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Local Groups Coordinator Survey, 2007

We asked information architecture professionals from around the world to share the experiences and challenges they faced while coordinating local IA group events.

1. How did you determine that a local group was feasible in
your area?

  • I knew enough people personally to know there was an interest.
  • Being located in a well populated city with many who have IA knowledge and experience.
  • I started by posting an announcement to SIG-IA and also by asking everyone I was able to meet who worked in or was interested in information design aspects of web design. I also attended a local STC (Society for Technical Communication) chapter meeting to see if there were parallels there.
  • Knowledge of large employers who had IA employees in the area.
  • Just tried it and kept hosting it month after month until a core group emerged.
  • I knew another IA in town, we had been communicating for a while but had never met and decided to set up a cocktail hour and send out invitations. . . . we have a few people that we know will show up, and we plan on getting together and talking regardless, and if other people show up, great.

2. About how many hours per month are required to coordinate
and promote your group's events?

  • 1 hour a month or, more precisely, 3 hours per 3 months.
  • Around 5, including attending [the event].
  • One
  • One or less
  • Less than one, it doesn't take much effort.

3. In what ways do you publicize events?

  • Email to group members.
  • Post to IAwiki
  • Email to sigia-l
  • I send an announcement (1 month in advance) and a reminder (1 or 2 days in advance) to the members of the Yahoo!Group and follow these up with messages to sigia-l.
  • I send out one or two emails to announce the next event.
  • Evite invitation
  • Flyer at the previous month's meeting
  • Reminder email to my colleagues at work

4. In what ways do you generate participation in your group?

  • Word-of-mouth by attendees of previous events.
  • Sending announcements to IA-related mailing lists.
  • Face to face meetings for this group work well. Because the group has been running for a few years, there is a core set of attendees, and all are comfortable discussing issues. This helps newer people as well. Most people come to these meetings interested in contributing and discussing, not just listening.
  • I accept suggestions from the group, and we try to give everyone a chance to speak, for example using a show-and-tell format.
  • The most important way I've generated participation is by being persistent-I try to hold a meeting every month, no matter how busy I am, how many or few people show up, whether there is a topic I'm really excited about or not.
  • Try to gather opinions about what the best time/place to meet is, what kind of subjects people want to talk about.

5. What level of IA knowledge is expected from those who participate in your events?

  • Limited. As I state in the description of the group "If you feel your work is related to Information Architecture, but your business card says Interaction Designer, User Interface Engineer, Concept Designer, User Experience Consultant, or similar, you're welcome".
  • None
  • Personally I wanted a group of experienced people who could skip the basics and discuss substantial design issues. . .so it's for advanced people only, lest the discussion get diluted and people lose interest.
  • Virtually none beyond having an idea that IA is about organizing information-we get a number of people who don't do IA but hear about it from people they work with and come because they'd like to learn more.
  • We hoped originally that people would at the very least know what IA is and have some experience doing it, even if that experience was just making a wireframe once. In reality, most people are total newbies and the events end up with us teaching them an intro to IA rather than having a good discourse.

6. What is the typical format for your group's events
(e.g., speaker presentations, round table, cocktail hour, salon, etc.)?

  • The format used to be a Cocktail Hour (show up at a bar, share stories, and buy drinks) but the latest event was an in-house event with a presenter, a brainstorm session, and sponsored drinks & snacks.
  • Speaker presentations, discussions, sometimes general chat. We usually have a topic or a presentation by a member.
  • Once in a while there is a presentation, but usually it's a group discussion on a pre-determined topic.
  • We try to do every other month where one month will be a specific topic to discuss and the next will be a cocktail hour that will be networking and more free form but we aren't religious about it-if there are interesting topics we will go several months in a row. Because our setting is a restaurant each meeting has something of a networking/cocktail hour aspect to it. We're quite informal. Occasionally we'll have a formal presentation at someone's office, but that's generally a bit harder to plan.
  • Varies, though we've done mainly cocktail hours. We've had presentations, collaborative workshops, show-and-tells, etc.

