The goal of the UXnet Local Ambassadors Initiative is to foster the growth of UX communities around the world and facilitate networking among them. In this article, we will look at how UXnet local ambassadors are working within specific geographic locales—cities, regions, or countries—with a mandate to find ways to enable connections and encourage collaboration among like-minded people in user experience. We will also see how local ambassadors are addressing important deficiencies in the status quo and working worldwide to bring the potential benefits of UX-centered communities into fruition.
The Role of Local Ambassadors
Though some might disagree about what user experience is, most would agree that it’s synergistic. A UX community can draw strength from its multidisciplinary roots. UX practitioners have backgrounds in many disciplines and combine methods from a multidisciplinary palette. UX teams share vocabularies and concepts that allow them to communicate and collaborate regardless of their disciplinary roots. And in specific locales, UXnet local ambassadors are helping to bring together and synergize UX communities that comprise disparate sets of professionals, organizations, and events.
Of course, there are already individuals serving as informal hubs within local UX networks. However, they have little support or encouragement, and overall, their efforts are uneven—wildly impressive and ground breaking in some locales, but fragmented, slow to progress, and incomplete in others. Our goal with the Local Ambassadors Initiative is not to replace emergent efforts to build local UX communities, but simply to help them evolve more quickly and more consciously. By doing so, we hope to help ensure that, in defining and building a global user experience community, we listen not just to a few dominant voices at conferences and on discussion lists, but also to practitioners participating in discussions at local chapter meetings and industry cocktail hours.
The four goals of the UXnet Local Ambassadors Initiative are simple and straightforward:
- Recognize and empower those who are already serving as de facto ambassadors in their own locales. Many people serve as natural hubs in local UX networks by organizing and publicizing events, coordinating local groups, and answering questions about their local UX landscape. They are altruistic networkers whose motivation is their interest in UX. They are willing to take on this role with or without UXnet’s support. But when they move away or burn out, their local networks fall apart, and the next altruist to tackle this role must rebuild them from scratch. The Local Ambassadors Initiative will provide infrastructure to capture ambassadors’ local knowledge and make it available to the next generation of ambassadors and the communities they serve.
- Encourage others to tackle this role in underserved locales. As UX communities take root in new locales, new local ambassadors will identify themselves, and UXnet will be ready to support them. In large locales where there is no local ambassador, UXnet may actively solicit volunteers.
- Provide resources and infrastructure to enable local ambassadors to better serve their locales. UXnet volunteers are compiling information resources for local ambassadors serving local UX communities, ranging from guidance on how to identify appropriate event venues to involving local academics and businesses in UX-related organizations and events. Other UXnet initiatives will provide critical infrastructure for use by local ambassadors, including a global calendar for UX-related events and a directory of local UX organizations.
- Help all local ambassadors to be more effective by facilitating ambassadors’ sharing their experiences with one another. Local ambassadors serve as liaisons between locales within our global UX community. For example, the Singapore local ambassador’s success story will be interesting and educational for local ambassadors in Vancouver and Santiago. The Local Ambassadors Initiative provides a discussion list and wiki space for local ambassadors to share questions, answers, experiences, and successes.
Problems Local Ambassadors Are Working to Resolve
The Local Ambassadors Initiative addresses various impediments that currently hamper the growth of collaboration among the practitioners, researchers, students, and organizations specializing in the various disciplines of UX. There are two classes of common problems that local ambassadors are working to resolve: lack of connection among people with compatible interests and impediments to the success of existing efforts.
There is a lack of connection among people in different user experience specialties. Collaboration suffers because people aren’t able to make the connections that would provide them channels for communication. Local ambassadors help to establish such connections and open up those channels. There are several common patterns of disconnection where local ambassadors can make a difference:
- Practitioners and researchers aren’t collaborating. Local ambassadors bring practitioners and researchers together, enabling practitioners to make decisions with the backing of research, while helping to bring research into practice.
- Practitioners and students aren’t collaborating. Local ambassadors encourage outreach from professionals to schools, helping schools to better prepare students for the roles they will fill. Practitioners benefit, too, because students enter the workforce better prepared to assist in the resolution of real-world problems.
- Experienced practitioners aren’t communicating with new entrants into UX professions, who often find it difficult to find their niche. Organizations may draw newcomers in incompatible directions or pigeonhole them in groups that don’t match their ambitions. Local ambassadors can connect new practitioners with established colleagues who have backgrounds that match their interests, affording newcomers better opportunities for obtaining the information and guidance they need.
- Businesses aren’t collaborating with each other. Because of competition between their companies, professionals may feel disinclined to collaborate with each other and share best practices. Local ambassadors seek to open professionals to the potential for personal growth, career development, and business expansion that their participation in a diverse UX-centered community can offer.
- UX professionals aren’t communicating with business leaders. Far too often, businesses fail to give priority to their products’ user experiences and don’t give UX professionals responsibility for and ownership of product design. Local ambassadors establish connections between business leaders and UX professionals to encourage understanding of the value of user experience.
- UX professionals aren’t communicating with the general public. Users still blame themselves for poor user experiences instead of recognizing that usability is a result of good design. Local ambassadors work to spread awareness of the value of user experience among the general public and encourage users to hold us accountable for their experience of the products we design.
Logistical or organizational problems can also hinder good efforts at collaboration, limiting the extent to which collaboration can succeed. Local ambassadors seek ways to make collaborations more effective by removing impediments:
- User experience organizations fragment local populations, forming islands of collaboration. People are collaborating effectively within each island, but not across organizations. Local ambassadors work to ensure that communication is equally free-flowing among all members of a local UX community.
- Conflicting meeting schedules of local organizations sometimes force people to choose between concurrent events. Local ambassadors seek to maximize participation in all organizations’ events by establishing connections between leaders of those organizations and helping them to resolve logistical conflicts.
- Membership dues impede collaboration. Local ambassadors can provide alternative forums for people who don’t attend the meetings of established local organizations, while working with organizational leaders to build their memberships.
- People from the same locale may attend different conferences, missing opportunities to connect with one another, while failing to share what they learn with one another. Local ambassadors connect conference attendees with others from their locales, encouraging dialogue among them. They also facilitate the dissemination of conference attendees’ acquired learning among others who have limited opportunities for travel.