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A SIG Transformation: Past, Present, and Future
2005, Q3 (July 16, 2013)
By Heather Brautman, Technical Editing SIG Secretary

Heather Brautman
Heather Brautman

A recent discussion about the STC's Technical Editing Special Interest Group (TE SIG) provided insights into the evolving role of communities of interest in the Society. At a meeting of the Carolina Chapter's local TE SIG, Diane Feldman, who is the manager of the Society-level SIG, provided members with an update on SIG activities.

Early Days

One snapshot of the current Technical Editing SIG (Society-level) might give a viewer a very positive image of the group: over 2,000 members strong, a widely read and well-written newsletter, flourishing local SIGs. But the SIG was not always as organized or beneficial to its members.

Approximately five years ago, Diane (who is a Carolina Chapter member) was attending the Technical Editing SIG luncheon at an international STC conference. These luncheons serve as a way to bring members with common interests together at a conference. Diane was amazed to hear abut the state of the SIG. Though it had one of the largest supporting memberships, the SIG had no manager, no newsletter, and no listserv. The group consisted of many members, one annual luncheon, and a box on the STC membership form that new members could check to join the SIG.

When she stepped forward to manage the SIG, Diane looked for ways to enhance the group as a resource for its members. "Perhaps the most successful thing we've done is the newsletter," she says. Corrigo is read by hundreds (if not thousands) of technical communicators. Archived editions may be found on the Technical Editing SIG web site (http://www.stcsig.org/te/); members are alerted to new issues by e-mail blasts. Members also now have a listserv and a web site. "They're somewhat quiet now, but at least we have the infrastructure in place" noted Diane.

Syncing Up with STC

Prior to the Society's Transformation initiative, Society-level support for SIG activities and leaders (such as tools, mentoring, and advocacy on the Board) had dwindled—not for lack of interest, but for lack of resources. In their analysis of the state of the STC for the Transformation initiative, Society leaders recognized that SIGs (or "communities of interest") have tremendous potential to provide value to STC members. But, some chapters are too geographically distributed or too small to be the important resource that the Carolina chapter is to us. For many people, SIGs may be their primary connection to STC for professional support, service, and involvement. But even members of large, relatively concentrated chapters such as ours can benefit from the specialized resources and knowledge base that a community of interest can provide.

Society leaders decided to include SIGs in the rechartering process that would be the touchstone of Transformation activity. They asked the Technical Editing SIG to participate in the rechartering pilot program. "We were asked to do that because we were one of the stronger/larger SIGs," says Diane. "We had infrastructure, a manager, etc." Just as the Carolina chapter did last year, members of the SIG focused on defining their mission and identifying goals and activities to fulfill that mission.

The New Kid on the Block

Late last year, STC leaders saw that to attain their goals the SIGs needed someone to coordinate the efforts of the SIG managers and serve as their liaison to the Board and the Society office. Suzanna Laurent, then 1st Vice President, assumed responsibility for the SIGs and appointed Dana Chisnel as her "point person." When Suzanna became STC President, she designated Dana as "Assistant to the President for Virtual Communities."

Dana is now firmly in place and taking an active role in supporting SIG efforts. She has been in regular communication with SIG managers, has organized conference calls, and compiled a comprehensive report to be delivered at her first Board meeting this quarter. Although the size, interests, and activity levels of the SIGs are wide-ranging, leaders reported several common concerns, such as distribution of finances, management succession, budget planning and tracking, volunteer recruitment, and leadership training.

Looking Towards the Future

It is very clear that the Society sees the SIGs as a vital link to STC members and a key component of the future of the STC. Efforts are underway to organize SIGs to operate as chapters do, with officers, elections, budgets, and charters. Plans are being made to provide support and training for SIG managers and to help them with challenging issues like recruiting in a virtual community. How do you recruit people you don't even know though? In local chapters, when you are thinking about who might do a job, you think about people who have come to meetings — you can call them because you know them. How do you do that in an amorphous group of people you have never met?

In turn, the Society is recognizing that they would do well to tap the considerable expertise of SIG members. "There's a lot that goes on at the Society that would benefit greatly from the skills and abilities in the SIGs," says Diane. "But by and large, they haven't yet taken advantage of those things. For example, members of the Information Design SIG can provide assistance with structuring a conference program or the Special Needs SIG can advise about accommodations at meeting or meals. The SIGs have a great deal to contribute."

The Need for New Blood

All of these developments are in the very early stages at the moment. "It's not clear how all of these [positive] things are going to happen when most SIGs are being just sort of held onto for dear life by a few people," says Diane. She worries that, although the SIGs would benefit from tighter election and fiscal structuring, what it would take to put an election and budget process together may be too much for leaders suffering from burnout. "Even our active Carolina chapter can't fill a ballot. There are seldom two people running or a clear line of succession," she says, speaking of the usual "trifecta" schedule of Vice- President, President, and Immediate Past President. Diane notes, "It's a three-year commitment, which is tough to find these days."

Diane states, "At the international level, some SIGs have co-managers. That might be the way to go." After five years of leading the SIG, pulling it up from meager bootstraps to creating a thriving community, Diane is looking for a coleader who can take the reigns from her hands and lead the pack.

As yet Diane hasn't identified any parties interested in joining SIG management. But with the STC's backing and Dana's support, she hasn't given up hope. She is looking forward to finding "that special person" to groom for succession. "To really enhance the SIG for its bright future," she says, "it's going to take someone new to look at it with fresh eyes."

Heather currently serves as the NCSU Chapter Newsletter Editor. She can be reached at heatherpez at excite dot com. She would like to thank Diane Feldman for her assistance in editing this article and ensuring that the facts and details are accurate and complete. End of article.

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