This week I did:
Uncertainty to certainty
It’s been a really productive week at work. My focus has been on trying to encourage discussions and force decisions to make uncertain things certain. It’s meant asking some awkward questions like, “if you had to choose between those two things you said were both priorities, which would you pick?”, but feels like it’s drawing out some principles which we’re using to create models and frameworks that guide decisions. And so we’re getting close to the point of defining the scope of work for the developers to get on with. It makes me think about Basecamp’s hill chart concept as one that visualises how uncertain or certain a particular thing is. I keep looking for other metaphors and ways of communicating how much more thinking needs to be done to get a thing to the point of definition where it can be communicated clearly in writing or images or maps and so is ready to roll down the other side of the hill.
Swam in sea
I went to the beach and swam in the sea. In October. In the rain. It felt amazing. It didn’t feel cold at all. If I lived closer to the sea I’d do it every day. It’s probably one of my highlights of the year.
Back to studying
Term started this week so I’ve been reading for the ‘Innovation Policy and Management’ and ‘Business Research Methods’ modules. Both look like really interesting topics and although the lectures got off to a bumpy start (part of me thinks a major university really should have figured out online education by now and another part of me thinks that it shows just how out of their depth universities are) I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve also started thinking about my dissertation which will probably be about understanding the innovation models used in the charity sector.
Micro business models
I’ve been thinking about micro-business models; very small, easily testable implementations of what could be a full scale business model. Making them really small makes them easier to understand and articulate and the two I’ve done this week are around creating shortcuts for people that they pay a small amount for to have access to something they can leverage for large benefit to themselves. The micro-business model I’m thinking of includes: Idea, Premise, Hook, Production, Distribution.
The first one is: Create Twitter lists → Sell lists on Gumroad → Get people instantly connected to over a hundred experts in a particular field or topic. In this model the payment is one-off but value is ongoing if the customer subscribes to the list and uses it proactively.
The second is: Pay £5 a month (unless than paying £2 a week to do the lottery) to join a distribution list (SMS or Whatsapp) → Every day I’ll listen to the radio for ‘the phrase that pays’ and I’ll send it to you → You enter your phone number on the radio station website to enter the competition → If the radio station calls you, you say the phrase and win a large amount of money. In this model the payment is regular and there are two value points, one where I’m making it easier and cheaper for the customer to enter the competition (that entry costs 25p a day whereas if you enter by texting the radio station it will cost £2 every time you enter), and then there is the possible value of winning £50,000.
The third I’ve been thinking about but haven’t done yet is (because it isn’t very micro, it wuld be a lot of work): Read, interpret and review academic papers on topics such as innovation → Write educative articles that encapsulate the concepts and connections in the paper (something papers don’t do very well themselves, they generally only reference other articles to prove their own points) → Create summary Twitter threads for each article with a link → Use OnlyTweets to collect subscription payments for access to the threads.
Clearly, the thing missing from all of these examples is any kind of growth/marketing model, but I’ll think about that later.
And I read:
Reflections on a systemically-informed service to disrupt criminal exploitation
This is amazing. “The Children’s Society’s work to develop a systemically-informed service to disrupt child criminal exploitation” includes inspiring statements like, “develop hypotheses and a portfolio of experiments to try and change ‘the system’ at the point of arrest” and “The words complicated and complex are often used interchangeably. But systems theorists will tell you they have very different meanings, with huge implications for how you interact with these systems”, and “The words complicated and complex are often used interchangeably. But systems theorists will tell you they have very different meanings, with huge implications for how you interact with these systems”. I’m a big believer in the idea that the only way to make a change in anything is to go deep to understand the systems and structures and go wide to understand the cultural and social impacts. I think The Children’s Society approach to systems-informed thinking places them at the leading edge of positive change in society.
The hinge of history
I’ve been reading about the idea of the Hinge of History, that now is the most influential period of time ever and will have a profound effect on the future of the human race.
- BBC Future: Are we living at the ‘hinge of history’?
- Are we living at the most influential time in history?
- Will MacAskill on whether now is the hinge of history
Whether now is the exact moment of the hinge of history seems unimportant (well, perhaps not unimportant but unknowable). What is important is our increasing understanding of tipping points, scalability, network effects, exponential growth, and how natural and social systems can experience massive effects from small causes (which differs from our old conception of cause and effect where the effect was within the same order of magnitude as the cause).
