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 of students, faculty, administrators, staff in FIA initiatives. This sort of enthusiastic involvement also extends to the offices of UMD’s President and Provost 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 received multi-year grants from the University of Maryland and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind support from our partners and others.
The FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition, funded by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, provided opportunities for 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 emerged through the dialogue generated by FIA programs. Teams also worked with one or more of the FIA Founding Partners and other agencies and institutions beyond campus. The FIA Innovation Spark Grant Competition, funded by the University of Maryland, challenged interdisciplinary student teams and their faculty mentors to use virtual and augmented reality to address real-world problems.
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 have appeared as guests on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, broadcast from WAMU 88.5, the NPR affiliate in Washington, D.C. FIA programs have explored MOOCs (massive open online courses), big data, crowdsourcing, “the future of the past,” immersion in complex data, and two programs on virtual and augmented reality (2016, 2017). We have also organized “FIA Experiences” that featured design challenges on shaping the future of learning and on using data to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and 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.