Why we should measure charity impact more widely

When it comes to doing good in the world charities aren’t the only show in town. Social movements such as gender equality and black lives matter, and ethical & socially responsible businesses such as Patagonia and Warby Parker demonstrate that positive impact can be achieved without being a nonprofit organisation. So, where does this leaves charities? If social impact can be achieved by organisations that are financially self-sustaining and without the need for an organisation at all, then it leaves charities stuck in the ‘squeezed middle’ between the two, justifying their place in the for-good landscape.

In pushing out of that middle, charities need to be able to demonstrate their impact, to be accountable to funders for how they spend money, to the public (and perhaps the press although not justifiably so) to ward off questions about the need for their existence, and also for themselves to know that they are doing a good job and making a difference. It’s this accountability that makes charities different to social movements and for-profit businesses. Not just accountability for spending money, but accountable for achieving impact. But impact is a difficult thing to define and even more difficult to measure, especially across the wide range of different charities that make up the charity sector.

There is an argument for charities to measure impact against their mission. This approach suggests each charity be clear about it’s mission and measure it’s impact accordingly without the need for defining measures that work consistently for all charities or adhering to externally applied regulations. If a charity’s mission is, for example, to prevent a particular species from extinction then it’s impact in achieving that mission can be considered simply by asking if that species is nearer or farther away from extinction following the charities work. A simple, single measure that applies whatever the charity. But simple, single measures only ever provide a small part of the picture. To go down the route of measuring impact narrowly against each charity’s mission is to fall into the trap of businesses measuring their performance by their bottom line. It provides a limited understanding, which risks being used to make the wrong decisions.

But there is another approach to consider. Rather than focus on the measurement of mission, charities could seek to demonstrate the wider benefit they bring to society. They could demonstrate the positive sentiment they create, the good vibes people get from supporting charities. And the benefits volunteering brings to people, not to mention the state in reducing social care needs and the commercial sector in giving people work experience. And sense of pride and achievement felt but those who work in and for charities to make a difference. And the security that people in need get from knowing that charities are there to help, even if they don’t need them right now. Charities do so much more good in the world than just in achieving their missions. This is their impact, and we should celebrate the widest possible definition of the impact charities have on the world we live in.

Weeknotes #265

Photo of the week

Great Wheal Charlotte

All that’s left of a now abandoned tin and copper mine on the Cornish coast.

This week I did:

Turning dreams into reality

I think a product managers job is to turn dreams into reality, ideas into things, abstract concepts into real understanding. Usually that means bringing those dreams crashing down. In reality, things take longer and are more complicated than people’s ideas and expectations. I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week trying to let people down gently as I smash their dreams of a perfect product that automates all the boring work, achieves operational efficiencies, and provides mind-blowing user experience. Such is the process of gathering and refining requirements, distilling and filtering them down into a manageable scope of work.

The end is nigh

I’ve been working on the introduction and conclusion for my dissertation, and hope to put all the sections together and finish it this weekend. I’ve learned a lot from it and reached conclusions I didn’t think I would. I will be glad when it’s done but I’m also going to miss studying and the pressure it puts on me so I’ll definitely need to think carefully about what I focus on in the coming months.

I thought about:

The future of influence at work

Gaining influence at work used to be about people getting to know people, and it’s still very much that way in meeting-orientated organisations, but as remote work shifts towards more asynchronous communications methods the way we build our influence at work will change. Influence will come from written and pictorial communication rather than spoken. People will demonstrate the quality of their thinking in how they create diagrams or write convincingly, rather than ow they talk in meetings. It starts to make influence somehow more evidence-based than using relying on social cues. Written language, although still completely open to interpretation and misunderstanding, has more of an agreed understanding, but visual communication requires learning a new language. All the concepts of design; information architecture, use of space, size, proportion, etc., it all becomes necessary to understand into to understand the diagrams. So, influence through visual work isn’t as easy as just using images, diagrams and maps.

