can be easily transmitted from one mind to another. It should be clear, memorable, and exciting/energizing. We should also strive to make it infectious.

WE ARE CHANGING THE WORLD — IT SHOULD BE EXCITING!

Litmus test: if at the end of the process we are squirmy about printing out the vision statement and posting it in our cubes for the world to see, we haven’t done a good job.

Litmus test: if you tell it to your sister/brother/father/etc., and receive a puzzled look, we haven’t done a good job.

Litmus test: if you tell it to a neophyte IA, and s/he doesn’t ask you where s/he can sign up, we haven’t done a good job.

(more litmus tests?)

Once we’ve captured our vision in a statement, we need to convey it to the world (or at least, to our constituency). This doesn’t mean we put up a traditional “mission/vision” page in the website — it means that we make tangible changes to what we are doing and how we are doing it. In other words, the vision should help us make decisions about which projects to pursue, how to pursue them, and how we communicate about what we’re doing. We need to plan out how we’re going to do this.

“We communicate with passion — and passion persuades.” – Anita Roddick

Found a great example of a corporate vision in today’s NY Times:

Volvo’s 2020 Vision: The Injury – Proof Car
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/technology/tech-volvo-safety.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Seven words! And they reveal so much: what they stand for/care about, what they believe they can achieve, the timeframe, etc. It’s a futuristic concept, yet totally grounded in the needs of their clients. I bet it’s also very energizing to Volvo designers and engineers.

Notes:
[1] Glenn Harvey was the first candidate we engaged for the role of Executive Director. He prepared a report for the board on his perceptions of the current state of the organization from the perspective of someone outside the field.