How charities create change

Charities are too ‘respectable’ to win change, by Janey Starling, is a really interesting article about the role charities play in creating change in society through campaigning and political influencing.

Campaigning might not be the best means for charities to create change anymore.

I’ve written before about how charities are stuck in the ‘squeezed middle’ between social movements and socially responsible businesses, meaning they need to justify their place in the for-good landscape. Perhaps the place of charities in the political landscape is changing too.

Starling talks about how charities should re-establish their place in the political landscape by confrontation, but charities don’t decide the rules of that game, they can only choose or not choose to play the game. Confrontation of the political system might not lead to a change in that system. Why would it? Has it ever?

So, how can charities create change? Perhaps by intervening in other systems.

Why we need to be continually learning

Drucker coined the phrase ‘knowledge worker’ in 1959. Later, he said that knowledge workers should “continue innovation as part of their work, their task and their responsibility”. He saw “innovation as the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service”.

Being innovative also implies the need for “continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker,” “continuous teaching,” and prioritizing quality over quantity of output, activities which we can link with love of knowledge, love of learning, and tenacity.

Knowledge work demands continual learning. Without learning we aren’t in the position to create new knowledge that allows us and the organisations we work to keep pace with the changing world.

Can product management tackle wicked problems?

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems.

Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber

Product management, at least as typically practiced, uses the scientific method as the basis for answering questions and establishing new knowledge.

Rittel and Webber claimed that science cannot deal with wicked problems.

So, can product management tackle wicked problems?

Not the tactical product management as we usually think of it, and not even where product management is able to act strategically, but perhaps where product management can effect systems change.

Product management that seeks certainty will never tackle wicked problems. But product management that embraces uncertainty, and works with complexity, maybe that can.

Weeknotes 330

Did this week:

Risky business

Worked on risk management this week. It’s interesting area because it doesn’t seem to have progressed much since the seventies. Maybe some of the risks have changed and there’s more data to analyse, but fundamentally it’s still about likelihood and severity, finding a way to give them a score (often by guessing), and using that to prioritise which risks to mitigate the most. The approach isn’t very Internet, it doesn’t have feedback loops, doesn’t treat risks as being in a network, doesn’t consider a power law distribution.

The soft power of civil society

This week’s Irregular Ideas was about how civil society uses soft power to influence and persuade. It is by successfully exercising their soft power that civil society organisations bring about change in society.

More NaBloPoMo

Wrote more NaBloPoMo posts. Some of questionable quality. Such is what happens when the writing is for the sake of writing rather than from having something to say.


I’ve started playing with Slack again. It has a good RSS reader app which posts new content from websites into a channel. I think there’s also a way to post tweets into the same channel so I might play with that too. I’m trying to create a content discovery tool to help me find interesting things to read, and although this doesn’t have the randomness that people sharing has, but it’s better than nothing.

And I read:

Are You Solving the Right Problems?

85% of 106 C-suite executives said that their organizations were bad at problem diagnosis, and 87% agreed that this flaw carried significant costs. They don’t struggle with solving problems but figuring out what the problems are. And creative solutions nearly always come from an alternative explanation for—or a reframing of—your problem.

A typology of organisational cultures

This paper on a typology of organisational cultures has some interesting points of how information flows in organisations. “A culture is defined as the organisation’s pattern of response to the problems and opportunities it encounters. Three dominant types—pathological, bureaucratic, and generative—are described. These types are shaped by the preoccupations of the unit’s leaders. The workforce then responds to these priorities, creating the culture. A focus on personal needs leads to a pathological environment, a focus on departmental turf to a bureaucratic style, and a focus on the mission to a generative style.”

Output vs. Outcome & Impact

Thought about:

Defining problems

Trying to reconcile how we define and talk about problems, when there’s a tech thing about different teams repeatedly solving the same problems and the research (above) which shows how difficult it is for organisations to define problems. Perhaps problems exist on a spectrum from tame to wicked, and perhaps solutions range from clumsy to elegant. Definitely need to do some more work on the problem of defining problems.

Maximising impact

In business, it’s all about growth. In charity, it’s all about impact. So, how might teams maximise their impact? Just doing the work to deliver a project is low impact. Doing that work in a way that helps the team learn and improve is medium impact. Doing the project work, improving the team’s working practices, and helping the rest of the organisation learn and improve is high impact.

User journeys

I really like user journeys. They are probably one of my most favourite techniques for creating a model of reality. But so many user journeys are assumptions rather than an attempt to model a user’s reality. They aren’t based in user data. They are you journeys, not user journeys. So, what do we do about it? Maybe start by reminding ourselves that our aim is to create a model of the user’s reality.