Letter to the Membership of the Information Architecture Institute on Matters Surrounding IAC 2019


As you may, or may not, know the Information Architecture Institute has recently been called out publicly for a Board decision relating to the handling of a Code of Conduct violation reported at IA Summit 2018 in Chicago. There have been some disturbing accusations made in social channels about the handling of a complaint reported last April to the IA Foundation. Unfortunately these accusations have been made without a clear understanding of our situation.


This incident, along with another reported previously, happened at the IA Summit before the Information Architecture Institute voted to assume responsibility for the IA Conference.


Through this letter it is my intention as President of the Institute to bring clarity to this situation and hopefully an end to what seems to be a dreadful misunderstanding. As a member or partner of our organization, we feel it is important to communicate to you how we got here and what we will do next.


Although some members of the IA community have decided to withdraw participation from IAC 2019 and World IA Day, I encourage you to tap into your empathetic side by supporting the hard working volunteers behind these events. To withdraw support, particularly from World IA Day, would be detrimental to many members of our community who have worked very hard over many many months to bring this wonderful event to their communities. Both events have well defined Codes of Conduct in place.


How we got here.

When I took office as President last April, it became clear that the financial landscape of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) was fragile and would not likely sustain another year. Gaining financial stability became a primary objective followed by redefining the key value to membership. Thus, our first initiative was to get the IAI on more stable financial footing. By November of last year, we made two major cost-saving changes that would still serve the needs of our members:


We changed our membership platform from MemberClicks, which cost the organization more than $6,000 USD per year, to Raklet which now cost the organization $1,800 USD per year.

We moved our websites to the United States which will save the organization more than $4,400 USD per year.

Last summer we were asked by the IA Foundation, along with influential members of the community, to take over the IA Conference. The IAI viewed it as a great opportunity to help with our objectives of increasing the value of membership as well as our financial stability. However, it was not the first time the IAI was approached with this offer.

In fall of 2017 the chairs of IA Summit 2018, supported by influential members of the community, asked the IAI to step in and take over the conference from ASIS&T. The Board at the time, led by Dan Klyn, voted against it because to do so would violate one of our core values as an organization; to promote excellence within our field and build bridges to related disciplines and organizations through research, education, advocacy and community service.

In lieu of taking the conference over, the Board expressed an interest to collaborate in 2019. At the closing of IAS18, the chairs announced the formation the IA Foundation (IAF) and stated they would move forward as an entity to organize what is now known as the IA Conference.


When the IAF, again with the support of influential members of the community, approached us for the second time this summer we were urged to take over the conference which included upholding a ban that was placed on an individual as a result of the aforementioned investigation conducted by the IAF. The IAI was told that if we did not take over the conference with the ban in place, then we would lose support from these influential community members and the 2019 IAC chairs would walk out.

Our vote to take over the IAC took place on November 10th, 2018. Prior to November the IAI received no access to documentation about the process the IAF followed nor the complaint that was filed. In a meeting on held on November 1st, the IAF discussed their reasoning for the findings but told the Board members present that the information was confidential and because there was a pending lawsuit filed against them, they could not release this information without the consent of their lawyer.


The vote to take the on the IAC moved forward and passed 4 to 2, with an additional vote, proposed by Director of Development Bram Wessel, which was to take ownership while holding the ban against the accused with the added contingency that the Board would perform our own due diligence in the absence of requested documentation. This vote is the first of the 3 votes documented in the Referenced Documentation section at the end of this letter.


On January 13th a letter, approved and signed by myself and the 2019 IAC co-chairs, was communicated to the lawyer of the accused stating that the IAC is a private event and reserves the right not to sell a ticket to anyone. In addition, the IAI asked the accused to refrain from registering for the 2019 IA Conference until our independent investigation was complete. It was not until January 21st that we received the details of the violation along with the email sent to the accused communicating the results of the IAF’s investigation.


We carefully reviewed the Code of Conduct from IAS18 and recognized that an outright ban would put the IAI at risk of litigation. By choosing the path of ticket refusal until we could review all of the documents and procedures surrounding the IAF investigation, we felt that it would put our members and our organization at less risk for legal action until this matter was resolved.


What’s next?

As President, I would like to reaffirm our commitment to provide a safe environment for our community. Shortly after our vote to assume responsibility for the IA Conference, Bram Wessel, our former Director of Development, began drafting a blanket Code of Conduct (see Referenced Documentation section) to be applied to all IAI events, programming and online communities. Once we have our draft finalized we will invite our members to review it and submit feedback.


As announced in our Annual Meeting in December, we are looking into partnerships with technology platforms, such as Callisto, to ensure that future events have a fair and confidential process in place to report all Code of Conduct violations. By incorporating a technology solution such as this into our investigation process, disclosure of violations is handled in a way that feels safe to the accuser and assures a solid documentation process to handle the situation in a transparent manner for all parties involved.


These things take some time so we ask for your patience and support while we work on this initiative. In December, Stuart Maxwell resigned from his position as Director of Communications for personal reasons. On January 20th, Bram Wessel resigned from his position as Director of Development due to objections on a passing vote that changed our bylaws. Currently these positions are vacant and, per our bylaws, the Board has the ability to appoint someone to fill each role. This authority was preserved from our former bylaws.


In the next week or so, we plan to open up nominations for Board positions that have reached the end of their term as well as a new position we have added. Once we do this, we encourage applications from those who are willing to make a commitment to move the IAI forward towards a brighter future. We need dedicated people who can follow through on their commitments. If this sounds like you or someone you know, we want to hear from you.