7. Please describe the venues for your group's events and why you've chosen those venues.

  • All but two events were held in a café/bar/restaurant downtown. I know the owners, and they would point people inquiring at the bar in my direction.
  • One event was held in a bar in another city, 1.5 hours away by train. Both bars serve snacks and/or meals in addition to the drinks.
  • The latest event was held in a kitchen/relaxation room [of one of the event's organizers] where attendees sat around a kitchen table and on couches.
  • We have finally found a good venue after trying 4 different places. We now have a private room at a local sports club. It is a big room, and quiet. We have access to a bar so we can have a drink and can use the dining room if we want to stay for dinner. So far this venue is working well, but my company does sponsor the group by paying for the room hire.
  • Our own apartments. They are quiet and allow for great conversations and richer interaction. It's also cheaper.
  • Our first venue was a local bar, but they wanted us to pay for use of the space, so we found a new location. That location proved too loud/dark to really have a good meeting space. Finally we found a restaurant/bar that has an area set off slightly. It works well for us and they are very accommodating; no extra charge, they happily keep separate tabs. We have also met in my office conference room on several occasions and at the local offices of a small web design group on several occasions.
  • If it's at an office, it's usually one of the organizer's offices that we use. If it's at a restaurant/bar, we try to pick a central location where we can be guaranteed a big table and the wait staff won't get mad if we are there for a few hours but don't order much.

8. What types of challenges have you faced while coordinating your group?

  • Low attendance numbers, resulting in a core group attending, but no new blood, which in the long run will lead to extinction. Luckily I got new people interested out of the blue and that didn't happen.
  • I feel I have to be present, which limits the opportunities slightly (I am occasionally out of the country for work), especially when I get "requests" to organize an event by visiting foreign IAs.
  • Finding good meeting spaces. Keeping a mailing list up to date. Keeping disciplined about planning & organizing.
  • Challenges around unifying the reasons for setting up a group and its purpose when co-leading a local groups' initiative.
  • Managing the invitation list so it is neither too large nor too small.
  • Attendance
  • Finding good meeting spaces. Keeping our mailing list up to date. Keeping myself disciplined about planning & organizing.

9. What advice would you give to someone looking to coordinate a local group?

  • Start small, allow the group to grow slowly.
  • If you don't have a group in your community DEFINITELY create one-it will pay for itself many times over in networking, knowledge and skill-building. If you can co-coordinate with someone who will hold up their end of the deal, that will give you some flexibility and wiggle room.
  • Don't be discouraged when few people come or there is low energy-these things cycle. Accept that you have to make it more of a priority thananyone else is likely to and don't get discouraged or offended when it's low on other's lists-time really does build stability in this kind of group.
  • Don't get too formal too soon.
  • I think that finding a good venue is possibly the most crucial aspect of the group - for us it needed to be quiet enough to talk, have food and drink, easy parking, and be convenient to workplaces and homes. Poor venues have included:
    • Meeting rooms in offices - it is just too uninspiring to go to a meeting room after being at work all day. Yuck!
    • Previous bars were a little noisy, and a couple of members commented that they were too smoky
    • We used a nice café/bar for a few meetings, but it really only suited informal meetings
  • Merely meeting isn't enough, give people something to get excited about. In our group, we know at the very least there will be something to eat and some good social interaction.
  • Find a good location
  • Allow discussion and networking around a topic
  • Make it fun and interesting
  • Find ways to introduce people to each other - we use name tags, and they do work well
  • Involve people from a range of backgrounds
  • Look for interesting topics, especially ones that might not be of day-to-day interest but are from related fields
  • People love case studies
  • Find a way to allow online discussion so people get to know each other online and people who can't make the meeting can still learn and be involved
  • Alternate lunch and evenings if possible - some people can't attend after work due to family commitments
  • It's pretty easy to put a group together, so don't make more work for yourself than is necessary. Find a place, choose a topic, and get the word out. That's really all you need to do to start.

10. What advice would you give to someone looking to participate in a local group?

  • Ask for one on an IA-related mailing list, and there's a good chance that someone else in organizing one for you. Attend one if you it advertised; it will never be a waste of time.
  • Go along to both learn and contribute.
  • Go to as many as possible to see what you like.
  • The more people that show up, the better, so help to get people to attend. You'll get much more out of it if the people are at your level or more experienced than you, so make sure you can get a good group of attendees.
  • Do it! Put it on your calendar and go even when you're not in the mood. Speak up about topics you're interested in and recommend ideas, but most importantly just show up-you don't have to be a major extrovert to be a valuable member of a local group.

This page was last modified on March 19, 2007 06:56 PM.