Selection mechanisms

I could call this a ‘prioritisation method’, but the word prioritisation is so overused that it’s lost meaning, so I prefer to call the stuff I’ve been thinking about ‘selection mechanisms’. It’s basically about choosing the right criteria to judge something by and how you get information for each criteria to make the judgement. The three criteria for the selection mechanism I’ve been using this week were: How essential is it? How complex is it? How certain is it? So, for example, if a requirement is essential, doesn’t have lots of variation to make it complex, and is well understood to make it certain, then we’ll put it in scope. Why three? Because we usually have two criteria, e.g., the Impact Effort matrix, because it makes it easier to represent in a diagram, and I want to explore how having three dimensions leads to better more nuanced decisions.

Game theory for project planning

What if, rather than project planning being able coming up with ‘the one and only plan for how things are supposed to work out’, we used game theory scenario planning to explore multiple ways projects could work out. What if, all the people who are on the project and a few others to play external actors, played out hypothetical scenarios for different ways the project could happen. And what if our understanding of project plans was based on possibilities and potential outcomes rather than things being fixed and changes being considered deviations?

And read:

Charity management

I started reading Charity Management: Leadership, Evolution, and Change by Sarah Mitchell. It is full of challenging questions, like ‘are charities making a significant difference?’ and ‘can they do better?’,and interesting ideas like charities as innovators for the state (I may have mentioned that idea before), how the diversity of the sector is a strength and a weakness, and how market mechanisms do or don’t work for charities. So far, it’s a really good book.

Developing Mastery in a Digital Age

Kenneth Mikkelsen writes about how leaders need to use learning to lead successfully. I like the idea of ‘Seek, sense, share’, and have previously read about leadership as sense-making, which seems to fit into what Mikkelsen talks about. It’s an ‘input-process-output’ approach and perhaps doesn’t seem to consider connecting and compounding as parts of the process, but it’s very interesting nonetheless. I think I’ve decided, for the moment at least, that I’m interested in leadership from the perspective of someone who is lead. Almost everything I read on leadership is from the perspective of helping people become better leaders, perhaps with the assumption that good leaders automatically create followers. I wonder why there isn’t much written about being a good ‘leadee’?

This week I’m grateful for:

Seeing dolphins

I went to beach one evening. I took my laptop and notebook but forgot my short and diving mask. As I sat there writing random ideas and staring out to sea I saw dolphins arcing out of the water a few hundred metres away. I’m so appreciative of the life I lead and I hope I never lose that.

Weeknotes #264

This week I did:

Solutions principles

I’ve been working with lots of stakeholders to get a deeper understanding of all of their problems and looking for commonalities to create principles and models for solutions. One example is four different teams who all need to use the data our product collects but for different things. The solution model provides a way to think about the data sets together and how making a change in one place affects other processes elsewhere. I really enjoy getting into these kinds of complex modelling problems and abstracting them to simple principles.

Charity innovation model

I’m onto the theory building stage of my dissertation and fours weeks away from the submission deadline. I’m developing a theoretical model that describes how charities approach innovation by placing them in a matrix of incremental to radical and organisational to social innovation.

Top-down or bottom-up?

I wrote some of my thoughts about top-down and bottom-up planning and the use of the right reasoning behind both of them.

Hitting bottom

I made it to Land’s End, so now I’m heading up the other side of the country. And I started adding the places I visit to a map, not in any way to track progress because it’s not meant to be a mission but just so I can look back on it later.

333

I’ve collected 333 stiles on stiles.style. But what makes it the greatest collection of styles on the internet? Is it quantity, the sheer number of stiles? Or is it the gleeful grin I have on my face as I run up to a newly found stile with my phone out to take the photo? I’ll let you decide.

And this week thought about:

How far upstream should charities operate?

It seems to me that most charities act on problems at a down-stream point closest to the impact, and not many take solutions up-steam to prevent the problem form happening. The reasons why are multiple and complex, but maybe social innovation offers some thoughts about whether charities should be involved in creating bigger solutions to wicked problems.

Value Chain Mapping

John Cutler tweeted about ‘the product’ being the value chain that takes the value an organisation produces out into the world for the customer. There is a truism that clear deep thinking seems obvious when you look back at it, and this idea is one of those, but it slightly blew my mind. It seems like an important part of the definition of a product that isn’t talked about much. I also watched Introduction to Value Chain Mapping by Simon Wardley to help me think through a bit about how value chain mapping applies to product strategy.

