Most of us went through a schooling process that involved memorizing or repeating knowledge that others had come up with first. Our job, as school kids, was to absorb the linear progression of accumulated wisdom of the ages, so we could add to it “when we got older.”
Technical communicators in today’s information ecosystems don’t have the luxury or time for doing this. Our assignment is to discover the as-yet undiscovered! Our goal is to produce nimble information, adapted to users’ needs where and when they need it. Like agile software developers, we must figure out how we can do it better, without even knowing how to do it!
For this reason, The Transformation Society, with the collaboration and support of Adobe Technical Communication, has embarked on a research project to “probe our future” – not to research new technologies, tools, or delivery channels, but to understand how the evolution and ongoing use of these things affects our practice, our needs, and the needs of our users, so we can better understand our path.
We couldn’t ask Google for that, there isn’t a model. In the agile spirit, we had to create our own protocol, and what we came up with is a multi-part, transmedia experience, designed to seek understanding on multiple levels.
The research spaces of this project are:
- A face-to-face workshop, conducted at the 2016 Technical Communications UK (TCUK) Annual Conference in September
- A webinar, presented 4 October
- A follow-up live Twitter #AdobeChat on 6 October
- This blog post
- A white paper concatenating and interpreting the findings
In all the spaces, we:
- Collect, adopt, and adapt information.
- Exchange, transfer, and transform knowledge
- Integrate, assimilate, and engage
In a transmedia event, the story, meaning, and value of the experience come from the synergy and interactions between its different components, as well as from anything intrinsic to the individual parts. We wanted to explore transference, cross-communication, and hybrid forms that would allow both programmed and non-programmed communications.
What’s Your Superpower?
Our workshop at TCUK asked each participant to attribute one, and only one superpower to him- or herself that would help solve their problems as technical communicators. From the answers to this question, we could deduce the needs, problems, or worries that individuals had. We then asked participants to respond to specific questions covering topics from explicit – focused on tools, to implicit – focused on services, to meta-referential – focused on enhanced value.
The group identified seven superpowers, with their connected areas of interest:
- Organizational change – adaptation, new ways of working, institutional and industrial change, new channels for delivering information, new collaboration styles
- Simplifying – seeing beyond the obvious, solving confusion, finding the essential, desire to go farther.
- Flying – quick thinking, creativity, and adaptability, joy, fun, open space, overview.
- Time Travel – change, the ability to remake things, accuracy, catch up, quantity of work.
- Bridging or Transport – contact, mediating, helping others, mind-travel, storytelling, problem management, personal and organizational improvement.
- Mind reading – collaboration, networking, breaking down silos, understanding others, understanding, self-expression.
- Cost control – financial and social value, and temporal, personal investment and organizational efficiency.
In the webinar, we then asked participants additional questions centered around these issues. For example, with respect to flying, after explaining what workshop participants said about it, we asked what flying really meant for those attending the webinar. Webinar attendees’ responses included:
- Fast with a comprehensive overview
- “Grok” a concept
- Unfettered by delays caused by tools, processes
Participants also provided links to related information from external sources, adding value to their interaction.
In the webinar, we also explored connected ideas and research that we were able to correlate with the workshop responses, most notably, the impact of Industry 4.0 on technical information.
The follow-up #AdobeChat on Twitter posed six questions from issues raised during the webinar, for example, “What role should you have in machine-machine information?”
The chat provided the opportunity to analyze differences between programmed and non-programmed dialogues:
- When humans interact, the conversations diverge from the plan
- Participants are moving to a more social model for technical information
- Participants validate their statements from their own experience more than from outside authorities
If we can identify some specific iterative routines, we can not only participate in, but add to strategies and methodologies such as agile software development or design thinking that are creating new environments for complex problem solving.
Technical Communication as a Social Act
As we traverse the different media used in this research, we are struck by the persistence of focus by participants on learning more about the users, especially their attitudes, emotions, and motivations.
This translated into demands for “mind reading” – systems to recognize emotional states via heart rate, for example, or facial recognition – with the intent of getting immediate feedback on the user’s frame of mind. Collaboration and feedback were also words that appeared over and over again.
It would seem that the various participants in these events all converge around the idea of technical communication as a social discipline, one that demands more and more personal involvement.
Today, professional empowerment depends on personal engagement, and that is true for users and producers alike – hence the expressed need for viable feedback systems that engage users as collaborators in the process of information design and delivery.
Individual engagement also depends on a level of freedom offered by the work environment. We often heard people say, in effect, “I am more creative than I’m allowed to be.” Sufficient institutional flexibility is necessary to maintain ongoing learning processes and sustainable development of new communication spaces. It is also essential for effective production. While companies seem to be evolving, based on participants’ experiences, they still have a way to go.
These subjects and more will be explored in greater depth when our white paper is published, in the next weeks. Watch for the announcement.
About the Transformation Society
The Transformation Society is a consulting, training, and research company focused on helping executives, educators, and other society leaders understand the issues that affect organizations, business and individuals in complex environments.
We provide strategies for action-training and active leadership to get beyond the boundaries of a specific problem in a given field, and open connections to build a wider view. We apply our methodology to harness communications architectures that empower people and organizations with tools for ongoing, dynamic development.