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Kia ora from New Zealand/Aotearoa

2 Sep 2021 10:47 PM | Judi Vernau

I’m writing this from a very wet and windy New Zealand that, at midnight last night at the time of writing (late August), went into full lockdown (Level 4 for us) after the COVID Delta variant was discovered in Auckland. So, unwilling to go out because of bad weather, and unable to keep various appointments, it seemed the perfect time to settle down and embark on the series of blogs I’ve agreed to write for ISKO UK. I’m planning to cover a fairly wide range of topics within the general field of knowledge organization, and I’m hoping that others will feel moved to join in the discussion.

This first piece is really just scene-setting. I’ve worked in information architecture  for a very long time (although that’s not what I would have called it for most of that period), and in Metataxis Ltd I’ve worked with all sorts of clients, big and small, public and private, in the UK and abroad. In 2013 I was offered the chance to create an ontology for the New Zealand government’s Department of Conservation (DOC) in Wellington. It wasn’t my first – that was back in the mid 1990s, when I designed an art ontology for the publisher I worked for, but then again, I wouldn’t have called it an ontology then, probably more of a topic map (does anyone talk about topic maps these days?).

Anyway, developing the DOC ontology was the most fun I’d had in a long time (professionally speaking!). And not only was the work fun, but the country was beautiful, the people were friendly, the coffee – even the decaf – was rich and fruity, and the wine was worth all the exploration time I was willing to put into it. In that first stay, amongst many varied social and cultural activities, I went to a concert in a vineyard (Fat Freddy’s Drop, since you ask, at the Neudorf vineyard), and thought I was in heaven: music, warm weather, friends, wine – oh, yes, and whitebait fritters (very much an NZ thing, and not as weird as they sound). Luckily I was invited back to do some more work on the ontology (of which more in another blog), and from the following year, there seemed to be a constant stream of work, culminating in an offer of a two-year contract to work on ontologies for two other government departments.

At that point both my husband and I had been flying backwards and forwards between the UK and NZ, trying to maintain our life in both places as well as actually spend time together. The offer of the long contract was a turning point: we decided to make NZ our main home. The intention was to spend two thirds of the year in NZ, and one third in the UK. COVID has put paid to that for now, and we’re very much missing friends and family ‘back home’.

We set up Metataxis NZ Ltd in 2014, a sister to the UK company, with two well-respected information management practitioners here, and have been involved in all kinds of knowledge organization work. For me that has primarily been around metadata, taxonomy and ontology: there aren’t too many taxonomists out here (or whatever we’re calling ourselves this week – probably ontologists now – also the subject of a later blog), so there’s a lot to be done, and I’m really enjoying teaching information architecture fundamentals at Victoria University of Wellington, a two-day course which has been running since 2014.

Other topics I’m intending to cover in this blog are the research into an all-of-government ontology that Liz Wilson and I did at the beginning of this year, and the need for indigenous metadata (another research project). Plus general thoughts about the role of information architecture, how to involve users without taking up too much of their time, and IA governance.

As I write that last paragraph, the weather has behaved in typical NZ fashion, meaning that the sun’s come out and it’s time for the permitted ‘exercise’, so it’s a swift walk down to the harbour for me to admire the view, and pray that we’ll be out of lockdown by next week. [Postscript: we weren't.]


  • 1 Oct 2021 3:25 PM | David Watkins
    Thanks for the scene setting Judi - looking forward to the detail and I'll be reading it with a glass of wine and a whitebait :-)
    What would you have called information architecture back in the day? I always liked the term "topic map" - a bit more down to earth than highfalutin "ontology". But I bow to the Will Leonard glossary explaining the terms ( )
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