Re: The Future of Information Architecture.
On the 17th of September 2019 the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) communicated the board’s decision to dissolve the organisation. The communication was entitled: 09/17/2019 – Decision – The future of the IAI and may be found, for now, at:
The IAI was registered as a 501 c (6) nonprofit organization in the state of Michigan in the USA. Such entities are organised to support trade and commerce interests related to a profession or practice and are not-for-profit. It is important to note that the closing of the IAI is the closing of an entity which I believe many people, both within and beyond the practice, have come to consider as being representative of more than just trade and commerce related to the practice.
The dissolution of the Institute is by no means, nor should it imply, the dissolution of the practice (if that is even possible) or the field (which may be argued not to actually exist at this time or at least to be in its infancy). Nevertheless, a void now exists in a place that IA held in the world. Mature, transparent, representative and just consideration needs to be given to what could or should replace the IAI, if anything at all.
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With all due respect to the founding mothers and fathers of the practice of Information Architecture as represented, by-and-large by the IA Institute, they happened upon something far greater in context, relevance, importance and meaning than had initially been conceived.
The recognition that both the theory and practices of multiple disciplines are more or less tacitly at play and in evidence in the practice of IA is gaining momentum within the IA community and is supported by research-led efforts taking place within academic, educational and applied spaces by an increasing number of people from around the world.
We are at an inflection point in the development of a practice which stands more to benefit by expanding its current framing than not, despite real evidence and cogent argumentation that the frame of the practice is in truth broader, regardless of the opinions of the practice’s community, their volume, reach or indeed their silence on the matter.
If we can rise above matters of community, there is a higher calling than the benefits to be gained by the practice.
The world is being swept forward uncontrollably into a future which in all likelihood will be heavily determined, in the main, by the values and interests of commerce and technology. IA, in its current framing, is contributing an extremely small part of what it could contribute to ensuring that our global, socio-technological futures are based in values and interests of a higher-order than those contained within commerce and technology. That is to say, human goodness. We are also at an inflection point in the development of humankind where commerce and technology, left to their own devices, could easily result in equivalent experiences as those which emerged from the last Industrial Revolution where some of the greatest atrocities in human history, including but not limited to colonisation, may be found.
A field can contain multiple types of practice based on multiple interpretations of the meaning of the field. In fact, it is not uncommon for multiple interpretations and practices to be at odds with one another within the same field. This adds credibility to a field, is a sign of its maturity and should be encouraged in the appropriate forums and formats with the appropriate protocols and controls.
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Times such as these are precarious for young fields such as IA where power positions within the community of practice will inevitably be at play in the consideration of the future of the practice and field. Neither purposely hidden power agendas nor historical or cultural assumption should dictate future definitions of purpose, promise or value related to the practice of IA in the consideration of a replacement entity.
These issues should however not imply the need for consensus on one or an other epistemological (disciplinary, theoretical or philosophical) position or underpinning. The same applies to matters of praxiology related to practice, profession and even the important issues related to markets, trade, commerce and people’s livelihoods. On the contrary, and in an effort to mature the field, a form of entity, related entities or invented entity is required which can singularly contain a multiplicity of positions and the inclusion of new positions which will inevitably emerge if we are successful.
In other words, we require an entity for the field and not the practice.
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As applied here, the term ‘field’ should be understood to include:
- Discipline, practice and education
- The community of the field of which the community of practice is a part
- Spaces of and for the storing and growing of the various forms of value created by the field, not limited to practice or practitioners, for the field and the world in general.
‘Field’ should be understood as representing the interests, needs and values of all stakeholders (internal and external to the field as well as those directly or indirectly impacted by the field) rather than its ‘shareholders’.
At the level implied herein, ‘field’ should pursue an authentic agenda of global, cultural and social inclusion without fear or favour towards any majority, if it is to possess any integrity what’s so ever. To be precise: the purpose, promise and values of the field should not be a matter of numbers or place but rather one of just and fair futures where the wellbeing of the overall ecosystem should take centre stage.
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It is my firm belief that a hundred years from now IA will be understood to have been a defining field of the 21st Century for its contribution to the betterment of life on earth. The field as it stands today is a very long way off achieving this purpose, nevertheless, it yet remains within our ability.
The reasons for the dissolution of the IA Institute still need to be understood both broadly and deeply, its lessons, meaning and cautions for the future documented for reasons of historical record and the value therein, for those who will live on while we have have passed on. This may require many years of fact finding and reflection as it calls for the larger creation of a record of the field as a whole. Regardless, both must be done but at this moment the needs of the future should take priority.