PeoplePaul McAleer

IA Summit is Dead

PeoplePaul McAleer

Update from the future (November 2018): The Information Architecture Institute (IAI – so many acronyms!) is taking over the IA Conference as of 2019. This, in short, is very good news. While there’s still work ahead in regards to attendee safety, this is a very, very good first step.

The IA Summit is dead.

During the first week of July, the IA Foundation (IAF) – the new parent organization of the IA Conference (IAC), which was formerly known as the IA Summit (IAS) – released its Grievance Procedure (now deleted – see update at bottom of post). It got noticed on July 9th, via a few super-clued-in people. And then it spread from there.

The Procedure, as it stands, reinforces that the IAF can not (through the IAC) be a safe space for its attendees in any way, shape, or form. It is a feckless, sexist, silencing document that has no place in the practice of information architecture.

While I attended IAS for five years and was a volunteer this year, I was ignorant of IAS’s safety problems and the underlying culture that permits known bad actors to participate and attend. Complaints against said bad actors were casually dismissed. In one conversation about having mentors for the scholars, one person indicated that we needed to be “careful” about the mentors we chose because some might enjoy the… company… of younger people more than others. Like it was no big deal. Everyone knew who they were talking about. Yeah. It fucking creeped me out.

This you know who the bad people are attitude has been killing the culture for years, by quietly (and now with the Procedure, loudly) aligning with the perpetrators and ignoring the valid complaints of victims. The Procedure ultimately seeks to shut down backchannels in any way, shape, or form, by blaming the people who don’t feel comfortable or able to come forward. It’s dismissed as hearsay, it’s treated as invalid (or false, or worse) if it’s not handled in Just This One Way. The Procedure is an outgrowth of the systemic cultural problems IAS has had.

That atmosphere, mind you, was happening while people like me who were privileged were posting about how amazing the conference was, or sharing what I learned with my coworkers, or finding and forging truly great friendships. I’ve met an amazing number of very great people at IAS over the years. But to think that at that same time, despicable behavior was a) happening, b) probably/possibly happening to people I know and c) potentially not addressed with gravitas or maybe at all? That’s some garbage right there.

This isn’t even to speak about the specific CoC violations that I became aware of this year. They were treated so very casually, where time wasn’t a factor and the people who complained were either pushed off or ignored until there was a certain, undefined “amount” of evidence. There was no system in place to handle CoC complaints. Far too much of the training was along the lines of “Be cool; don’t be bad.” That’s not enough.

The Procedure is almost certainly a direct response to these violations, and it reads like a legal document with its talk of due process and hearings (hearings! for a voluntary conference run by an organization! what!) that completely bulldozes over any rights of the victims. It’s the worst type of effort: a deliverable that is created so one can say, “Here – I made the deliverable” without doing any of the work addressing how we got here in the first place. It is bad. It must be completely scrapped, and IAF must immediately announce concrete plans – and actions – to address all of this in a way that centers the safety of attendees, speakers, and sponsors – not perpetrators.

Incidentally, I elected to not be involved in IAC in part because of the lack of swift and empathetic responses to people who had reported CoC violations. I can in no way support an organization that puts out this type of document and stands by it. I will not attend IAC, and until there is meaningful, systemic change led by IAF, you shouldn’t either.


Note: As of July 10, the Grievance Procedure has been removed, with the IAF noting they were going "back to the drawing board"; it wasn't captured in the Web Archive. At that time, some parts of the conference's Code of Conduct were positively changed. My original points in the article still stand.