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Information Architecture Research Agenda

I participated in the "Setting the IA Research Agenda" panel on Saturday, March 25, 2006 at the IA Summit. Here is an overview of my points, with links to background information I compiled in prepration for the panel, as well as some of my notes. A copy of my presentation is attached below.

Fellow panelists: Don Turnbull (panel organizer), Peter Morville, Jamie Blustein.

What is Research?

  • "Active, diligent, and systematic process of inquiry aimed at discovering, interpreting and revising facts" (from Wikipedia entry on Research)
  • Also, a collection of information about a particular subject
  • Basic research: to further knowledge for knowledge's sake
  • Applied research: producing results that may be applied to real world situations ("Research phase" within our ordinary projects)
  • Exploratory: to help define the problem
  • Constructive: develop a solution to a problem
  • Empirical: collect data to test hypotheses (see scientific method)
  • Research methods (a sample): Action research, Case study, Observation, Intuition, Interview, Data analysis, Simulations & models, Controlled experiments

Examples of IA empirical research:

What is a Research Agenda?


  • A list or outline of things to be considered or done (e.g., meetings)
  • An underlying often ideological plan or program (e.g., political)

Research agenda

  • List of things you want to see researched
  • A bunch of questions you want answered
  • Structured list of issues, that when researched, will serve some greater goal

Examples of some of my IA work where I include research agenda questions:

In November, 2004, Peter Van Dijck posted A research agenda for information architecture with follow-up comments from various mailing lists. His research agenda included: Cognitive science (categories, search terms), Business theory (process model), Social Science & Anthropology (information sharing). Donna Maurer later posted that Maybe we do need IA research with these agenda items: Genre, Cognition and categorization, Facets (mental model, UI elements), Re-finding information.

A sampling of existing research agendas that are related to information architecture:

How would these overlap with an IA research agenda? How were these agendas built? How do they relate to funding?

Research agendas will have a lot of overlap with curricula. For example, the HCI "inventory of topics" figure from the ACM SIGCHI CDG gives the same overview of the field that a research agenda would provide.

A small sampling of IA curricula:

The punch line: Treat the IA Research Agenda as an IA project

  • A research agenda is a framework for classifying existing research and (more importantly) planning future research
  • Research agendas have an IA
  • Apply our IA methods to create an IA research agenda

My notes

My notes from the discussion during the panel session, the BOF later in the day, lunch conversations, etc.

  • Don's slides (insert link here)
  • Peer reviewing: nice-to-have for me (helps filter the research) but I am also interested in less polished research
  • A journal is neccesary but not sufficient
  • What are the boundaries of the field?
  • Jamie's slides
  • Hypertext's aims and goals match pretty well to IA's
  • Tenure challenges are key, IA research needs to be recognized for tenure
  • Peter's notes are on flickr
  • Agenda must be bigger than findability
  • Yes, we do need IA research
  • Label it "IA research" - semantics matter
  • Good sign: practitioners getting stalked by graduate students
  • Basic vs. Applied research
  • Closet research literature review in industry
  • Good sources of IA research: ACM DL, JASIST
  • Karl Fast's comments: Agenda is about asking the RIGHT questions, respecting other disciplines
  • One goal for an agenda: $50mil grant from NSF
  • Information literacy as a key agenda item (long term , hard to do)
  • and SURL as examples of making research usable by practitioners
  • "Best practices" may be all that we need for the current set of problems
  • Tools to help with IA research (e.g., a way to analyze web page layouts across a lot of sites)
  • Directory of IA researchers: list of people who are doing research, updated overview of each project, easy to contact them
  • Takes special skills to summarize research for a practitioner (researcher cannot do it)

Panel coverage

Blog entries and other discussions of this panel. If you know of others, please add them as comments - thanks!

IAS-ResAgenda-KI-final.pdf156.36 KB
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