Week notes #214

I did:

The future is asynchronous

I presented some discovery work I’ve been doing for the next phase of our online learning environment. It has been centred around user needs of accessing the platform, booking on sessions, and asynchronous session delivery. Thinking about asynchronous delivery, all the different ways we can support young people to achieve outcomes, is really interesting. It opens up so many more opportunities not only anytime/anywhere, but more importantly about how young people develop a sense of agency around their professional development.

Some thoughts on the Charity Digital Code of Practice

What might a digital charity look like in fifty years? What kinds of thinking models might be needed between now and then to make digital every part of a charity? “Becoming a digital charity offers new modes of operating. It isn’t just digitising existing ways of working, but completely transforming the business model and how they achieve their purpose. But its all about steps in the right direction. The Charity Digital Code of Practice can help charities think about what those steps might look like.”

Launched The Fire Control Problem

I launched my SMS course after the team at Arist helped me with a technical issue of their system not accepting UK phone numbers. Its one of those virtual world meets the physical world problems.

Its interesting to me to be using the process that the course describes in figuring out what to do with the course.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • SMS learning is for individuals. It seems obvious but I hadn’t really thought about it. There is no sense of other people learning the same stuff like you might get from a more open platform like Twitter.
  • SMS is very one way. It doesn’t allow users to question or debate the contents, they have to take it at face value.
  • The concept of achieving uncertain goals rather than the usual approach of defining them first is a bit of a hurdle to get over, and if the user doesn’t grasp the proposition from the start the rest of the lessons might be a bit confusing.
  • The concept might lend itself to an exploratory approach of ideas rather than purely as a means to achieve goals.

Year 2: The revenge

I picked the modules I’ll be studying for the second year of my MSc:

  • Innovation policy and management.
  • Digital creativity and new media management.
  • Blockchain technology and its impact on innovation, management and policy.
  • Research methods in management.
  • Dissertation.

It’s going to be a busy year.

I thought about:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Catchy statement, sounds like it might be true, but how might you test it? It seems to me that if you were to describe what makes ‘culture’ and ‘strategy’ opposite to each other you might describe culture as more subtle, amorphous, vague, driven by story-telling, and strategy as objective, defined, perhaps more scientific or numbers-based. So, based on this, if an organisation is driven by its narrative rather than by insights, then it could be true to say that it is led by its culture and not its strategy. Another question is whether that’s a good thing or not. (And just to add another thought; “Systems swallow culture and strategy whole”.)

Testing vs learning

When launching a product, testing is about confirming what you know, learning is about being open to finding out things you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Both are important but learning is the most difficult because it can only happen with real people using the product.

The fear of digital

What is the fear of digital about? Is it the fear of being replaced, the fear of the new, of the unknown?


“Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even individual awareness of each other.” Maybe this is the opposite of strategy that I’ve been looking for.

And I read:

Remote work and the future of the high street

The high street is dying. Remote/home working as a result of COVID 19 is exacerbating this. But I think there’s an opportunity to do everything better.

Ross describes a town where, “Air quality is high. The local economy is booming. Social mobility is high and unemployment is low”, and essentially asks the question is it possible to have all of these things in the same place at the same time.

So, if I understand what he’s saying correctly, rather than office buildings being full of people from a single company there will be offices with people from lots of different organisations. These co-working spaces will bring people into town centres via environmentally sustainable transport and thus making town centres being convenient places for the kinds of tasks that you have to do in person, things like getting a haircut, banking, and frequenting a cafe or coffee shop.

But we have to ask, why do those things require lots of people to all travel to a location that is convenient for the hairdressers, banks and cafe owners, rather than the business travelling to convenient locations for their customers? The answer used to be obvious, because its more economically viable for the business and because consumer behaviour supported it. When people had no choice but to go to workplaces then businesses would open to provide for the needs of all those people in one place. Giving people a choice changes consumer behaviour. If everyone has a choice (and of course not everyone will) about whether to go to a town centre to work, will there be enough people to sustain that local economy? There will undoubtedly be fewer people, so what defines economic sustainability might be different to pre-COVID times, but will is be enough to drive cause low unemployment and high social mobility?

I think the nature of the problem, as with so many of the post-COVID-rebuild efforts, is one of tight or loose-coupling. In pre-COVID times town centres, and lots of other parts of the economy/society were tightly-couple. Tight-coupling is fragile and risky, it relies on stability throughout the system, it can’t accept too much drastic change. Tightly-coupled systems are like a house of cards, if one card shakes, those connected to it and connected to those that are connected to it feel the effects of that shaking. To create another tightly-coupled system of town centres, one where each part is reliant on all the others for its stability and success, would be to fail to learn from the shock our economy is going through. So perhaps Ross’ vision of town centres as nice places to work could be a reality, but depending on how it is built effects how long it lasts.

An example of the loose-coupling of town centres? Amazon is buying town centre warehousing space far more cheaply than it could of when high street property values were at pre-pandemic levels so that they can deliver across the surrounding town far more quickly than they could from warehouses farther away. Amazon know how to be loosely-coupled. Their warehouses don’t have any great reliance on the surrounding infrastructure and systems that make up a town. As long as Amazon can get vans in and out of the warehouse and have a steady supplier of workers (and if not they’ll bus them in from other towns), they are happy. Whatever happens in the local economy, Amazon can continue unaffected. That is loose-coupling.

The Hacker Ethic of Work

“In the hacker ethic of work, work has to be interesting and fun and, above all, must create value for the worker, the organization and for society as a whole. Workers also must have freedom to organize their work in a way that is more functional to reach their own goals and in the manner that best fits their needs and insights”.

Simone Cicero, who has written more recently about platforms and complex systems, wrote about the hacker ethic of work in 2015, describing it as in the quote above, as an approach to work that involves creativity and freedom. In our complex world, an organisation that is able to adopt the hacker ways of making things that are open and reusable, collaborative and co-created, agile and flow-based, and understand user’s needs can become market leaders.

For me, this article from 2015 and Ross’ article are connected by a thread that approaches work more from the side of the worker than the side of the organisation. Both seem to me to be asking for a change. They recognise a move away from the industrial concept of the worker as a tool to be used by the machines of business and towards the worker as a nodes in the complex systems that make up our economy, society, and environment.

Simone says, “as individuals living today we have a duty to face the future with the eagerness not just to see it happen but, rather, to choose to be part of it and give it a different shape”.


Industry and its discontents“, a podcast by Seth Godin in which he talks about the system of industrialisation. He says industry craves productivity because cheaper wins but cheaper products require cheaper labour, which requires of people that they do morally questionable things to meet their short-term needs. This feels like one of the most important podcasts I’ve ever listened to and mentions many of the justification for moving away from the industrial mindset.

I see in all three of these the theme of society moving away from industrialisation and towards digitisation. The digitisation of society won’t provide some perfect utopia, it will be full of challenges, problems, inequalities, and unintended side-effects

It’s about legacy

“A “programme in which they repair stuff” shouldn’t be compelling viewing. It’s only made so because we hear people’s stories, and what the objects mean to them. And within each episode, we have the “will they be able to restore it? What will it look like?” arc of the chosen objects. We need to be clear that fundraising works best when we talk about individual stories, and what changes as a result of a donor’s support and our organisation’s intervention. This is how we make a connection.”

I’m fascinated by fundraising, as a discipline, a sector and a practice. I think, because it seems so unique. It only exists in the third sector. Things like HR and Marketing, as interesting as they are also, exist in every sector. So, Richards newsletter, and his post about The Repair Shop are like little peaks into the world of fundraising and the mind of a fundraiser.

