Cross Post: Letting Facets Fly

In her novel The Four Gated City, Doris Lessing recounts a story about the Mullah Nasruddin, who bought a hawk in the marketplace, his only previous experience of birds being sparrows. When he got home, he became dissatisfied with the look of the bird, and trimmed its beak, talons and feathers. “That’s better; now you look more like a bird” he said.

We have that problem in taxonomy and information architecture work all the time. We design a faceted taxonomy and metadata framework to meet user and organisational sharing needs, we build information architecture specifications, and hand them over to the systems integrator (SI), who immediately trims them back to what they are familiar with – single hierarchy document library/ folder structures – especially frustrating when we know that the systems they use are capable of exploiting our designs. The systems can’t fly as designed, so they hop along disappointingly, objectives are not met, and all the work has gone to waste. Limited mental models in the people you rely on for implementation can be powerful obstacles.

We are evolving a few ways of dealing with this. Eg, we are getting much more closely involved in the specification of the systems, helping our clients evaluate vendor proposals (we are fiercely vendor neutral), working alongside the SIs in the implementation, and evaluating the implementation.

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