The key role of the charity digital lead
I read The Catalysts article looking “at the growing number of charities employing dedicated digital leads – and whether this trend is key to strengthening the sector’s digital capabilities.” It’s interesting to me for two reasons; one it seems based in research not opinion, and two, it explicitly challenges the narrative around ‘digital should be in every part of the charity’, which of course it should, but the challenge is in how to get there. This article calls out the need for people with a digital mindset and and a digital focus in their work. The other narrative I often hear around digital is that the word shouldn’t be used in job titles. That might be appropriate for digitally mature organisations (if there is such a thing) but I think using the ‘D’ word as much as possible is part of bringing about change in organisations to challenge old thinking and ways of doing.
Once you have a certain amount of context, some solutions to problems become obvious even if you haven’t yet worked through the logical steps to arrive at that solution. Is it ok to jump ahead or should you trust more in the discipline of the process to prove step-by-step that its the right solution?
I’ve been trying out a few different tools for bringing new things into my awareness, what someone I can’t remember called a ‘serendipity engine’. The idea is around get a focused but diverse range of content to keep a steady flow of ideas developing. I use Twitter to follow interesting people, Email newsletters to get medium-form content on subjects I’m interested in, PMAlerts to find things on Twitter (and a few other places) that are outside my usual sphere, and Tentacle to get alerted when certain blogs publish new posts. The problem is that as the number of inputs increases the engine gets clogged and reduces serendipity because I have to make choices about which to read based on previous performance, which is not the way to allow for serendipity.
The axioms of charity x the axioms of digital = ?
What are the axioms (self-evident truths and generally accepted statements) of charity (the concept, the sector and the type of organisation)? The “Definitions and Axioms Relative to Charity, Charitable Institutions, and the Poor’s Laws” from the eighteenth century is interesting but not really what I’m looking for, so here are some ideas of my own: Charities are connected to a single (although sometime quite broad) cause only. Charities select an insurmountable challenge to ensure their continued existence. Charities organise people around the mission.
And what are the axioms of digital? Maybe: Digital technology relies on the internet. Digital mindset utilises the knowledge and thinking about how the internet works. Not sure, needs more work.
I wonder what you’d get if you built up from merging those two sets of axioms so that ‘charity’ and ‘digital’ are so deeply intertwined that we get the first truly digitally-native charity.
Digital charity showcase
I’ve been thinking about whether a showcase website of digital projects, products and services from charities might be useful, is there a problem to solve there, is it something worth spending time on. I started playing with some charity data and API’s from the Charity Commission and CharityBase and I’ve been wondering if I could make my Digital Tools list more charity focused, perhaps almost as some kind of guide. I’m not sure if or how these things are connected but I’ll keep some notes about them in my workspace and see if anything develops in the future.
Some people tweeted:
Tamara tweeted, “Ethical design inspires trust and can be the difference between someone engaging with your mission and forgetting you all together. It involves:
- Informed consent
- Voluntary participation
This feels like a really important point. My thinking about ethics is that we can’t adopt fixed positions but we can negotiate and make choices about what is important to us, and it’s that questioning to reach what we think is the right decision that makes something like website design ethical or not. To say, our website is ethical because we did x, y, z, but have not questioned and discussed whether the ethical choices made by someone else and copied as some kind of ‘best practice’, are really right for the audience of the website, isn’t ethical to me. Ethics requires questioning things like ‘how much should we design the UI to direct users to take actions and how much should we give free choice?’.
Why bad news works in fundraising
Jeff Brooks tweeted, “Why bad news works in fundraising“, with a link to his article in which he says, “People are more responsive to problems and enemies than to happy, fully resolved situations. They grasp what you’re saying more easily and quickly. The impression is deeper. The motivation to respond is stronger.” It makes a certain amount intuitive sense, especially given the context of a charity which people are aware of when approached for fundraising. I think I remember seeing examples of charity TV adverts that do have a happy ending, and I wonder if any supporter experience teams design things like email stewardship around taking a supporter on an emotional journey. If supporters only every get bad news from charity, how does that affect their relationship with the charity and their propensity to give?
30 Twitter threads in 30 days
Mario tweeted, “30 Twitter threads in 30 days“. I like these kinds experiments in building an audience. Mario grew his follower count but 2,500, which based on his current count looks like a 50% increase. I wonder how much the number of followers you have on Twitter and how ‘in-common’ they are affects the success of (in fact I’m pretty much sure it does). Mario also mentions in his thread how important things like the topic of the thread are and using quotes. Twitter is an interesting place for audience building but only in conjunction with being known elsewhere, I don’t think it works on it’s own. Of course audience building only works if you have something to build an audience for.