Because of the way my brain works, I struggle to understand the things Richard talks about, things like love, legacy, restoration, and I guess the connections that storytelling creates. I can conceive of fundraising in a transactional way as a value exchange between three parties; the donor, the charity, and the beneficiary, and how is differs in nature from a commercial value exchange between two parties and adds to fundraising’s uniqueness, but how it actually works in practice is a mystery to me. Is it just marketing by another name? Is it sales, or should it be? Perhaps what I’d like to understand is more about the approaches fundraising uses to fit it into my mental models for the shift from industrial to digital.

Oh, and he mentioned my tweet about what a strategy needs to express in his email newsletter, which was a complete but nice surprise.

Some people tweeted:

Salaries in charity job adverts

There is a claim (I see it mostly on Twitter, from which you can draw you’re own conclusion) that putting the salary in job adverts helps to tackle the gender pay gap. I was interested in where the idea comes from, how robust it is in theory, and whether there is any research or evidence, so with a bit googling I tried to track it down.

There is a press release from the Young Women’s Trust that states, “Employers should stop asking job applicants how much they earn and include salary details in adverts to help close the gender pay gap”. The press release goes on to mention the salary history/wage equity laws that have been introduced in the United States that make asking a candidate about their current/previous salary illegal but doesn’t mention salaries in job adverts again.

I couldn’t find any research that concludes that including salary details in a job advert has any affect on the gender pay gap (I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t exist, just that I didn’t spend very long looking for it). There is some research that says following salary history bans employees received “increased pay for job changers by about 5%, with larger increases for women (8%) and African-Americans (13%). Salary histories appear to account for much of the persistence of residual wage gaps“. And I there is some research that shows that “when there is no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men are more likely to negotiate for a higher wage, whereas women are more likely to signal their willingness to work for a lower wage. However, when we explicitly mention the possibility that wages are negotiable, these differences disappear completely.

Looking it at from a complexity point of view of course its impossible to know what action will have which result so we can’t say that having salaries in job ads won’t contribute to tackling the gender pay gap, but based solely on what I’ve seen, we can’t say that it will either. Perhaps it is better instead to focus on a wider commit to better hiring practices across the the charity sector.

Also, I’ve seen concerns expressed about how we go about making change happen. If naming and shaming charities on Twitter (and actually, organisations don’t tweet, real people probably with the words ‘social’, ‘media’ and ‘executive’ in their job title do) is the default means to get them to change their practices, then what does that say about the charity sector?

But, here’s the interesting question: in a world of misinformation and easily swayed opinions, if something feels like the morally right thing to do but is based on growing public opinion and not on firmly established research and viable hypothesis, is it still the right thing to do?

Architecting organizations by designing constraints

Simone Cicero tweeted “A new approach to organizing is slowly establishing itself. This new approach is essentially small-scale, emergent and outside in, and doesn’t aim at simplifying complexity but at rhyming with it. This approach is based on architecting organizations by designing constraints.”

This is intriguing to me because of my interest in modes of organising within the three spheres of society. If Simone is seeing a new mode in the market sphere, one that conforms to more modern, perhaps non-newtonian, concepts from complexity science, then I’d like to understand more about it.

Is the market unsympathetic?

Justin Jackson tweeted “The market is unsympathetic to your passion. You can build whatever you want, but ultimately you’re beholden to the market and what it wants. Without customer demand, you don’t have a business.”

Yes, in the most obvious way, as we understand markets as unthinking mechanisms of capitalism, they have no sympathy for what any individual puts their time and energy into. But the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Markets do need people who are passionate and invested in what they build and how they build it because without that passion nothings gets built and the market has nothing to be unsympathetic about.


Some thoughts on the Digital Charity Code of Practice

The internet is here and it isn’t going away. Our society is being digitised and there is no going back. Charities need to become ‘digital’. What might a truly digital charity look like? The answer is, we don’t know yet because it hasn’t happened, but broadly I’d say that a digital charity will be able to keep pace with change in society.

Becoming a digital charity offers new modes of operating. It isn’t just digitising existing ways of working, but completely transforming the business model and how they achieve their purpose. But its all about steps in the right direction. The Charity Digital Code of Practice can help charities think about what those steps might look like.

“The Charity Digital Code of Practice is for charity professionals looking to get more strategic with digital. The Code can help you figure out the key actions that your charity needs to take to stay relevant and increase your impact, efficiency and sustainability.”

The Code of Practice has seven elements. And I have some thoughts about how charities can look at each of them from a transformation perspective to consider the underlying models that inform the current way of doing things and what might emerge as new models.


“Digital should be part of every charity leader’s skillset to help their organisation stay relevant, achieve its vision and increase its impact.”

New digital leaders

If you google ‘digital leaders’ you’ll find all kinds particularly unhelpful articles advising leaders to ‘transform people’ and ‘inspire teams’, and all seemingly based on the idea that being a digital leader is just like being a leader but digitally. Charities need leaders who understand that digital leadership requires an entirely new approach.

“Leadership models of the last century have been products of top-down, bureaucratic paradigms. These models are eminently effective for an economy premised on physical production but are not well-suited for a more knowledge-oriented economy. Complexity science suggests a different paradigm for leadership—one that frames leadership as a complex interactive dynamic from which adaptive outcomes (e.g., learning, innovation, and adaptability) emerge.” (Uhl-Biena, Marion, & McKelvey. 2007).

Peter Drucker made made the point that leadership practices were out of date more than twenty years ago. “As we advance deeper in the knowledge economy, the basic assumptions underlining much of what is taught and practiced in the name of management are hopelessly out of date… Most of our assumptions about business, technology and organization are at least 50 years old. They have outlived their time.” (Drucker, 1998).

And slightly more recently Manville and Ober highlighted how thinking from previous centuries still permeates our leadership and management thinking. “We’re in a knowledge economy, but our managerial and governance systems are stuck in the Industrial Era. It’s time for a whole new model.” (Manville & Ober, 2003).

Emergent and interactive leadership

Leaders having more knowledge and skills about digital ways of working, practices, tools and technologies, etc., is essential for charities to evolve, but if digital is just seen as a channel (same approach to marketing but do it on Facebook) or as technology (we got a new website, why haven’t online donations gone up) then that leadership will never transform the charity.

Internet-era leadership models will undoubtedly involve moving from a command-and-control, centralised approach to a decentralised and distributed approach, or as Uhl-Biena et al (2007) propose, “leadership should be seen not only as position and authority but also as an emergent, interactive dynamic—a complex interplay from which a collective impetus for action and change emerges when heterogeneous agents interact in networks in ways that produce new patterns of behavior or new modes of operating”. This complex systems thinking approach describes ‘leadership’ as an emergent property of the interactions within the system rather than as a characteristics of individuals. A practical example of this might be distributing decision-making authority to closer to where the information to make that decision is, rather than decision-making being held within a gate-keeping role of a small number of people.

Stan McCrystal, retired General and business solutions consultant is slightly more poetic about the type of leader required to succeed in complex and interconnected environment. “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.” (McChrystal, 2015).

User Led

“Charities should make the needs and behaviours of beneficiaries and other stakeholders the starting point for everything they do digitally.”

A social model of user-led

To be user-led is to be strongly influenced by, in the case of charities, service-users and beneficiaries. “A user-led organisation is one where the people the organisation represents, or provides a service to, have a majority on the management committee or board, and where there is clear accountability to members and/or service users.” (Morris, 2006).

Morris roots this definition in the social model of disability (Shakespeare, 2010) that whilst considered outdated now introduced the idea that an individual impairment differs from the social construct of disability. In practical terms this was interpreted as ‘a person with an impairment is disabled by a society that doesn’t treat them fairly, they aren’t disabled by their impairment’. Although coming from the field of health and social care, the thinking broadly fits the wider charity context. A person’s need isn’t the problem, the problem is a society that puts barriers in the way of a person meeting that. Charities are a mechanism to overcome some of those barriers in society, but the charity itself can also become a barrier to people meeting their needs.

