Ask anyone for a short list of the most exciting developments of our time, and the answer is likely to include: “the rapidly evolving role of information in our lives.” Ask anyone for a short list of the most vexing developments of our time, and you are likely to get the same answer. This continually changing information landscape creates both rich opportunities and high-stakes challenges. We believe these must be addressed in a broadly collaborative way if information in all its forms is to be an effective resource for everyone. The Future of Information Alliance – the FIA – was launched at the University of Maryland in 2011 to identify these opportunities and challenges and to serve as a catalyst for discussion, research, and action – on campus and beyond.
What is unusual about the FIA is the degree to which its base is broadly inclusive. Every one of the dozen colleges and schools at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus is involved, along with the libraries. This engagement is manifest in the support of the deans, the makeup of the FIA’s “brainstorming board,” and the participation over the past four years of well over 1,000 students, faculty, administrators, staff in FIA initiatives. This sort of enthusiastic involvement also extends to the offices of UMD’s President, Provost, and Vice President for Research and includes our 10 Founding Partners, some of the leading cultural, and governmental and educational institutions in the nation and the region. Google’s “director of user happiness,” Dan Russell, has been an integral part of the FIA since its inception.
The FIA has been generously supported by multi-year grants from the University of Maryland and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind support from our partners and others.
The FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition has provided an opportunity for 13 interdisciplinary student teams and their faculty mentors to carry out projects aimed at one or more of the 10 priorities for the future of information that have emerged through the dialogue generated by FIA programs. Each of the teams has also worked with one or more of the FIA Founding Partners and other agencies and institutions beyond campus.
The FIA has organized numerous programs on a range of cutting-edge issues, bringing together “Visiting Future-ists” — experts and innovators — to talk about the challenges and opportunities that sit at the intersections of their diverse fields and are too complex and timely to be left to any single discipline to address. Our Visiting Future-ists also regularly appear as guests on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, broadcast from WAMU 88.5, the NPR affiliate in Washington, D.C. We organized an early exploration of MOOCs – massive open online courses, which are among the latest developments, both disruptive and promising, to surface in higher education. FIA programs have dealt with big data, crowdsourcing, and “the future of the past.” In 2014 we organized “FIA Experiences” featuring design challenges on shaping the future of learning and on using data to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. More recently the FIA organized a program for UMD center and lab directors to identify shared challenges and chart a path toward collaborative solutions.
In addition to programs on campus, FIA has organized events in Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis featuring our “Visiting Future-ists” and hosted by a number of our partners: the National Geographic Society, the Library of Congress, the Newseum, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, and Barrie School, and the Office of the Governor of Maryland.
We have exciting ideas and plans for our own future, and we will keep you posted on this website and through our email list. We also encourage you to reach out to us with your ideas for FIA initiatives.