I did plan to write this a bit earlier, but while I was in Prague at this year’s EuroIA summit, I got a bout of bronchitis that’s been slowing me down. That said, I can still easily say “Wow.” It was a great conference.
What made it great, first and foremost, was the spirit. Just about everyone there was infused with a certain joie de vivre that was infectious. People were there to share and celebrate their profession. The “celebrate” part was really important. There was a sense that information architecture, as a profession, had gone through some hard times, and that it was now possible to hold one’s head up high and jubilantly proclaim to the heavens, “Ich bin ein IA!” – OK, wrong language for Prague, but I don’t know any Czech 😉
Another reason for the success of this conference is that it is deliberately kept small – sold out at 200. This is done to guaranty that most people get to speak to most people, and that you get to meet new folks, not just hang out with old friends. The small group fosters camaraderie as well. There were only two concurrent sessions at a time, so, although choices were sometimes difficult, they weren’t as daunting as for some larger conferences.
Then there was the quality of the presentations themselves. While I can’t say that they were uniformly outstanding, every presentation I attended was able to grab and hold my attention, even the one that I found disappointing. No one was so boring that I wanted to leave. That might seem to be a backhanded compliment, but anyone who has had to organize a conference knows that it is very difficult to achieve such a thing in a three-day event.
I specially appreciated that this conference was really for people in Europe. There were some attendees from North America, but the focus of the conference was on European practice and European issues, and that was a refreshing change from many so-called “international” conferences where people from all over the world can congregate and talk about the state of their professions in the United States.
One innovation of this conference that I really loved – and will probably steal next time I have to organize a conference myself – was what they called “The IA Shuffle.” Conference chair Eric Reiss explained that in the past, organizers had been disappointed by the poor quality of panels and debates that had been proposed and prepared in advance. They decided, a few years back, that an improvised panel couldn’t possibly be any worse, and thus was born the IA Shuffle.
Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the day, a tall hat is placed in front of one of the meeting rooms, and attendees are invited to drop their proposals for a panel discussion topic into the hat. At the end of the day, in plenary session, a single topic is drawn from the hat, and that is the topic of the discussion. Volunteer panelists are then solicited, and the process is repeated as they put their names into the hat. Five or six names are drawn, and Bob’s your uncle! A panel is born.
I personally agree with Eric Reiss’ assessment that the panel we witnessed was every bit as good, and perhaps better for its spontaneity, as any prepared panel could be.
I came back from Prague knowing that next year I’ll be submitting a paper proposal, and going to Rome for EuroIA 2012 whether my paper is accepted or not.