From paternalist to agentic

Where “clear accountability to members and/or service users” (Morris, 2006) doesn’t exist, an organisation cannot be said to be user-led and runs the risk of adopting a paternalistic approach to serving the needs if its beneficiaries. When a charity (and by that we mean the people who work for a charity) makes decisions it believes to be in the best interests of those it serves without involving them in those decisions it is expressing an attitude of superiority that reduces the agency and liberty of it’s beneficiaries (Dworkin, 2017). It is saying in effect that it knows what service-users need better then the service-users themselves.

Paternalism is a complex and multifaceted philosophical and ethical problem which we aren’t able to go into deeply here, but it is clear that paternalism perpetuates inequality (Schroeder, 2017). And if we agree that part of the role of all charities, regardless of cause, is to contribute towards a fairer society, then they must challenge the paternalist thinking, attitudes and practices that prevent charities from becoming user-led organisations.

Charities bring genuine expertise to bear on the issues that they tackle, and expertise holds a certain legitimate power which increases trust and voluntary cooperation. It is this that gives charities a unique and powerful place in the civic space, but that power should be balanced by transparency and be subject to public scrutiny in order to ensure beneficiaries

What’s digital about all of this? Nothing, if you think digital is about websites and social media, but everything when you understand that digital is about reinventing the ways we think about things in the 21st century to replace outdated modes and models. Charities will need to become more user-led as they become more digital.


Charities’ values, behaviours and ways of working should create the right environment for digital success.”

The amalgamation of the values

Wherever people get together, culture develops. Seth Godin describes culture as “People like us do things like this“. Organisational culture is what we call the amalgamation of the values, assumptions, and most importantly, behaviour in the workplace. It gives those who experience it a sense of inclusion and belonging.

Flamholtz and Randle (2011) talk about an organisational culture being either strong or weak, where a “strong culture is one that people clearly understand and can articulate” and a “weak culture is one that employees have difficulty defining, understanding, or explaining.” They equate their definition of a strong culture with alignment to organisational values that results in cohesiveness between teams and departments, higher motivation and loyalty, greater coordination and control, and various other things that are of benefit to the organisation.

But we should question whether that idea of a strong culture is rooted in the concept of an organisation as a hierarchy with command-and-control (as above in the leadership section), and that if a charity, as it becomes more digital, moves towards a decentralised and distributed model perhaps the need for a ‘strong’ organisational culture as Flamholtz and Randle define it becomes a hindrance to flexibility and adaptability. Kotter and Heskett (2008) describe ‘adaptive cultures’ as those which can take risks and absorb change more easily than unadaptive cultures, and that this is a route to organisational effectiveness.

A network of subcultures and microcultures

Schein (2013) says “With the changes in technological complexity, the leadership task has changed. Leadership in a networked organization is a fundamentally different thing from leadership in a traditional hierarchy”, and talks about culture being made up from lots of subcultures and microcultures. All of these different smaller cultures within an organisation interact in a network of people connecting with those that they find commonalities with, and then those groups connect with other groups with shared values. It is this bottom-up approach to culture emerging more organically than when defined by a top-down hierarchical approach that Schein describes.

The network of subcultures and microcultures that form within the organisation benefit from the strength of weak ties. Granovetter (1973) describes weak ties as being bridges which allow us to disseminate and get access to information that we might not otherwise have access to. As information flows through networks far more quickly than in hierarchies, and as networks can act as ‘load-balancers‘ to distribute information via other routes if one becomes blocked, a network model serves the culture of a digital charity by facilitating faster decision-making, communicating valued behaviours, and .

So, culture is an important aspect for digital charities, but what we mean by culture in a digital age can’t just be imported from a non-digital mode of thinking. Culture needs to be rethought and redesigned for the internet-era.


“Charities’ strategies should be ambitious about how they use digital to achieve their vision and mission. This could mean investing money, but it definitely means thinking creatively about how digital can increase impact, reach and sustainability.”

Digital takes strategy up a level

Whatever digital does in supporting in the creation and implementation of a strategy to achieve the vision and mission of a charity, digital will have to take strategy up a level to become about redefining the business model of digital charities to ensure their continued existence and ability to operate effectively in the internet-era. Digital thinking changes the nature of strategy, it turns the concept of using past patterns to create future plans (Mintzberg, 1988) on its head, it forces an embracing of the uncertainties of modern times, and changes how to approach dealing with constant fact-paced change.

In order to respond to this increasing uncertainty and speed of change charities will need to develop new business models and new ways of working that can not only respond to change but leverage it for their advantage.

From pipelines to platforms

First, the business models of digital charities. Business models can be thought of as the missing link between strategy and business processes and describe “how a business works, the logic that creates its value” (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2002). The important part of the phrase is “creates its value”. That’s what every organisation on the planet aims to do, it’s why people forms into groups, its all to create value that otherwise would not have existed. Charities are the same, they are all about creating value for the people they engage with and society as a whole. The business models that create the most value in the internet-era will be platform-based.

All of the current non-digital business models that charities use are pipeline-based. Fundraising brings the money into one end of the pipeline, it is used to enable some kind of processing, for example paying the people at the charity to deliver a service, and then out the other end of the pipe come the outputs, in this case people using the charity’s services and getting value from it.

In its simplest terms a platform business model enables all of those on the platform to both contribute and benefit. It’s easy to think of a platform as technology based because that’s what we’ve come to know from using the likes of Facebook where we contribute by post our stuff and we benefit by seeing other people’s stuff, but the concept of platforms as a business model isn’t limited to technology. Lots of the concepts that we use in platforms, ideas like network effects and feedback loops, we wouldn’t have learned without internet technologies (Choudary, 2013) but it’s important to be able to abstract the concepts away from the tech. A platform creates value for both contributors and consumers through connecting their contributions and consumption’s.

From mono-structure services to service components

Having a platform business model requires a service-orientated business architecture (This is the business processes part that Osterwalder mentioned above). And this relies on another digital mindset shift, away from building a mono-structure provision/offering/service that has all of the elements it needs contained within it but only usable by that service, to creating smaller independent interconnected components of services (Watts, 2017) that can be connected to create a new offering and also reused in other services. This service-oriented approach to business architecture means that once a means of handling appointments, for example, has been built, any other provision needing to allow people to book appointments can use the component. In the mono-structure approach every service offering would have its own means of booking appointments which makes their interoperability almost impossible. As the charity build and connects more of these capabilities their platform business model grows.

From long term planning to rapid iteration cycles

Where digital has caused charities to shift their business model towards platforms and their business processes and architecture towards component capabilities, it will also require that charities change their approach to planning and delivery (the part that most people call strategy). The traditional approach to strategic planning is for senior managers to engage in creating five year plans (often justified because it takes that long for an organisation to change isn’t direction even slightly) and then the rest of the organisation to work on implementing it.

Digital moves charities away from long term strategies towards rapid cycles of planning, implementing, and receiving feedback to guide the next cycle. The goal can be the same but how you get there is very different. The world changes far too quickly to expect a strategy that makes sense now to still be effective in years to come, so charities need to establish these ways of working that enable them to create things in small chunks that deliver value quickly, receive feedback, and iterate on what they’ve learned about the users needs.

So we’ve looked at how digital will cause three shifts in how charities approach strategy; from pipelines to platforms, from mono-structure services to service components, and from long term planning to rapid iteration cycles. I could go on, but that’s probably enough for now.


Charities should aim for digital skills to be represented at all levels of the organisation. Digital success is dependent on the confidence, motivation and attitude of the people who run, work and volunteer for charities. Technical skills are important, but equally so are softer skills such as influencing, questioning and creativity.”

