ia/recon 1/6: The Discipline and the Role

Jesse James Garrett offers some suggestions for resolving the problem of defining IA. In part 1 of a 6-part series of essays, JJG discusses the increasing need to understand what we mean by IA in order to sell it in this downturned economy.

According to JJG, the problems we're having stem from our efforts to describe a broad discipline of IA (big IA) in terms of the narrow role of an IA (little IA). He believes that big IA shouldn't necessarily be defined vis-a-vis little IA. The solution, he says, is to discard specific notions of role when defining the discipline and instead work on narrowing the broad discussion of IA as a discipline. Here's an excerpt from his essay:

    Any definition broad enough to encompass the role is too broad to foster useful discussion of the discipline; any definition narrow enough for the discipline is too narrow for the role. We seem to be at an impasse. Basing either definition on the other means one is going to be insufficient. Trying to do both at once isn't working, producing a classic chicken-and-egg problem.

    The only solution is to decouple the definition of the discipline from the definition of the role entirely. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this is perfectly reasonable, and not without precedent in other fields. The conductor of an orchestra, for example, has a wide range of creative and managerial responsibilities; 'conducting', while certainly part of his job, doesn't begin capture the full range of those duties.

The conductor analogy seems apt. Divorcing the big from little IA in order to define the damn thing is certainly a compelling direction to consider. I know many of us are tiring of the discussion around defining IA, but Jesse makes a good point about needing to arrive at an understanding of the discipline that is compelling enough to convince managers or clients of its value, given the economy we're all faced with. I'm looking forward to the next phase of progress towards this end. Perhaps at the Summit?

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get a grip

Can we please end the numerous conversations around "what is ia"

There are more important issues to waste ones time on!

I agree

Note that this is where the essay starts, not where it ends. We'll be moving into some very different (and to me, much more interesting) territory from here.

Looking forward to it

IA, like any other business-research field, is constantly evolving. I'm much more interested in the research end than the business end, so I happen to find this evolution one of the most exciting things about the field. However, the unemployed IA's can't be denied; IA needs to be defined before it can be sold. Not many people are better suited than Jesse to define the damn thing, so I'm looking forward to the rest of his essays.


I think this essay is one of the many attempts to do just that -- help practitioners get a grip so that the "what is ia" question can dissolve into the background.