What is a global tech comm association?

As our tech comm jobs are getting more and more global in scope and reach, it seems professional associations haven’t quite kept up with the times.

I’m a tech writer working in Germany for a Danish software company. I write in English for customers across Europe, North America, and other places. And it’s been difficult to find a professional association that represents my interests.

The options

tekom logotekom, the German association, has a regional chapter which regularly meets in my hometown. I attended several events, but found few fellow tech writers who documented software, let alone did so in English. Heavy machinery, yes. Industrial part catalogues, yes. But it’s been years since I’ve worked in German, and I’ve never written a standardized warning for life and limb. I just didn’t find I had much in common with my German colleagues. The tekom/tcworld conference does have “Associations World” where other organizations exhibit, ISTC among them, but not STC, if I remember correctly.

STC logoSTC, the American association, has as one of its goals to “promote STC as the global leader in technical communication”. But it has only 3 chapters in Europe, none in Germany, and has limited offerings and hamstrung operations for Europeans. See the discussion in the STC’s blog for details. (To its credit, the STC has sent out strong signals at last months’ summit that it understands these issues and will work to improve the situation!) At the STC Summit, I didn’t see any mention of other associations, though two tekom officials were present.

ISTC logoISTC, the British association, has a large share of people in software, and most of its members work in English, so that suits me well. It was actually coincidence that theirs was the first door I knocked on, and they welcomed me warmly, both at their conference and as a contributor to their quarterly magazine. So joined ISTC, even though it’s not present in the two countries I work. At the TCUK conference, I don’t think I saw any mention of other associations.

A modest proposal

In my opinion, there is no global tech comm association at the moment. Some are global leaders, but I don’t think any one is the global leader.

And that’s probably fine: While our scope and our customers become more and more global, we still lead local lives. Most of us have very few locales where we work long stretches at a time. That’s where we want to meet other tech comm’ers to network – or complain – over a beer, that’s where we look for jobs.

A federation of tech comm associations is my modest proposal: We probably don’t even need a global association, but existing ones should make it easier for its members to network, travel, and move. Maybe offer reduced event rates for members of other associations – as I know some of them already do.

I regularly meet with tech comm’ers in Denmark, and I look forward to visiting some in the US. The tech comm community is already international. And I think it’s time the associations also get along. Tech comm’ers do. Even their topics do! It’s the tech comm way.

16 Responses

  1. I agree a federated, co-operative approach is probably best. The UK chapter only had 100 members, so the main reason for joining was for the STC’s magazines and webinars.

    In fact, that happens already, to a small extent with INTECOM (International Council for Technical Communication) and TCEurope. They tend to be focused on standards, as far as I am aware.

    “INTECOM’s main activity is the promotion of an international forum for the exchange of ideas and techniques on technical communication. The Forum is held every five years in various countries, and is organised by one of the member organisation.”

    • Thanks, Ellis. I also know INTECOM (only) from its work on standards, so they seem to be flying under the radar a bit, in my personal experience anyway. From the mission you quote, they seem to be a federation of member states, so maybe it’s time to strengthen or revive that approach.

  2. Another thought. Implicit in your post is that your goal is to meet people. I can also assume it’s to learn. Actually, you don’t need an association to do that. There are conferences run by companies other than the professional bodies, and, in theory, others could arrange meetups.

    • Good point. I have also enjoyed “non-association” conferences and benefitted tremendously from them, but they seem to have a harder time to foster a community outside of their conferences.

  3. great post and summary and we agree – it would require everyone setting aside their egos though and focusing on the big picture. I know tekom’s reach is far bigger than just Germany since tcworld has expanded to India and Japan.

    • Thanks, TechWhirl. Yes, I had the impression that egos and a “history” may be among the reasons why we don’t have such a federation yet. But who knows, maybe if members from several associations demand it loud and clear, it can help to work towards those common goals.

  4. Thanks for the informative blog post! I am curious to know if having a global #techcomm organization has any relevant implications for the localization work that is happening in technical communications industry these days?

    From what I’ve been reading, it seems like there is a growing trend that is embracing different styles of multi-user collaboration.

    • Hi, Brian, it’s a pertinent question, but I don’t know the localization industry well enough to comment with confidence.

      I do know that localizers are a strong presence among conference vendors, in the associations’ journals and to a varying degree also in the conference sessions. So improving the exchange of tech comm with the localization industry would be one more good reason to have such a federation.

