Last Thursday saw the Ergonomics Society Away Day, at which we reviewed progress against the current 5-year strategy and, more importantly, started brainstorming our priorities for the next 5 years. Which on the face of it is all quite sensible – but five years? That’s ambitious, to put it mildly. When I think about the current themes in the HCI community (creativity, innovation, design as a discipline etc.) and the tools we use to share and discuss them (Twitter, blogs, etc.) it’s all pretty unrecognisable from 2004.
So it was with an air of suspended disbelief that I and twenty or so Council members and Society staff began the workshop, facilitated by Denis O’Brien and Valerie Abl. The day consisted of a series of ‘conversational exercises’, based on a café format, somewhat reminiscent of that employed by various KIDMM colleagues in their own recent knowledge café exercises.
The day started with a scene setting exercise that saw us brainstorming around a set of a set of ‘themes’ (Information, People, Production/Technology, Environment/Ecology, etc.) and how these might affect the Society over the next 5 years. The issues were captured on post-its and subsequently organised as a wall-size mind map.
The main exercise then consisted of a series of café-style discussions (i.e. 4-5 to a table) around our membership experience and expectations (e.g. ‘What do you consider to be your most exciting and rewarding achievement as a Society member?’, “What would you do differently next time?’, and so on). The conversations were documented via notes scribbled on the paper tablecloths and through post-its which captured summaries of each collective discussion. Attendees would circulate around the tables every 15 minutes or so, mixing up the groups and iterating over each question.
At the plenary we shared our collective summaries, reflecting on lessons from the past, issues for the present, and plans for the future. President Tom Stewart made a couple of astute observations: first, that ergonomists should be less focused on trying to promote ergonomics per se, and instead think more about the wider benefits of ergonomics and user-centred design. This simple change of emphasis makes a lot of sense, and is quite pertinent in these times when we are all trying to do more with less.
Secondly, he reminded us that ergonomics is ‘too important to be left to ergonomists’, implying that the remit of ergonomics and human factors extends far beyond the handful of people qualified as practitioners. Consequently, rather than trying to spread ourselves too thinly across an ever-growing range of disciplines and projects, we would be better off sharing our UCD knowledge and best practice with colleagues from all disciplines, empowering them to make decisions that place the user experience at the heart of the design.
NB: As an end note, and somewhat surprisingly, there seemed to be no clear undertaking to document any of this, let alone share it with the wider membership. This seems a little odd to me, given the time & effort in generating it. Maybe I was simply asking the wrong people at the wrong time, but at the very least I’d hope that an undertaking of this significance would be transcribed in detail and then disseminated in timely fashion to the wider membership for feedback, while it’s still both topical and relevant. Watch this space for updates.