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Apr 04, 2011: The IA Summit: joint custody

It really was great. Something of a bounce-back year in so many ways—energy, attendance, experience, and most of all, content. Thanks so much to everyone who was involved—from Jess McMullin and Samantha Starmer, who were co-chairs—down to everyone who bothered to show up. Even those of you who got something remotely from the Twitter stream. Awesome.

I'll admit that I'd been wondering if this would be our last IA Summit. If it was, it'd be quite sad. But all things must pass, and a twelve-year run would be nothing to sneeze at. I know I'd be proud. But there will be an #ias12 (and in New Orleans, which is wonderful news).

Unfortunately, next year's event will once again be attended by a 900 lb. gorilla that, like me, has attended every IA Summit: a broken business model. The IA community's flagship event is owned by ASIS&T, an entirely different community's professional association. The IA community's own professional association, the IAI, has no ownership stake in the IA Summit. This is nuts.

I love and respect the people involved in both organizations. I'm the IAI's cofounder. I've known Dick Hill, ASIS&T's executive director for twenty years. Some of my best friends are information scientists.

But to have one community's organization handling the major annual event on behalf of another community continues to make zero sense. It's an historical accident (my fault, to some degree) that needs to get ironed out. Let's face it, #ias11 worked well despite this huge crack in the event's business model. We got lucky this time; we might not be so lucky next year.

Once and for all, we need to make this a jointly owned event. ASIS&T can continue to handle the business end of things, such as finding a venue, handling money, and so on. Having taken a risk on our community back in 2000, and having remained committed to continuing the event—even during some lean years—ASIS&T deserves the right to continue. And let's not forget: it legally owns that right.

The IAI should own the programming, promotional, and experiential aspects of the event. This is obvious, and I doubt anyone at ASIS&T would disagree. In fact, many people already assume (incorrectly) that this is the case. The IAI must own at least some aspect of its own community's keystone event, and the IDEA conference, as wonderful as it is, is not that event.

Sure, the IAI could create a competing event. But that will create marketplace confusion, not to mention bad blood. It could also fragment the IA community itself. Let's not go there.

ASIS&T could say no to sharing. But they'll eventually lose much of the volunteer juice that handles programming, promotions, and the event's experience. This is what will kill off IA Summit—if not immediately, within five years. Besides, saying no would weaken the IA community by denying our representative organization official ownership of (and revenue from) our own main event. ASIS&T, which has been wonderfully supportive of the IAI all along, has no interest in seeing that happen.

So let's do joint custody. It won't be simple and it won't be easy, but it can and needs to get done. The alternatives present some huge, ugly, we-don't-want-to-go-there risks. And the kid looks like a winner, at least the morning after Denver.

And let's fix this problem now, while there are good feelings and great energy, while there is momentum, and while our backs aren't against the wall.

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Comment: Todd Zaki Warfel (Apr 4, 2011)

Agreed with one caveat: the venue is part of the experience.

Comment: Cennydd Bowles (Apr 4, 2011)

I wish I had something more sensible to comment than "Spot on", but I don't. Spot on.

Comment: Lou (Apr 4, 2011)

Absolutely Todd; many of the areas of responsibility I listed above should be handled through IAI/ASIS&T collaboration.

And thanks Cennydd; so sorry to have had to leave before your keynote.

Comment: Andrea Resmini (Apr 4, 2011)

Spot on, Lou.
As current president of the IAI, all I can say is that this will probably change with IAS12.
The IAI and ASIS&T are working together and looking for solutions, and we are pretty much in line with what you say above. It's still too early for announcements, actually too early for anything, but I can tell you we have all intentions to address the issue. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

Comment: Lou (Apr 4, 2011)

Thanks Andrea; that's great to hear!

Comment: Chris (Apr 4, 2011)


Your analysis and proposal seem very reasonable to me, and I'm heartened to hear Andrea confirm that this conversation is happening.

Here's a little thought experiment/analogy: ASIS&T is the client/business, and the users are us. The IAI is proposing a new experience, built on top of some legacy systems.

I would say success depends on deeply understanding the current needs and process of the clients, and taking care that the proposed solution will not only provide a better experience, but will also meet the business goals.

Hopefully Dick will reply via his blog or twitter feed and the conversation will continue.