  5. I admire your attitude, and in theory I am all in favour of an international grouping. In reality, an international organisation would be very difficult to run. Even running an umbrella organisation is difficult – my understanding is that INTECOM doesn’t really exist any more (though its website is still available).

    In my experience, STC has failed to live up to its claim to be an international leader. (I was at one time a very active member of STC, and I am currently an active member of ISTC.) I was always a member of STC Chapters outside the USA, I helped run a “Europe” special interest group for the STC, and I also helped organise the first meeting of the STC Board to be held in Europe (in London in October 2006). But in spite of this I always felt that I was battling some STC staffers and even some STC volunteer leaders who simply couldn’t understand that there was a world outside the USA, which had different languages, different legal frameworks, and different currencies.

    I am of course very glad that you have chosen to associate yourself with ISTC, and I look forward to seeing you once again at TCUK 2012 in Newcastle in October. It’s going to be quite an international event, with keynote speakers from Israel, Denmark, and the USA (www.technicalcommunicationuk.com).

    • Thanks, David. The difficulity of running a truly global organization is one of the reasons I’m advocating a federation.

      I’ve had some similar experiences with STC that it made difficult to deal with them as a non-American, but I believe the current board that they are committed to remedy this.

      I appreciate the international outlook the ISTC takes with TCUK this year, and I think this is the way to go.

  6. Disclaimer: I’m involved with the ISTC.

    Kai, I agree, we are a ‘global community’ these days and our industry has yet to respond to that (we aren’t alone in that respect).

    If someone chooses to do this, whoever grabs the bull by the horns, has a clear goal and understands the needs of each distinct organisation that would be under the ‘umbrella’ will only succeed if they are focused, driven and committed.

    Where this will fail will be political and traditionalist staids who will fight change. Ignore them (sounds harsh I know) as they’ll only drag discussions down into specifics.

    I’d love to see this happen. I think others, many others, would support this and given the resurgence of the STC (focusing in the USA) and the ISTC continuing to be more ambitious, I think the right people may be in place to make something happen.

    Just my tuppence.

    • Thanks, Gordon. I really hope that you and I (and many others) are right about this, and I’m as hopeful as you are that we have the right people heading up the organizations. I for one am keeping my fingers crossed and will lend a hand, left and right of the Atlantic, to help see this through!

  7. I’m manager of the STC Europe SIG.

    Europe already has one federated group of national technical communications organisations, TCeurope. ISTC is a member. Tekom recently left it. They recently held their annual conference in Portugal, hosted by APCOMTEC, the Portuguese tech comm association.

    STC isn’t a member as it’s not considered a national association in Europe and TCeurope is an umbrella group for European national associations (INTECOM would be the global one, I guess). In this day and age it’s a bit passé perhaps in approach to box groups within national borders as so many of us work now internationally.

    Tekom certainly isn’t restricting itself to a national border. It’s increasingly active all over Europe and Asia. It has far more initiative than the STC when it comes to “international”. The STC board regularly states that it’s now taking international seriously and will start listening to its non-North American members better. A little change happens and then gets forgotten. If Tekom and STC should ever hold a joint international conference together, I fear Tekom would wash the floor with them. Tekom practices international, STC just talks it. One is a for-profit organisation, the other a non-profit.

    So, in Europe at least, there’s already a structure in place for a federated group of tech comm groups. ISTC would be the largest member of TCeurope now that Tekom is gone. Beyond getting emails about its annual conference, I don’t hear much about TCeurope.

    But as David Farbey says, international organisations can be hard to run. It isn’t just the potential for politics. Just getting & keeping active volunteers can be hard. But I agree with the concept of us needing one.

    • Thanks, Jennifer, for the enlightening explanations. I must admit the TCeurope conference in Portugal went right past me… 😦 On the other hand, if neither STC nor tekom are members (for whatever reasons), I’m not sure how much impact TCeurope will have…?

      From all the helpful replies, I’m also getting a sense that there is a lot more history and politics involved than international teech comm’ers might care for. I know, such baggage is hard to overcome, but as I said above: If enough of us voice our reasonable concerns, maybe we can sway the organizations that do exist to collaborate on the behalf of their members.

  8. Hello kai,
    Thanks for raising up a global issue.Though I am just a starter in technical communication,still i found that there are organisations like stc,tekom,istc etc.These organisations need to come togather and combine as one and operate as one,so that the writer’s community can know each other very well and share their thoughts at a global level.I agree with you that we should voice our concerns for global collaboration.

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