Reflections on my involvement with the UK UPA

This is my personal opinion, and I haven’t shared these thoughts with my fellow committee members before posting. They will probably disagree with some points.

When I moved to London in 2007, there was one monthly opportunity for me to network, learn about the London UX job market, find interviewees for my MSc thesis, and enhance my education by adding relevant talks from practitioners to my lectures at UCLIC: the UK UPA event. It’s where I made the connections that would then lead me to attend the first UX Bookclub or discover the then-small London IA pub meetups. I love the London UX scene, it has been great to see it grow to a self-organising community with many different events, from bookclub to field trip to barcamp to speaker coaching sessions.

My main reason for joining the committee were the events. I wanted to make sure that future students and people new to London, or to UX, had a friendly starting point. Before moving to London, I was more of an interaction design/IxDA kid, to whom the UPA seemed like an old aunt. The London UPA felt different, thanks to Claire, Lola, Hannah and others involved. The events are still successful, which makes me happy.

The summer elections, new committee members and especially the feedback the committee received were a wake-up call for me. Yep, I had been helping out with events, but have to admit I did little else. While not all criticism was constructive, it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Leisa’s blogpost has done the same thing, and it’s good that the discussion is now public. Hence my contribution.

I have been very critical about the committee. Other committee members aren’t on Twitter! They don’t know about London IA, book club, and the UX scene! They don’t know the UX blog of the day! They are suggesting event topics that sound boring! I was so narrow-minded and arrogant. While I engage with ‘my’ part of the UX community, other committee members connect with academia, ergonomics or human factors folks, and attend events on product design or accessibility. The UPA tries to reach wider, and the diversity of the committee is thanks to election, not selection. I’ve realised that some of my fellow committee members are not disconnected from the UX community, they are connected to different communities that make up our field.

I continue to be frustrated with the global UPA. Does the benefit of being part of a global organisation outweigh the constraints and red tape? The first European-based global president has made a difference, and the UPA has great people. I wish it would feel more like a global community. I’m not sure if I want the UK UPA to break free, but I’d like to see memberships (and money) in local hands. At the moment, I wouldn’t ask you to become a member. I’d rather see you pay for our events. If all of you would join, food and drink would be history. The benefit of being a global member is not clear to me, and I’m part of the organisation. This is wrong. The committee is discussing what to do, and opinions differ. We will share our thoughts and involve our members and non-members. I’m the international liaison person on the committee, so rather than complaining about the global UPA, I better collect input, get a plan together, publicise it, and reach out to the mothership.

We suck at communications. The focus on events has left no time to work on the underlying strategic problems. No one knows what the community is up to. I only learned about the valuable different backgrounds and interests of committee members by being on the committee. We’re not a UK UPA. One response to tackling all these issues are the current elections. I’m excited by the candidates. We need someone based outside of London, we need someone to improve our communications, we need another person to work on professional development initiatives.

Don’t let the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do. It seemed like we were making up too many excuses, right? Lack of communication slapping us in the face. We’re doing. Despite all criticism, the new website is an improvement and I’m thankful for the push to get this live. The committee has been meeting more frequently, for all of us to get to know each other, and to tackle the strategic problems. Yes it’s taking long, and we’re still not sharing enough, but please bear with us. I’m working on suggestions to improve visibility and accountability of what we’re up to, and on improving our communications, together with the currently-to-be-elected new comms person. Stuart and I are looking into our speaker selection process - given the number of people who want to present, we need to be transparent about how we decide who gets the slot. If you have input for any of these activities, please let me know.

The committee is the most challenging of all my UX activities. Being part of an elected group of volunteers feels different. I feel even more responsible. I’m glad I’m not a politician. Democracy, transparency, member input, all bloody hard. I love Meetup to group-organise the Agile UX events. Design Jam is a new format, our group of London organisers shares a clear vision for it. The Agile UX retreat peer group shares a vision, but communicating what it's all about is a challenge. I'm learning from these other volunteer activities, and they benefit from my reflections on my UK UPA involvement.
Organising something more or less on my own allows me to make things happen quickly. Putting on something new with a small team of friends has a start-up feel to it, we experiment, we tweak, we own. Trying to figure out how a peer group that's held together by offline retreats can grow, and share with a wider online audience, is fascinating.
Due to its history and set-up, the UK UPA is a different beast. Some think it’s ugly, some think it’s beautiful. I’m happy that there is a discussion, that Leisa, Ian, my fellow committee members and all of you who have tweeted, commented, DMed and talked to me do care. That gives me the energy to try to make this work.