Comment: Jess McMullin (Apr 4, 2011)

Hey Lou,

You're right that this is a 900lb gorilla, and we are already talking about it...my main goal in taking on co-chairing is to make the IA Summit sustainable over the long term. IAI is definitely a piece of the puzzle.

For those of you who don't see behind the scenes, ASIS&T doesn't manage "programming, promotional, and experiential aspects of the event." That's up to the co-chairs and the organizing committee that they select and manage (and has been for the entire time the Summit has run). The Summit is community-powered, and most of our volunteers are IAI members.

And I hope we "get so lucky next year" for #ias12 since Samantha and I are keeping our roles as 2012 co-chairs and hope to have many of our amazing ias11 committee return. Maybe you meant we should get so lucky for 2013 ;-)

We are creating an advisory council drawing from past chairs, IAI peeps, and other significant members of the community. I hope that group will 1) be formed 2) choose the 2013 co-chairs in the next couple months.

For those of you who couldn't make it: Samantha and I hosted a "IA Summit 2012 and Beyond" session yesterday and covered a few things (which I'll summarize on the Summit blog once I catch up on family & client needs). In addition, I've been having individual and group conversations about improving the Summit including the role of ASIS&T and also IAI.

That's just the beginning of an ongoing conversation to ensure that the Summit continues to improve and provide an anchor for the community.

Looking forward to your participation in that conversation as well as many other folks contributing.


Comment: Jess (Apr 4, 2011)


While we hope for the return of many of our committee, we need more committed people to pull off 2012 and chart the course for the future.

If you're interested in volunteering let us know at http://2012.iasummit.org

Comment: Dick Hill (Apr 7, 2011)

Dick Hill

Lou, if you remember way back (hard at our years), I approached you and Peter for the first IA Summit, left program and other such aspects in your control, and ASIST facilitated behind the scenes.

That has been the basic model every since, with the Chair and the program committee in control of the content and environment of the meeting, ASIST doing the business stuff that is not rewarding to most Chairs/committee members.

So the planning model is close to what Lou wants, though without a direct relationship with IAI.

We try to keep out of the way of the Chairs/ committee, helping make what they want happen. What Chairs have implemented over the years includes pre-cons, flex track, game night, etc., and, of course, great content. We have variously had 1, 2 or 3 plenary sessions, and now daily closing sessions. It is not the ASIS&T role to limit innovations; it is ours to facilitate, sometimes providing guidance as appropriate.

For the first 3 Summits, I think, the Chair was an ASIST member. I took that to the Board and they were perfectly willing to cede that control to the community, not wanting to mess with something that was working. Since then, I have not even checked membership.

I have tried to keep the IA Summit from being dominated by any clique, by any particular philosophy or ideology, and I think that has been a strength, even if it may appear there is sometimes a lack of apparent direction.

The ASIST relationship with IAI/AIfIA has been varied from the start, for whatever reasons. An inconstancy of direction, perhaps my misperception, has dissuaded me from ceding authority or responsibility to IAI in any permanent way. And no Chair or committee has raised this issue, nor have IAI Chairs prior to Andrea.

I love that the Summit represents a community, and feel the responsibility to continue that community development. IAI represents a very significant part of that community, and I am sure IAI members have been present in planning every summit. Andrea and I have just started talking about what the organizations/summit relationship might be in coming years.

Comment: Karl Fast (Apr 7, 2011)

I'm confused about two key arguments in this post.

First, I am confused by the idea that there is a "broken business model," that #ias11 worked well "despite this huge crack" in the model, and that we "got lucky this year." If so, what happened in all the other years? The IAI was formed between the 4th and 5th Summits. This was the 12th Summit. Furthermore, attendance at the Summit rose steadily after the IAI was formed, peaked at well over 600 people before the financial crisis, fell to moderate but not disastrous levels, and is now creeping up again.

If the Summmit got "lucky" this year, then presumably it has been lucky every year since the IAI was formed. That's quite a streak.

Second, I am unclear how exposing the inner workings of the Summit will guarantee the event's success. That is, why will explaining that the Summit is a joint effort of ASIS&T and the IAI lead to increased attendance and, thus, greater stability? A common IA mistake is to reflect your internal organization structure in your external architecture on the belief that, unless you do so, your audience will not understand your business and the value you provide. Is the Summit an exception to the rule?