The trend of fewer people with higher skills

There is a recognised trend in how technology adoption leads to a demand for higher skilled workers and so higher wages (Goldin and Katz 1995). As charities adopt more digital technologies the types of skills required will shift towards more technological proficiency and it is essential that skill development keeps pace with technology adoption to prevent charities from falling into the trap of having technologies that are not used to their fullest potential.

As the Code of Practice points out, the skills needed by those working in digital charities are not only technical, there are also a wide range of communication and collaboration, interpersonal and decision-making, critical and creative thinking skills among many others. Charities find it challenging to recruit people with specialist skill sets (NCVO, 2019) and it seems likely they will find it increasingly so. This, along with many other factors make it likely that as the charity sector becomes more digital it will have a smaller workforce of highly skilled generalists.

Investing in knowledge over investing in capital.

As charities become increasingly digital and more a part of the knowledge economy they will have to make very different investment decisions to their non-digital counterparts. Instead of large investments in buildings they will be investing more in developing the knowledge, skills and abilities of their workforce in order to achieve their missions in increasingly digital ways. This will require a shift (yes, another one) in thinking for the finance function in charities as the large initial outlays with diminishing returns over time are replaced with ongoing outlays with increasing returns over time.

Charity knowledge workers, whatever their role, will have two jobs: learn, and integrate that learning into the organisation. And charities will have to recognise that the learning has to be part of how a person spends their time at work and that the expectation of people developing their skills in their own time increases inequality and reduces the opportunities for people with children and caring responsibilities to succeed in their role and progress their career.

Team as the unit of delivery

Digital charities will realise the benefits of problem-focused multi-disciplinary teams rather than functional departments for their ability to adapt quickly and tackle new problems. The acceptance that no problem a charity faces can be dealt with by the marketing team or the HR team, for example, will encourage the adoption of ‘the team as the unit of delivery’ (Arnold, 2012), and this will allow for a greater diversity in how skills are spread across a team. The question of whether a person has the requisite skills will be replaced by whether the team has the skills. This focus on the team will also encourage replacing measuring individual performance with team performance (Meyer, 1994).

Managing Risks & Ethics

Charities need to determine and manage any risks involved in digital. Charities will also need to consider how some digital issues fit with organisational values. They will need to plan how digital may impact all areas of their work.”

Recognising the risks from bad actors

Digital changes the nature of the risks charities face and how they respond to them. Gone are the days of thinking as risks as some quantifiable with a severity by likelihood score. Risks in the digital age are unpredictable, change quickly, and can have vastly out-scaled consequences. So before a charity manage any risks involved in digital, it first need to change its relationship with risk.

Pre-digital awareness of risk is mostly centred around acts and omissions made by the charity. Risk management becomes far more complex as charities become more digital and requires an outward looking approach with an increased awareness of the far greater risks posed by external bad actors. They will appreciate that their services are open to misuse and will adopt red teaming practices to uncover these risks and mitigate against them.

Ethical framework for making decisions

Doing good doesn’t automatically correlate with being good. Ethics has to be worked at. As digital creates a greater need for transparency charities need to develop an ethical framework for making decisions. An ethical framework is not a code or conduct, it doesn’t provide answers but it can facilitate discussion and help charities agree the lines they will not cross. Whether lines those are around introducing automated decision-making technology or agreeing a contract with a corporate partner, having a framework that allows for or even requires an ethical discussion will be essential for digital charities. An organisation cannot have ethics. It can have an ethical framework that helps the people in that organisation express and discuss their ethics but ethics can only be held within a person.

Ethics are complicated. There are no easy answers. Charities can choose to adopt more ethical approaches (Ainsworth, 2018) (by which I mean making ethical considerations an active part of their decision-making, not to suggest that charities knowingly make decision the average person might consider unethical) , they can sign up for voluntary codes of ethics, but as we have seen from from data protection over the last few years, its legislation and the threat of fines that motivates change.


Charities will need to adapt to survive and thrive as digital changes how everyone lives and works.”

Adaptability seems like a curious thing to be on the code, but also an essential thing. Charities will have to be adaptable in order to adopt more digital, and as a digital charity they’ll have to adapt even more as they attempt to keep pace with the changes in society.

For the purposes of this discussion I’m going to equate adaptability with innovativeness. Our dominant model for innovation includes ideas about disruption, first-mover advantage, and winner-take-all business models that aim to monopolise a market. These come from the the thinking of an economist called Schumpeter, who in the nineteen thirties coined to term ‘creative destruction’ (Schumpeter, 1934) when talking about innovation. He was thinking about how America should deal with the Great Depression but as we often do, the ideas were taken on and applied in different situations, most notably Silicon Valley, without being reconsidered as to whether they are still applicable given what we now know. The creative destruction model for innovation isn’t the only model, and probably isn’t the best model for charities.

Perhaps charities could develop a more evolutionary approach to innovation, one that takes account of what went before, learns from it and builds on top of it rather than trying to destroy and replace it. Charities, and the charity sector, can indeed be innovative if they aren’t being measured by a definition that doesn’t fit them. They can learn to be adaptable through approaching innovation as being in a perpetual state of change and growth, embracing uncertainty and accepting that the spirit of innovation, as part of the digital mindset, is a good thing to have. It takes the “We’ve always done it this way” focus on the ‘how’ and changes it to “This is why we do it, and we can do it lots of different ways” to focus on the why, because when you know you can achieve the same thing in lots of different ways adapting to any of them becomes the usual way of working.

Into the future

The Charity Digital Code of Practice is a helpful step in the journey charities need to take in thinking and doing more digitally. Over the next few years (well, decades really) I hope charities will adopt more of a digital mindset and redesign everything about themselves with the goal of keeping pace with a digital society.

It’s going to be an exciting future.


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Weeknotes #213

This week I:

Creating guidance

I’ve spent quite a lot of time working through the logging-in process to figure out improvements on the technical side and in the guidance we provide. Guidance content is an interesting challenge in many ways. When the user is on a mobile device they have to switch between the guidance which might be on a web page open in a browser app and the app they are logging into, or between the guidance in an email and logging into a web page in a browser, either way there is lots of switching between the two which makes it difficult to keep track. The guidance also need to check that they are taking the correct step and not just assume that the previous step was completed correctly, otherwise the instructions become increasingly confusing.

Developing a digital mindset

I started a blog post that was meant to be a few quick reflections on the Charity Digital Code of Practice. I’m less than half way through and have already written more than two and a half thousand words. I seem incapable of writing short blog posts, but I’ve definitely found it really interesting how so much of digital thinking in the charity sector is short-term implementation. I struggle to find anyone thinking about the vision of digital charities or the mindsets that will be required of digital charity people in the future. There seems to be the general expectation that we’ll be able to continue to use the same old ways of thinking and just apply them to digital. Anyway, I hope to finish the blog post over the next few days.

Finished hiking the Ridgeway

Last weekend I hiked the final twenty five miles of the Ridgeway. It has taken my brothers and I three years to complete the almost ninety mile route. I don’t spend very much time with my brothers, and this hike reminded me why. I’m quite different to them. They talk about what they’ve watched on Netflix and the houses they are buying. I talk about the ethics workshops I went to last week, my plan to spend the next few years on a roadtrip around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland.

How to hit a moving target

I turned some of my thoughts about achieving uncertain goals into a short course delivered via SMS. It is in part to test whether short courses using delivery methods such as SMS, Chatbots and scheduled emails should be part of our proposition at work. How much value can you really get out of a few text messages? I set up a landing page, and just need to finish writing the course and then get some people to sign-up.