I am committed, as is the entire IAI Board, to transform the institute into a fully functioning professional organization that offers value-added services and resources for its members. I know that we will survive this crisis and that IAC 2019 and World IA Day will be a success.



Marianne Sweeney

President, Information Architecture Institute



Referenced Documentation

IAI Board Meeting 11-10-2018

Minutes recorded by Marianne Sweeny

Attending: Marianne Sweeny, Krispian Emert, Amy Espinosa, Bram Wessel, Rachel Hines, Jelto von Schuckmann, Stuart Maxwell

Not attending: Evgeni Minchev,

Meeting started: 9:00 am PT

Meeting ended: 9:20  am PT

A review of the IAI By-laws showed the prior vote on November 4th, 2018 to be invalid. Shown below, a new vote was taken on the motions before the Board.

The IAI votes to take on the IA Conference in 2019, the IAI will consider any prior bans resulting from Code of Conduct violations to be in effect _until_ we conclude our own due diligence investigation into any banned individual's conduct at any prior IA Summits.

Bram Wessel: Yes

Stuart Maxwell:Yes

Jelto von Schuckmann: Yes

Rachel Hines: Yes

Amy Espinosa: No

Marianne Sweeny: No

Motion carried.

Should the IAI take on IAC 2019, should it initiate its own investigation into harassment complaint from IAS 2018?

Bram Wessel: Yes

Stuart Maxwell: Yes

Jelto von Schuckmann: Yes

Rachel Hines: Yes

Amy Espinosa: Yes

Marianne Sweeny: Yes

Motion carried.

Should the IAI take on IAC 2019?

Bram Wessel: Yes

Stuart Maxwell: Yes

Jelto von Schuckmann: Yes

Rachel Hines: Yes

Amy Espinosa: No

Marianne Sweeny: No

Motion carried.

IAI Code of Conduct drafted by Bram Wessel, former Director of Development

The Information Architecture Institute (IAI), its Board, and its volunteers, are committed to providing a safe, welcoming and harassment-free experience and environment for our constituents of all genders, gender identities and trans-gender statuses, races, religious affiliations, and ethnicities, sexual orientations, physical or cognitive abilities, and physical appearances, at all of our activities and events.

Participants agree to the following Code of Conduct for all interactions during IAI activities and events, including, but not limited to: at event venues, at IAI sponsored events, on social media (Slack, Twitter, etc.) during events, and via all other online media.

We’ve written this code of conduct because we believe a clear code of conduct is a necessary part of building a respectful community space.

IAI activity and event participants agree to:

Be respectful of all participants, considerate in speech and actions, and actively seek to acknowledge and respect the boundaries of fellow attendees, speakers, sponsors, venue staff, and volunteers. For example, if approaching someone that you’ve only known online, ask before initiating physical contact (e.g., “May I give you a hug?), acknowledge, and abide by their response.

Refrain from all forms of harassment.

Do not harass others through speech or actions.

Do not make any insulting or demeaning comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, personal appearance, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, or belief.

Do not make threatening statements to others.

Do not incite others to make discriminatory, or harassing statements. Harassing actions include behavior and speech.

Harassment includes, but is not limited to: deliberate intimidation; stalking; unwanted photography or recording of people who have indicated they do not want to be recorded; purposeful sustained or willful disruption of talks, workshops, webinars, or other events; inappropriate and unwanted physical contact; use of sexual or discriminatory imagery, comments, or jokes; and unwelcome contact.

Behave like a community. Have each other’s backs. If you see someone who appears to be uncomfortable with the actions or words of another, speak up. Stand beside them. Ask them if they’d like to talk to a volunteer or official.

Do not use offensive imagery, or explicit content. Sexualized or vulgar imagery, shared by speakers or participants, is not appropriate for any activity or event venue. Participants should not participate in sharing sexual language or imagery. Speakers’ talks should contain warnings, which the conference staff will post, if there is potentially traumatic content (regarding abuse, assault, death, war, mental health crises, etc.), that is pertinent to illustrating a key point of the talk. The definition of “offensive” will be determined by the event or activity organizers, and will apply to what any reasonable person would consider to be offensive.

Event staff, volunteers, and sponsors are subject to the anti-harassment policy, as well. Particular to sponsors, booth staff (including volunteers) should not wear sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment, and booth design plus any collateral or swag being distributed should not use sexualized images, activities, or other offensive material.

Do not bring firearms to IAI Events.

Need help?

If you feel that someone has harassed you or otherwise treated you inappropriately, please alert an event or activity organizer in person, on the phone, or via email.

Take care of each other. Alert a member of the event team if you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of this Code of Conduct, even if they seem inconsequential.

Details on how to contact an IAI authority will be published prior to each event.

Event organizers will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the event. 


What are the consequences?

Anyone asked to stop harassing or offensive behaviour is expected to comply immediately. Please respect someone else’s “no” and “stop.”

How to reach us:

If any attendee engages in harassing behavior, the event or activity organizers may take any lawful action they deem appropriate, including but not limited to warning the offender or asking the offender to remove themselves from the event without refund.

If you feel you have been unfairly accused of violating this code of conduct, you should contact event or activity organizers with a concise description of your grievance; any grievances filed will be considered by the activity or event organizers.

We welcome your feedback on this and every other aspect of IAI events. We thank you for working with us to make all IAI events and activities a safe, enjoyable, and friendly experience for everyone who participates.

This Code of Conduct is a living document, subject to periodic updates.

Above text is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0. Credit to Erin Kissane, Citizen Code of Conduct, the Django Project’s code of conduct and Theorizing the Web code of conduct and the Ada Initiative’s “how to design a code of conduct for your community.”

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