I'm not arguing against the Summit being a joint production of ASIS&T and the IAI, or the IAI playing sort of formal role in the Summit. But I am deeply puzzled by the argument that the Summit is doomed unless the IAI is formallly involved and this new relationship with ASIS&T is clearly articulated to potential attendees. While I would welcome more IAI involvement, I remain unconvinced that this is necessary for the continued success of the Summit.

Comment: Lou Rosenfeld (Apr 7, 2011)

Wow. I guess I stirred up a hornets' nest of sorts here.

I brought this all up because, flying home from Denver, I was actually deliriously happy with IAS11, like everyone else. (Was my happiness really not obvious by simply reading the first paragraph of my posting?) I felt that, while we had strong momentum, we ought to address what to me, at least, seems to be an important structural problem that I've pointed out before (and so I'm surprised that anyone involved in the community would be at all surprised by my raising it here).

Absolutely no one should take my comments as a swat at Jess and Samantha or Dick or anyone else involved. I said from the start that this was a great event. WE WERE LUCKY IN THAT JESS AND SAMANTHA CHAIRED IAS11. Much luckier than many realize. Sorry for the all caps, but clearly I wasn't presenting my enthusiasm for IAS11 and the individuals involved sufficiently strongly. So please: don't conflate my concerns with the event's business model with issues with people. It's simply unfounded.

Let's instead focus on that model. Do we remember that, before IAS11, the event were on a downward trajectory? Attendance was down, energy was down, and a lot of people were indeed wondering if the event should go on. Some people have a shockingly short memory about this. There were other risks this year that don't bear mentioning here. I'm sorry to be more transparent about these issues than may be comfortable for everyone, but hey: maybe that means I actually give a crap about the IAS? Maybe airing these things out after years and years just might mean they actually get addressed?

And to assume that what worked fine in 2007 ought to work fine in 2013 completely ignores how a community changes and how its leadership turns over. Today's path to becoming an IA (and a potential IAS attendee) is simply not the same as it was. I hope our model for engaging the IA community in this event--whether through the mechanism of the IAI, or through some other channels--evolves as well. I just don't think the current configuration will enable that evolution.

Should it be the IAI? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever. I'm right, I'm wrong: who gives a damn, really folks. If the planets all align from here on out despite what, to just about any outsider, seems to be a bizarre relationship between a community and the professional association of another community, that'd be wonderful, and you'd all be right to rub my nose in it. But for now, this all feels just a tad bit too faith-based for my liking. Good bloody luck.

Comment: Jess McMullin (Apr 8, 2011)

I think this is a "Yes, and..." opportunity for conversation. I think that our IAS11 team pulled together and hit a home run this year, and that we need to have these kind of conversations to avoid the need for such heroics in the future.

That's the main thrust of your post that I hear, and IAI is a part of that puzzle, and that helps us tackle the fundamental business model and operational model (there's a "yes, and" right there). I do think that we need to address core issues to make the Summit easier to run over the long term. I don't have the bandwidth to do things again the way we did them this year.

Appreciate you having the passion, enthusiasm and caring to push this ahead.

Hope we can figure out better ways as a community to have a better conversation than just 140 character snippets on twitter and posting on blogs.

Like I said in my above comment, I think this is an ongoing conversation and look forward to it continuing (not only about the IAI, but about the Summit's future as a whole).

Maybe we should host some conference calls, Skype or otherwise to connect folks instead of relying solely on written (and easy to misinterpret) options.

I know I'm far from perfect in expressing myself, and it's not always clear how privileged I feel to work on such a great event in service to an amazing community with friends like you.

Thanks for helping us not only raise the bar for the event experience, but for the longevity of the conference and community around it.

Comment: Lou (Apr 8, 2011)

Thanks Jess. I think most of us basically agree that this is a conversation worth having, whether it leads to increased IAI involvement or something else. I also think that what's raising hackles is that I brought it up publicly, not so much my wording or the issue itself. I will say that if we (of all communities) can't manage such discussions remotely, it's likely won't have them at all.

Either way, color me frustrated: one is either an elitist secretive cabalist, or a flaming airer of dirty laundry. I've now tried it both ways with this particular issue, and have completely struck out both times. I no longer see the point, and will gladly refrain from expressing my opinion from here on.

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