Charity Island Discs

I watched Wayne and Lesley’s video for Charity Island Disc. I think stuff like this is wonderful community-building activities. It makes me think about my mountainboarding days where we tried to do lots of things to bring people into a community. Fundraising, as a function/career-choice/whatever is really fascinating to me. I don’t know very much about the practice of fundraising or the sector, but it seems unique to the charity sector (whereas most of the other function, e.g. HR, Finance, Marketing exist in corporate sectors) both in what it does and how it works. It would make an interesting social graph and might reveal whether there are people in the community who are pivotal to that community. My expectation would be that there aren’t, and that the community isn’t structured that way (like the mountainboarding community was). Given the income distribution of charities in the UK (95% with income lower than £1m) I wonder if the social graph of Fundraisers would correlate with the vast majority of Fundraisers not being part of or even aware of the community, but those involved in the community being more closely connected with the larger charities.

And I thought about:

Mind blowing ideas

In thinking and researching for the blog post I mentioned above I’ve learned a little bit about paternalism in charities, complex systems leadership models where authority is an emergent property rather than being held by a single gatekeeper, the history of usability and user research, especially in helping people use software, how maybe the idea of user-led organisations comes from the social model of disability, and how strong organisational culture used to be considered a good thing but now maybe utilising the strength of weak ties might be better.

All the unfinished projects

I have so many unfinished projects. Some of the ideas were complete rubbish, some were probably ok but I got bored and moved on. I bet so many people are the same. What if there was somewhere where we could all upload the projects, whatever stage they are at, from idea to validated audience or whatever, and then other people to take on the project, progress it a bit, mix projects together, reinspire each other. Of course, I can’t start this because I’ll never finish it.


I still have to write up my thoughts around all the research I did last week around tech ethics, ethics frameworks, a guide for charities introducing decision-making technologies, and probably a bit of a rant about people talking about tech ethics when really they just mean applying their ethics to tech.

Jobs To Be Drunk

I started reading When Coffee and Kale Compete which takes about the Jobs To Be Done framework for understanding that customers ‘hire’ products to accomplish things for them (people don’t buy drill bits they buy holes).

My website visitors

My little website gets about 20 visitors a day, and almost none of them read the stuff I write about, which I’m completely fine with. The steady stream of traffic seems to be from weird occurrences of search results like how my website shows on the first page of google along with Simon Sinek’s website and twitter account for the phrase “what almost every leader gets wrong”.

Screenshot of first page of google search results

I posted Sinek’s video to the Notes section of my website so I’ll be able to find it next time I want it. I wonder if I should add my thoughts about what he says to the page? Nah, I’ve got plenty of other half-finished blog posts that I’m far more interested in.

And some people tweeted about:

Building app when you’re not technical

Janine Sickmeyer tweeted “Non-technical founders always ask how they can build an app if they don’t have a tech team” She goes out to give some really good advice about identifying a problem and customer pain points, prioritising features for an MVP before going into the options of hiring a tech tean, using no-code tools, or a hybrid approach.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well

Dalton Mabery wrote a thread of advice about writing online from David Perell. The advice includes “There are no original thoughts, only original combinations”, “People will follow those who have earned trust, credibility, and authority. Those can’t be bought, only earned over time.”, and “Consistency develops ability”. These threads about writing online whilst writing online get a bit meta but I find the ideas about writing online (in this thread and in general) really interesting as uncovers some of our ideas about how expert knowledge and information sharing is and isn’t supposed to work.

What email service do you use for newsletters?

I bookmarked this thread as soon as I saw it as I knew it would create a really useful up to date list of all the new email newsletter providers which I’m sure I’ll need soon.

Alfie goes paddleboarding


Weeknotes #212

This week I did:

Affecting the most important measure

We’ve been doing some user research guided by a kind-of North star of ‘effective skill learning’ to understand how much of effective skill learning is contributed to by the contents of the course, the method of delivery, and the relationship with the instructor. My sense at this stage is that the relationship accounts for about 60% of the outcome, the course content about 30%, and the technology only about 10%. If I’m right this will help us ensure we make decisions that maximise the relationship element and reduce anything that damages that.

Retros & reviews

I had some interesting discussions about how piloting new technologies and operating procedures should be used to uncover issues and weak points before rolling out to a larger audience, and not have the expectation that pilots are going to run perfectly. Things going wrong in a pilot makes the pilot a success because then you can fix them so they don’t happen in real scenarios.

Blended learning

I’ve thinking about what we build next and how our concept of ‘blended learning’ works. I’m not sure that defining the ‘blend’ by channel. i.e. digital and physical is helpful in creating the learning experience. I prefer to think of us as providing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous delivery, so that young people can access a programme that is presented live (be that in person or via video) and they are access it at times suited to them (be that by watching video in the evening or working through tasks at the weekend). How this looks will come out of our understanding of what aspect (as above, content, delivery method or relationship) matters most in effective learning. So, if the relationship has the biggest impact on effective learning then we can prioritise the part of the blend that enable relationships, but if delivery method matters most then we’ll focus our efforts on improving that. We can then decide how the blend of synchronous and asynchronous apply on different levels, so should each step in the journey and module have a way of being taken synchronously and asynchronously, or are some parts only available as one or the other but overall the programme is synchronous and asynchronous?

The ethics of moderation

I’ve been writing a discussion paper on the ethics of decision-making technologies in charities. I hope to finish it this weekend and share it with our Safeguarding Board and other stakeholders to start the discussions about ethics next week. It’s a really hard thing to write but I feel like I have a responsibility to push for the ethical use of data, technology and products.

Work in progress

I started using Notion more and got my workspace set up. I add to my library, tidied my tasks list and roadmap (which used to be in Trello), and wrote this blog post in Notion (I used to use Google Docs). I’m hoping it will improve my workflow, help me collect ideas and references more effectively as i’ll have everything in one place.

I looked at using Airtable but it didn’t have any easy way to create records from sharing on my phone, and as I do quite a lot of writing, didn’t seem like the right solution.

I have my ideas database where I record ideas and concepts that I get interested in so that I can find the info I’ve previously researched easily. I’m still using the notes section of my website for more public sharing of things I find on the internet so I need to decide whether moving them to Notion will make it easier to access previous research or just over-complicate it. I also need to get better at noting my own thoughts and ideas.

Introduction to tech ethics

I went to an online workshop with philosopher Alice Thwaite on tech ethics. We talked about freedom and how it’s more important than freedom of speech, how technology amplifies speech, Foucault and how anonymity creates power, how design is a process of changing from the current state to a desired state, normative and descriptive statements, the UN declaration of Human Rights, deontological and consequentialist ethics for handling information and making decisions, creating an ethical framework and how ethical considerations should be criteria of success for the products we build. Quite a lot for two hours.

Ethics of AI & algorithms

And I went to another of Alice’s workshops on the ethics of artificial intelligence and algorithms and talked about how power is a better way to talk about AI rather than bias because it elevates the discussion from about the tech to its affects on society, theories of power and ways power can be held over others legitimately or not, and creating a target goal, model, training data and algorithm for an AI system.

Product Management and the public interest

Kathy Pham from Harvard Kennedy School convened 300 product mangers to meet online to listen to lots of three minute lightning talks on the topics of “how product is different in mission focused organizations and companies, and what public interest tech means at this point in time”. With people from the UK, US, Canada and Philippines working in all kinds of different public interest spaces from government to parenting and housing to advice. Three minutes isn’t very long (I guess unless you’re the one doing the talking) but it gave a really wide range of the different problems products people are tackling. It made me wonder, if I was going to do a talk, what would it be about?

Thought about this week:

Tech ethics, tech ethics, tech ethics

Most of my thinking this week has been about tech ethics. From two workshops with the philosopher Alice Thwaite, reading Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles, listening to podcasts Kate O’Neill, and Rachel Coldicutt sharing some of her thoughts in answer to my long list of questions about tech ethics in the charity sector, I feel like I have lots of different perspectives that I need to figure out and fit together.

