SLA Name Debate: Focusing on What It Means to “Test Best”

The following is lightly adapted from a listserv post from earlier today.  Over the past couple of days, I have started to see more discussions focusing on the “why this name” issue I have so wanted to get to.  I greatly appreciate the people who are starting to engage in a detailed discussion of the research.  The focus of many of these debates is on the idea that the proposed new name “tested best” in the research.  This is my response to that assertion:

One of my main concerns lies at the heart of  the notion that this is the name that tested most highly from the research.  The folks that are trying to convince members to vote “yes” on the proposed name continue to say that this was the name that “tested best” among various groups.  However, I have not been convinced of the precision of this statement in my review of the research.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but from the information available in the Alignment Portal it looks like, on a very summarized level, these were the steps that occurred:

First, various surveys, focus groups, and dial testing were performed which developed an understanding of the words that, individually, tested well and those that did not.  The highly ranked words included:

  • Knowledge
  • Strategic
  • International
  • Advantage
  • Insight
  • Association
  • Professional

Second, a variety of possible association names were put together using these individual words.  These names included the following:

  • The Knowledge Society
  • Information Innovators International
  • Strategic Knowledge Society
  • International Knowledge Network
  • Knowledge Link
  • Knowledge and Information Leadership International
  • Knowledge Leaders International
  • Information Society
  • International Information Society
  • The KnowlEDGE Society
  • Society for Knowledge Leadership
  • Society for Strategic Intelligence
  • Association for Strategic Knowledge
  • The Knowledge Exchange
  • Knowledge Exchange Network
  • Strategic Knowledge Network

Third, additional research was conducted to determine which of those names were not already too similar to other groups and which were free of legal obstacles.  Three names were selected and these were presented to a group of people to rate:

  • Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals
  • The Knowledge Society
  • Knowledge & Information International Association

The problem is that, to me, context is important.  I think the research showing that words like “strategic” and “knowledge” are highly-valued is important, and that these words should be used to our advantage: on our resumes, in advertisements, and in communication with our employers and potential employers. I certainly will not argue that we are not strategic, knowledgeable, and professional.  These words and concepts should be implemented liberally throughout the alignment tools that will be introduced. But the fact that these individual words tested well does not mean that stringing them together creates a good name for an association.

This is where the research fails for me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I would be much more convinced of the claim that THIS name scored most highly if the 3 final names presented for evaluation had had slightly more variation.  For example:

  • Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals
  • Association for Library and Information Professionals
  • International Association for Information Professionals and Analysts

There is at least enough variation here that we could see if people liked “knowledge professionals” over “librarians” over “information professionals” in the context of a specific association name.

Although it is not evident from the materials available in the portal, there might have been a decision made, between brainstorming the list of 16 possible names and selecting the final list of 3, to focus on the “knowledge” theme and to present only names that conformed to that decision.  Whether a conscious decision or not, in my mind that choice was a mistake because it means that the only time (that I can tell from the research) that a selection of names was presented to be tested, the respondents were comparing apples that were too similar to each other; the choice of the non-librarian, non-info pro, knowledge-focused association name was already made for them.

It is true that “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals” is the name that “tested best” in the alignment research, but there is a huge caveat that it tested best only among the 3 knowledge-themed names that were provided as an option. Since there was so little variation in the types of names provided in that final 3, I am not convinced by the assertion that it is the name that “tested best”.

In the end, it is not that I wish the Board to disregard the research, or think that they should select a new name “using criteria and methods other than an evidence-based research project”.  It’s that I question how the evidence was applied in the name selection process.

Perhaps this is simply a matter in which we must disagree on whether or not the name selection portion of the research was conducted in the best possible manner, and that is fine. But, now that we seem to have gotten down to actually discussing the research in-depth, I wanted to put my reservations out there.

If there is a piece of research that I have missed that would put my mind at ease on this, I would love to see it.  I have not voted yet and do not plan to until after Thanksgiving.

Thanks to all of the Board for your continued efforts with the alignment project.  It sounds like you, and we all, have a lot of work ahead of us.