David Ryan, cofounder of a company called Corilla, has garnered responses from 333 technical communicators for a “Life in Docs 2018” survey. The respondents answered questions about how we do our work and what we like and dislike about it.
I’d include a link to Corilla’s website, but at this writing the site is down.
Overall, the results don’t surprise. We technical writers are happy at our work, we use a variety of tools and processes, and we want to collaborate more effectively.
Today I want to zero in on a section in Ryan’s “insights” post, titled Communities of practice are the cultural engine room.
The survey didn’t have questions about associations or affiliations, so I don’t know how Ryan arrived at this “insight.” Perhaps he tripped over his own bias toward looser-knit, informal communities and against established societies.
That said, it’s a point worth discussing.
Here’s what Ryan wrote:
The role of the community organisation has never been more important for content teams. And never more popular. In the last decade we’ve seen mailing lists give way to LinkedIn groups, and societies giving ground to communities….
The decline of the society format is in part due to value and agility. Membership fees and lengthy campaigning for elections provide little resolution to the problems technical writers express (as evidenced in detail in these survey results).
OK, I guess that’s the connection to the survey. Respondents said that their contributions are “undervalued and misunderstood.” A few felt isolated and wanted more affiliation with each other.
For Ryan, traditional associations can’t help with those things. He went on to say:
Communities will continue to emerge and reshape as their needs require. The complex structure of societies exhibit a fragility that leans towards a self preservation bias.
Fragility? Self preservation bias? Mr. Ryan, your bias is showing!
- Networking and information exchange
- Advocating for practitioners
- Defining and compiling a body of knowledge (a prerequisite for certification)
- Connecting academics with practitioners
- Bringing new people into the profession
While I’m all for loose-knit alliances like Write the Docs and even LinkedIn lists, they’e not by themselves enough to build and nurture a professional community. We still need traditional associations, and reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
Even David Ryan, in the end, seems to understand that. He finishes the Communities of practice section by observing:
Maintaining a brand may prove difficult as technical writing evolves from a singular function with specific certification and training (all revenue streams societies rely on) and into a series of complementary skills across a wide range of roles. Given their importance in political and commercial advocacy, it’s ostensibly a good thing that they encounter these force functions for change — but it would be a shame to lose them entirely.
It would be more than a shame. It would be a big loss for the profession: for the practitioners, the students, and the teachers who depend on it and help define it.
Professional associations, of all stripes, face lots of challenges — one of which, certainly, is the fragmentation of the profession into (quoting Ryan) “a series of complementary skills across a wide range of roles.”
To counter these challenges, let’s concentrate on what we share in common, not on our differences. And let’s support associations that help keep the profession strong.
What say you? Leave a comment.