Tech ethics is a really interesting topic to learn about, and something I want to include my essay about AI, and use as the basis for a blog post about guidance for charities introducing decision-making technologies, and write a discussion paper for work, so I need to take the time to make sure I’m taking in all the stuff I’ve learned.

Posthumanism & Actor-Network Theory

Posthumanism offers an idea to redefine humans beyond the humanist ideas that were defined in the middle ages by white men (and probably contributed to lots of discrimination throughout history) and into the future of our species as we become more connected with technology.

Actor-network theory uses the principle of generalized symmetry to say that all of the elements of a network have equal agency, including the human and non-human actors such as the systems that form a network. To me this starts to form a different approach to ethics for the future.

These both seem to be quite future-looking theories with some focus on the interaction between humans and technology so they are also interesting to think about and frame some of the thinking I have for my essay about the effects AI will have on our society.

Building an accessibility business

Jonathan sent me some documents on his thoughts about strategy for A11y.space. I really enjoyed reading them and thinking about business strategy. It’s one of those complicated real world things where no matter what model you apply nothing ever fits. It’s been a while since I had to think that way and its so easy to get tied up in knots that lead to inaction. Anyway, the internet needs to become more accessible and I’m sure A11y.space can contribute to it.

Tweets from this week:

How did Uber grow so quickly?

Scott Gorlick tweeted about how Uber approached growing. One of the fascinating things is how offline all the methods they used are. It shows how the myth around internet businesses and being purely digital are so wrong.

Digital job competencies

Dan Barker tweeted “Here’s a list of competencies that people use in ‘digital’ jobs. Which of these would you say are most important for your job/area? What is missing from the list / what doesn’t fit?”

With things like ‘analytical thinking’, ‘influencing others’, and ‘objective analysis’, the list is interesting for not mentioning words like ‘digital’, ‘data’, ‘design’. Instead it focuses on the core competencies of modern work that enable people to solve complex problems in fast changing environments rather than the traditional factory-like concept of work where workers are expected to do what the manager told them (a simplistic contrast, I know, but there does seem to be qualitative differences between the modern workplace and management approach and its older version).

Let the people learn

Hermanni Hyytiälä tweeted “If organisations want to get better at what they do, then their people have to be able to learn. Working within a rigid operating model that is designed on outdated management assumptions and related structures makes it almost impossible for employees to reflect and learn.”

Like I’ve said before, you have two jobs: learn and integrate that learning into the organisation. Employee knowledge is an intellectual asset that organisations should utilise as a competitive advantage.

Week notes #211

This week I did:

You can’t learn without launching 

The pilot of our Online Learning Hub went live this week. I love pilot go lives. I love how everyone seems to think it means job done and to me it means we can finally start learning. And I learned loads. I made sure I was part of first line support helping young people and volunteers solve any technical or usability issues that came up. 

User research can tell you what problems people are facing but the only way you can learn whether your product can solve their problem is to get them using it. Maybe this is the hill I’ll die on.

How rad is Wayne?

Wayne asked for recommendations for website builders, with the replies including what people use for their sites. I realised I’d never done a comparison of Wix, Squarespace, WordPress.com so I quickly created three websites to let people know just how rad Wayne is. I found Wix the easiest to learn and quickest to create a site with. SquareSpace wouldn’t let me publish without paying them. WordPress was probably the hardest to use (even though it was most familiar to me) (and Jonathan did Webflow). I did think about writing up the comparison so it could be a useful tool for whenever anyone else asks the question Wayne asked, but Irealised that I’ve never be able to keep it up to date as all those platforms are constantly changing.

Tech ethics 

I became very interested in charity tech ethics and quickly blew my mind with all the stuff I read, podcasts I listened to and chats I had with quite a few people on Twitter (more than I ever have, including Hera Hussain and Rachel Caldicot, who are kind of heroes of mine).

I started a doc with some questions about charity tech ethics which I’m hoping some of the people I spoke to on Twitter will contribute to (although I’m sure they weren’t expecting four pages of my rambling thoughts when they offered to help).

Something I noticed about how some people talk about tech ethics is that they really just mean that they don’t like the ethics of a big tech company like Amazon or Facebook. I don’t get the impression many people have got any further into tech ethics than the obvious dilemma of charities using big tech to work with people knowing that those companies are using those people’s data in ways the charity might not agree with, but the charities feeling like they have no choice as that’s the tech all of their beneficiaries use. I find the ethics around charities using decision-making technology, and tech ethics in general, fascinating so I’m keen to spend some time understanding it better and maybe write a blog post with some guidance for charities thinking about implementing decision-making technologies.

Digital business exam

I scored 80 on my exam (my highest score), which takes my average to 67.

And thought about some stuff:

Solutionising or outcomes

When doing discovery work, writing use cases and requirements I often hear the phrase, “Don’t solutionise at this stage”, which I agree with, but sometimes wonder if we get confused between what looks like a solution and what is actually an outcome we’re trying to achieve. I’ll look out for more examples and think about some more.


I’ve been thinking about improvements for email newsletters. Email is a great delivery mechanism, and if you’re using a newsletter app then consumption is pretty good. Where there is space for improvement is in collating and curating content. Currently each email newsletter is the work on a single athor. If there was a platform where authors could upload articles and subscribers could subscribe to topics, then the platform could send the subscribers email newsletters with articles from a range of authors but about the same topic. 


hancock.lighting is an interesting concept, taking a physical world thing and making a digital version. I wonder what else in the real world could have a digital equivalent and how you’d make the connection between the two.

And read some tweets:

Writing about writing

A small collection of tweets about writing:


Shane Parrish tweeted: Superpowers you can have:

  • Ability to change yourself & your mind
  • Not taking things personally
  • Not needing to prove you’re right
  • Careful selection of all relationships
  • Staying calm
  • Being alone without being lonely
  • Being ok being uncomfortable
  • Thinking for oneself

And Dickie added:

  • Laser focus on one task at a time
  • Easily spotting bottlenecks and leverage points
  • Creating tight feedback loops

I find the kinds of things on lists like these interesting because they have no clear means of learning. They are wisdoms; knowledge + judgement, only gained through experience.

Expressing a strategy 

I tweeted: A strategy needs to express:

1. Where we are now and why we can’t stay here.

2. Where we want to get to and why it’s the right place for us to go.

3. How we’re going to get there and why this is the right way for us to do that.

I’ve since been thinking about a fourth question, something like “How will we know we’re heading in the right direction and what would cause us to change?”

I think it was probably my most successful tweet ever, not because of its contents but because James Gadsby Peet replied, which got it noticed by his followers, and so on as things do on social media.

A broad strategy for digital transformation of the charity sector using six questions

Where are we now and why can’t we stay here?

Behind the curve

The charity sector’s use of digital is far behind the curve of society.

The blue line represents the diffusion of innovation (Everett, 1962) across society. To the far left are the early adopters of new technologies, with the majority of people in the middle, and the laggards to the right where the blue line meets the black zero line. This includes the adoption of all kinds of innovation, but mostly those we refer to as ‘digital’, from using Uber to watching Netflix to buying the latest iPhone. All of these innovations go through this adoption curve.

The green line represents the charity sector’s adoption of ‘digital’. It follows the same curve as the blue line and shows how some charities are early adopters and some are laggards. If we wanted an example we could look at charity sector websites using responsive design. When responsive design first became a possibility businesses with customers that were beginning to adopt multi- device behaviors would have been the first to redesign their websites so that it could be viewed on any device. Some time later the first few charity sector organisations would have redesigned their websites to be responsive, then more until the majority were responsive, and to today where the laggards are still yet to make their websites responsive to different devices.

