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The Art and Science Behind Gaining Collective Agreement

Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) is the home of the University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA) and our latest information architecture engagement.  Unlike our usual trips to this part of the Country, we didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in a snow drift this time, because it was summer. So, we packed our bags, left our good luck charms home, and headed out west.

Information Architecture (IA) – the process of organizing and labeling content – is both an art and a science.  Agreeing on web content priority and placement can cause gray hairs for even the most cohesive of staff.  What presents as a completely logical content structure to one person, may seem completely insane to another. 

Gaining collective agreement (and personal sanity) on IA decisions can be impossible without black magic, or a solid process to guide decision making.  Brightfind flew out to Indiana to guide URMIA through a multi-pronged content exercise designed to foster organizational consensus amongst cross-divisional teams.

URMIA is the preeminent source of innovative and effective risk management ideas and solutions to the challenges facing institutions of higher education in the pursuit of their academic, social, and economic goals.  These ideas and solutions are categorized online into resource areas and libraries for members to consume.

When we began our engagement with URMIA, the organization had three goals: to update the look and feel of its website, improve website navigation and functionality, and better integrate Higher Logic’s collaboration tools into URMIA’s web presence.  The cross-divisional exercise was designed to focus on the navigational elements, from both an organizational and a labeling perspective, in order to allow constituents to access resources intuitively.

Cross-divisional content exercises are exactly that – they are cross-divisional - allowing clients to break through the departmental silo barriers often found within organizations.  For example, if we were to ask the Membership Department what the top content priority is, they would tell us its membership; if we were to ask the Advocacy department, they would tell us it's advocacy.  By splitting the internal stakeholders up into cross-divisional units, we’re encouraging staff to think about the bigger picture, encouraging new and innovative dialogue.

The exercises focus on three facets of IA: content priority; content by target audience; and content grouping and labeling.  Internal stakeholders work through all three exercises in a rotating fashion.

Throughout the exercise, URMIA staff took the opportunity to dive into each content item in depth.  Staff across the organization shared their thoughts and motivations behind each content element, its label and its placement.  These insights enabled others think about content in new and unique ways, driving consensus for each decision made.

The data collected during the cross-divisional exercise, was then compared to the data collected from the open card sort activity (the subject of the next Brightfind on the Road blog) conducted with end users previously.  This resulted in a clean intuitive navigational structure, and an agreement on content priority and placement to guide the upcoming wireframe process.

No magic, but a little art and a lot of science made the process successful and enjoyable for all.  (For inquiring minds that want to know, although we didn’t get our rental car stuck in a snow drift this time, but we did get stranded overnight due to summer storms.  That’s a story for another day . . . maybe over drinks. . . ).

Megan McKelvy

Written by Megan McKelvy

Megan is a skilled strategist and respected consultant with a passion for driving engagement through user-experience and visual design. She has more than 18 years of experience leading comprehensive web strategy, information architecture, visual design, and usability projects for clients both domestically and abroad. As the VP of Customer Engagement at Brightfind, Megan provides expert leadership and strategic oversight to our web solutions engagements. Holding a dual role, Megan also leads Brightfind’s business development, sales, and marketing efforts.