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April 2005 Contents

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UPA Gains Momentum Across the UK

by Louise Ferguson
Vice President of the UK Chapter of UPA

Face-to-face meetings are a great way to network with other professionals, to keep up with professional developments, perhaps even to pick up work. They are also key to building community in the usability field.

But here at the UK chapter of UPA – the largest chapter in the world, and still growing rapidly – we were until recently holding meetings only in London. For our many members far from “the big smoke,” there was nothing on offer, and we – the chapter committee – believed it would be too difficult to run regular events in various far-flung parts of the country at the same time as keeping the London series going.

We were approaching the problem from the wrong angle. Yes, it would be extremely difficult for us, a small group of chapter committee volunteers, to try anything of the kind; committee members are already fairly thinly spread across competing demands.

But we hadn’t bargained on the efforts of a pool of able and resourceful people: our own members. In the space of a year, regular usability events have started across the UK – Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, with the latest launch taking place this February in the city of Cambridge. How has this been achieved?

Keys to success

  1. Don’t just expect people to take the initiative: make it happen

    Initiative is a rare commodity. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on it. By reviewing the landscape, planning, and taking action, you can make things happen that people would like to see but which they may not act on their own to achieve. Often, just verbal encouragement is enough for someone to act: so keep in touch with people, keep your ears open, and feel free to suggest.

  2. Two heads are better than one: put people in touch with each other

    The common starting point has been putting people in touch with each other. It’s very difficult for a single person, however keen and capable, to start up and run a regular event series, unless they are part of an institution that supports this activity. Even if they consider doing so, it rarely takes place. There are speakers to locate, venues to check out, marketing to take care of, perhaps refreshments to provide…and next month always seems to come around extraordinarily quickly.

    We’ve found that where there at least two people responsible for sharing the load, the chances of success are much higher.

    Sometimes this can mean just putting two people, who have both expressed their interest, in touch with each other. On other occasions, having a trawl through the membership database, and emailing everyone in the area, brings enthusiastic members out of the woodwork. You may well be emailing 60 or 70 people, and perhaps getting just five or six replies, but you shouldn’t be despondent: it only takes two or three people and a little friendly support to get something off the ground.

  3. Meetings provide a focus and draw other people and organisations in

    Once there is a meeting series, and an online presence such as a blog, other things start happening: other groups post your event information and link to your website; you achieve greater visibility among non-members and among other local organisations; and you’re able to take advantage of other people’s efforts.

    Our recent Cambridge event was organised by two people with some chapter committee support: some 45 people turned up for the first event (many of whom were new to UPA), the initiative was immediately discussed at an event organised by a local networking group, Cambridge Network, and the organisers already have two more good speakers lined up as well as a new venue.

  4. Offer advice based on prior experience, but allow people to do what they feel is right for their local context

    The UK chapter provides advice, ideas, and suggestions on venues, speakers, refreshments, charging strategy, marketing and more. This is based on our prior experience with events organisation. But local organisers are free to take or leave this advice, and we support them in the strategy they adopt.

    Keep in touch by email, by phone, via blogs, by VOIP, in person. But keep in touch.

  5. Provide infrastructure support for those things best done centrally

    A local group website based around a blog provides the opportunity for a number of people to easily contribute content within a web-based environment.

    We offer all regional groups server space, and a vanilla Movable Type blogging environment, which allows group blogging, event publicity, and other dialogue concerning the local group and environment. We are now fortunate enough to have committee members and volunteers who can support this arrangement. Some local groups take up this option, while others have their own resources and expertise to draw on. And there are many alternatives to Movable Type (see below for suggestions).

    6. Keep in touch

    Visit groups, find out what’s planned, and encourage ideas and their execution: make sure there’s time in the diary. We regularly visit local groups, whether as speakers or supporters, and we’re currently planning an online group for events organisers, to facilitate mutual support and exchange of information.

These are early days, and there is no standard model for how local groups or events series start or operate in the UK. A community of volunteers is a constant dialogue about what is feasible and what is preferable.

Further information

  Usability Professionals' Association
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Bloomingdale, IL 60108-1017
Tel: +1.630.980.4997
Fax: +1.630.351.8490
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