The orange area represents the people in society that are adopting the innovation at the same time the charity sector is using it. The further behind the curve of society that the charity sector is, the fewer people there are to engage with. 

The white area within the green line represents the total lost opportunity from the charity sector using that innovation. 

A risk-averse approach of waiting for a dominant design to emerge (Utterback and Abernathy, 1975) and be adopted by the majority before using the innovation reduces the overall number of people that can be engaged with.

Given the increasing pace (McGrath, 2019) at which new innovations are introduced it’s likely that the charity sector will fall further behind over time.

Where do we want to get to and why is it the right place to go?

Keeping pace with change

The charity sector needs to get to the position where it can keep pace with the rate of innovation adoption in society.

The orange area shows the increased number of people (compared to the diagram above) available for the charity sector to engage with through newly adopted innovations if the charity sector is closer to the adoption curve of society.

The adoption curve shows that not every organisation in the charity sector has to adopt new innovations at the same time. Individual organisations can make reasoned decisions about if and when to adopt a particular digital technology or practice as long as the sector as a whole has some early adopters exploring the new innovations shortly after wider society begins to.

If we accept the assumption that the charity sector serves the needs of society through connecting people, essentially acting as a resource distribution mechanism, then the more people that can be engaged to provide resources (money, time, skills, etc.) and the more people that can be engaged to utilise those resources to improve their lives, the better our society becomes. Keeping pace with change in society enables the charity sector to better serve society.

How are we going to get there and why is this the right way to do it?

From investing in capital to investing in knowledge

Capital investment and return involves large upfront investment with diminishing returns over time. Knowledge investment requires ongoing investment with increasing returns over time.

The red line shows investment and return in capital resources such as buildings and purchased technologies which require considerable upfront spend with diminishing returns over time. The pink line shows the investment and returns for investment in knowledge, including regular formal training and informal upskilling which require more constant (and probably increasing) investment with increasing returns as the knowledge is applied. For illustrative purposes, both the investment and return are shown as single lines.

As has been demonstrated (Goldin and Katz, 1998) technology adoption (in an organisation and a sector) usually results in the distribution of ‘number of people’ and ‘level of digital skill’ shifting from more people with lower skill levels to fewer people with higher levels of skills.

Knowledge can only be held within people, hence an investment in knowledge is an investment in people. Some tacit knowledge can be codified as transmissible information to pass onto others. People with more knowledge about digital innovation are better able to respond to changes and ensure the sector keeps pace with society.

From being tied to technology to using loosely coupled products

Being constrained to enterprise technologies offered by well-established companies because of the presumed reliability they provide will shift as confidence in the security, reliability, usability, speed of deployment and interconnectivity of new consumer-focused products grows.

Charity sector organisations have often struggled to make technology choices that allow them to use new innovations in microservices architecture, jamstack principles and no-code products. As an example, the dream of having one large CRM to enable better data-driven fundraising only works if data quality is a reality. The shift away from ‘one big system’ could allow fundraising teams to adopt their own lightweight CRM products knowing that when a better product is launched next year there will be an API that can pass data between them and enable the fundraising team to quickly adopt a new product. As a new breed of products begins to appear that are designed to allow organisations to cross the boundaries into the digital spaces of people outside the organisation, charity sector organisations will expand their thinking about how they use technology products.

Charity sector organisations will become more comfortable with the low commitment ‘sign-up quickly and throwaway when a replacement comes along’ approach to using technology products just as consumers across society are.

From delivering projects, products and services to developing business models

From optimised-for-production pipelines of projects, products and services charity sector organisations will move to developing optimised-for-consumption platform business models that facilitate self-reinforcing value exchanges.

These platform business models will be part of open innovation ecosystems that share resources and make the boundaries of organisations more permeable in the pursuit of keeping pace with the innovation adoption in society.


Everett, M. R. (1962) Diffusion of Innovation. The Free Press. A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 866 Third Avenue, New York.

Goldin, C. & Katz, L. (1995) The Decline of Non-Competing Groups: Changes in the Premium to Education, 1890 to 1940. NBER, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Utterback J. M. & Abernathy W. J. (1975) A dynamic Model of Process and Product Innovation. The Journal of Management Science.

McGrath, R. G. (2013 UPDATED 2019) The Pace of Technology Adoption is Speeding Up. Harvard Business Review.

Week notes #210

This week I did:

Principles for organising 

We were doing some product demos with some volunteers and I picked up on some confusion around how content is accessed in a number of scenarios. I realised that we hadn’t yet defined the principles around how we organise content and so it wasn’t surprising that we couldn’t explain it clearly. 

I spent some time writing about my thoughts on what principles we should use figured out how to split all the variations into six boxes divided by two situations in which content would be accessed and three ways in which it would be used. This gives us clear direction for decision-making.

I gave the solution an amusing nickname. And later when talking about it realised how it makes it easy to get adoption. Having a shorthand phrase for a long explanation means that once everyone understands the explanation the nickname is all we need in order to talk about it. 

Although in total it was probably about half a days work I feel like it demonstrates some of the good practice around getting our thinking straight, having clear guiding principles, and finding ways of communicating better. 

The language we use

I read some of our user research feedback and one of the key points was about making sure the language we use is right for the young people we work with. I think Lou Downes Good Services book is really good for helping thinking about this too. The language we use with young people starts with the language we use with ourselves and our colleagues, and I’m keen to do things like make headings in documents say ‘What problem are we solving?’ rather than ‘Problem statement’.

Why charities exist 

I wrote a bit about the identity crisis of the charity sector when it focuses on the narrative that charities exist to fill the gaps caused by government policy and that instead they should focus on what charities can uniquely do for society, which I think is to bring people together around a cause

Charities in an AI world 

I’ve been working on my essay about the weaponsiation of digital, and blogging some of my ideas along the way, including a quick one about what a future with AI might mean for charities. I also mentioned my idea about solutions in increasing orders of magnitude, so we should be implementing solutions on a 1 – 2 year time scale, investigating solutions for in 10 – 20 years, and imagining solutions for in 100 – 200 years time. 

More accessible today than yesterday

I watched a webinar with Jonathan Holden and Webflow about accessibility. It was really interesting and I learned a lot more about accessibility as a vision and aspiration that just a technical checklist. One of the interesting ideas was that all concepts for websites start out being accessible and the barriers that make site become less accessible are built with every decision that doesn’t consider all of the user’s needs. I did a lighthouse audit on my site, fixed a couple of things and reached 100 on the accessibility score

Thought about:

Where strategy goes wrong

If (and there are lots of other definitions) we say that strategy is ‘where we are now’, ‘where we want to get to’, and ‘how we’re going to get there’, then that creates a conundrum for those setting the strategy. In order to have the impetus to move towards the desired state of being they have to be able to express what isn’t working about the current state, otherwise why would there need to be any movement away from it. But expressing to people that what they do and how they do it is no longer desirable is a difficult thing to say and to hear. I think most strategies and leaders shy away from that. But without it there isn’t motivation to change, why would you if the message you’re getting is that you can carry on doing what you’ve been doing. That’s where strategy goes wrong.

The intersection of introversion and confidence 

Someone I was speaking to described themselves as a ‘confident introvert’, to mean that they feel comfortable talking to people, being assertive, etc. (the kinds of behaviours you might expect of an extrovert), but they need lots of time on their own to recharge afterwards. I guess I could refer to myself in a similar way. I don’t have any anxiety about talking to large groups (perhaps because the introvert in me doesn’t care what they think) but I prefer to spend more time alone than with people. Someone else I spoke to described me as ‘calm’, and I guess that comes from self-confidence in knowing how to deal with all kinds of difficult situations, and perhaps from spending lots of time on my being calm. Anyway, perhaps our use of extrovert/introvert as shorthand for lots of human behaviors, feelings, etc., isn’t always helpful. As is often the way with so much dualistic thinking.

