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UPA Gains Momentum Across the UK
by Louise Ferguson
Vice President of the UK Chapter of
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
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
- Don’t just expect people to take the initiative: make
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.
- Two heads are better than one: put people in touch with each
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.
- Meetings provide a focus and draw other people and organisations
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.
- 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.
- Provide infrastructure support for those things best done
A local group website based around a blog provides the opportunity
for a number of people to easily contribute content within a web-based
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.
- UK websites to visit: local groups
- Chapter websites:
- Blogging software