Everybody stalls

I was watching two brothers in a little black car. One teaching the other to drive. They were practicing reversing, getting the biting point, checking the mirrors, feeding the steering wheel through his hands, all going fine… until he stalled. Everybody stalls. I’ve been driving longer than that learner driver has been alive and I still stall. A moment of inattention, too many other things to focus on, and the important part that keeps you moving is the thing that stops you.

For this young learner driver that stop started him crying. Through tears and sobs out came all the times his dad had shouted at him for getting things wrong, telling him he was stupid, a failure. Slowly those feelings were put away again. Not dealt with, not stopped, just put away. He started the car and pulled away with perfect clutch control. 

Every stop is a start. And everybody stalls.

Change your mind

I hear lots of talk about change. I listen out for it because I’m interested in it, but I never hear anything about changing the thinking. I often come back to Pirsig’s point about if you tear down a factory but the rationality that built the factory remains it will just build another factory. I see this as the challenge with digital transformation (or whatever we call it) and changes in response to the pandemic. If organisations do new things with old thinking, the old things will appear again. If you want to change, change your mind. 

And read some tweets:

Words don’t matter, except when they do 

Sarah Drinkwater tweeted, “Are you interested or building tech that’s inclusive, accessible, fair, innovative, not extractive….? If so, what do you call it? Kind of obsessed with how language blocks us; ethics or responsibility don’t resonate with all, and they’re processes we use versus destination”

The replies are really interesting. Lots of clever thoughtful people grappling with the same questions. I think there are two questions here; one about the tech and one about how we name things and communicate about them from a shared understanding. 

For the tech and responsibility question, the aim I would hope is to just be able to call it ‘tech’ because all tech is responsible, ethical, sustainable, etc. Responsible people build responsible tech. So its a people problem (aren’t they all) and the challenge is how we move people from where we are now (a long way away from responsible people building tech) to where tech is responsible by default because that’s how people build it, which takes lots of discussion and is why we need to name things.

I wonder if by naming something we think that we give us shared understanding, but then, as Sarah says, the words get in the way, and we slowly realise that we don’t have a shared understanding so we go looking for more words to have more discussions. The perhaps- useful thing is that we don’t have to have an agreed understanding. Responsible tech can mean what it means to you and you can explore that and build from it. And responsible tech can mean something else to somebody else, and they can explore and build from their understanding. Sometimes we think we need to reach agreement when really what we need is diverse exploration.

Words are the boat that carries us to the other side of the river of understanding, and once there can be left behind as we continue our journey. Intent matters. And action definitely matters. But words don’t matter.

Co-creating the Future

Panthea Lee tweeted, “I’ve architected, negotiated, led a lot of co-creation work. True co-creation. With stakeholders from diverse backgrounds (regionally, economically, politically, culturally) + some that hate each other” and goes on to share some of what she’s learned.

It’s fascinating. I’ve said before how with everything, the more you look the more you see. Everything has deeper and deeper layers and it’s easy to assume that when we say ‘co-creation’ we mean the surface layer stuff of getting people together who wouldn’t normally be together to work on something. Panthea is really clear that that isn’t true co-creation. True co-creation challenges power imbalances, reckons with historical injustices, leans into tension and confronts controversy, and invests resources in standing up what comes out of the process.

I read this and it blows a little bit of my mind. There are so many deeper layers to go into, with co-creation and with so many other things.

Alternative Education 

Ana Lorena Fabrega tweeted about curating a list of alternative education resources around the subject of ‘micro schooling’. It’s the first time I’ve heard the term but |I’m really interested in it. Micro schools typically have fewer students in a class, often of mixed age and ability, and make use of a wider range of educational activities. 

Given the pandemic and the situation of it being potentially dangerous to put large numbers of students all together in the same place at the same time, and being economically unviable to keep all those students at home where they need parents to also be at home, perhaps some models of micro schooling an offer some solutions. It certainly seems to be where adult education is heading but educating young people in this way will have very different challenges.

Personal site stack

Indie Hackers tweeted, “What’s your tech stack for your personal website?”

There are lots of really interesting approaches and wondered what you’d learn if you mapped the approaches against what each person was trying to achieve. For some it’s an intellectual exercise in making different pieces of tech work together, for others it’s about simplicity of use, and for some its about reducing cost (although probably as another intellectual exercise rather than because of the money).

One of the sites mentioned was built using Notion and Fruition. I’m really interested in this approach to building websites, especially for wiki/knowledgebase/note-taking sites. It’s probably the opposite from the completely hand-coded approach and might be really poor for accessibility, SEO, performance and best practices, and those things are worth considering, but as an easy for a group of people to work together in the open it’s pretty hard to beat.

Artificial intelligence in the charities of the future

AI is coming. 

The experts estimate a true artificial intelligence will be created between 2040 and 2075.

We’re not talking about machine learning algorithms that can write short stories that are indistinguishable from those written by humans. We’re talking about actual artificial intelligence that will be able to reason and make decisions of its own volition without being asked to.

The military will probably get it first.They always have the coolest toys first and have the fattest wallet. They’ll be quickly followed by large corporations and very quickly followed by every other type of organisation. That’s how technology adoption and diffusion goes, and AI will be the mother of all general purpose technologies, which will ensure its adoption is fast and total. If you think electricity (the last big general purpose technology to be invented) changed the world, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And in amongst all those other organisations racing to leverage the benefits AI will bring their businesses will also be charities.

The first charities to use artificial intelligence will probably start with AI-HR and AI-Finance because those will be mass-market systems that every organisation needs and so the market will be flooded with functional AI tools that can support departments to meet the business needs.

Then marketing and content production will be taken over by AI systems that can quickly create a huge number of variations of promotional materials and learn very quickly which work for achieving the AI’s aims.

Fundraising, support services, service delivery, strategy all will be affected by AI technologies and over time replace human teams that have no chance of competing.

There’ll be the first ‘AI-first’ charities, just as we have charities talking about being ‘digital-first’ now. 

Of course those people in the charities that are making the decisions to adopt AI technologies wont be experts in AI, anymore than the people who adopt today’s IT systems know how they work. These will be people with experience in dealing with human motivations and technology that doesn’t answer back. How will they motivate artificial intelligence to make good decisions?

Until it’s the AI making the decisions about what it will do. And we have the first ‘AI-only’ charities. With the click of a button the AI will set-up an ‘AI-Org’ (and yes, there will be a legal organisational type for AI companies by then), decide what cause it wants to contribute towards to help the puny humans, develop a business model, decide it doesn’t need to hire any humans to do its work, and set about making the world a better place.

AI will be everywhere. It will be in everything.

I’m sure the few people that read this will be thinking, “I’ve got more immediate things to worry about than some possible future that won’t happen until after I’m dead.”, and that’s a completely reasonable thought. I think about solutions in increasing orders of magnitude, so we should be implementing solutions on a 1 – 2 year time scale, investigating solutions for in 10 – 20 years, and imagining solutions for in 100 – 200 years time. 

AI, and its effect on the charity sector is in the ‘imagining solutions’ time frame. Charities definitely have enough problems to be working on over the next 1 – 2 years (pandemics, economic collapse, institutional racism, etc.), and even enough problems to be investigating for the 10 – 20 year time frame (the ongoing digitalisation of society, climate change, etc.) but just as our charities of today have been shaped by the decisions of those from the 18th, 19th and 20th century, we shouldn’t under-estimate how our decisions today will affect how the charities of the future respond to artificial intelligence.