So far I’ve been thinking about how it helps to identify the uniqueness of the product which helps to understand the UPS, competitive advantage and how to make decisions. For example, the unique thing about our courses is how much support we offer for those doing the courses, so that’s quite far to the left in the Genesis section (which I also interpret as unique/specialist). Because each of our courses is different we need to develop a website that can handle the variation rather than use an off-the-shelf elearning product, so that goes somewhere in the middle-to-left. We don’t need unique website hosting so that goes over to the right.

I’ve also been thinking about where to add intangible parts of the value chain such as the skills and knowledge of the people who manage the training to help us answer questions like, ‘if we improve the skills and knowledge of the trainers, how much will that improve the quality of the product?’.

Big things beat little things

FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) is used to “describe a particular pattern of decision making that supports rapid, low-cost innovation“, but it is often counter to enterprise IT strategies that see the benefits in only having a few large systems to maintain. Maybe Agile is an attempt to move the FIST characteristics out of the technology and into the processes, and so realise the benefits of working quickly with small things within enterprise technology stacks and large organisation strategies. Will it work? Probably not. Big things beat little things.

On the theme of big and small, Paul Taylor wrote a post about how we usually think (especially in organisations) that change has to be a big thing but maybe we underestimate the small changes.

Responsibility, given and taken

When you put litter in the bin you are making it someone else’s responsibility, but someone who has chosen to take on that responsibility. If you throw litter on the ground you are abdicating responsibility for it, and it still becomes someone else’s responsibility but there’s less of a socially acceptable agreement there, but it’s not that different. Responsibility is the currency that defines how people operate in groups. It isn’t the distribution of labour, or power and authority. Giving, taking, accepting, refusing responsibility, these are the interesting dynamics of groups.

My growth area this week:

Not causing chaos

This week I’ve been trying to be more conscious in how I frame information and communicate about uncertain things in ways that don’t cause chaos and confusion. It’s difficult to know how well I’m doing, but just not communicating isn’t an option so at least trying to do so intentionally is hopefully a little better.

Weeknotes #262

What I did this week:

Bootstrap problems

My focus this week has been around shaping up plans for the rest of the year to ensure we’re able to develop and deliver the changes to the products that we want. There are all the practicalities budgets, availability, timelines, etc., to consider and coordinate with the ideas that are shaping up for what the products should achieve. How these two intertwine and affect each other as they move towards having the people and time to deliver the scope of work is an interesting [bootstrap problem](https://jonathanweisberg.org/publication/2012 The Bootstrapping Problem/#:~:text=Bootstrapping is a suspicious form,problem and surveys potential solutions.) where all assumptions are based on assumptions. The idea of fixed product teams removes the need for figuring out the complexities of logistics and gives a more solid grounding to base assumptions about the work that can be done. But where product teams are project based, none of that grounding exists. This problem is as old as software, and yet is still very much a real problem for the majority of charities that rely on funding for specific projects.

Change of theory

I took part in a user research workshop on a tool for working with Theory of Change. I found it a really interesting idea and have been thinking about it ever since. Being able to validate some of the assumptions in a Theory of Change to figure out what impact the activities and mechanisms are having and then make decision about whether to change the activities to achieve the intended impact or accept the activities and change the impact to be achieved would be really useful. It could introduce a level of rigor as the data that informs the model builds up over time rather than remaining a hypothesis. The challenge for many social good organisations will be whether they really want to get to that depth of understanding.

Innovation in charities

I’ve pretty much finished the research phase of my dissertation so am moving onto analysis. I’ve already got lots of interesting insights about innovation in charities and I’m intrigued to see what theory I can build as the case studies develop.

Notes

I’ve been experimenting with using my website as a notebook to add some of my thoughts more regularly and try to see if it helps me build and develop ideas. I’ve occasionally used Twitter, Notion and paper for this but never with any real usefulness.

What I read this week:

Digital maturity in the not for profit sector

This report is full of insight about “the organisational journey towards improvement and increased capability in using data” and includes findings like “The cost of data is huge, hidden, and often wasted. Most leaders don’t see the value of data. There’s lots of counting but not enough meaningful analysis.”. I wonder how the not for profit sector compares to other sectors.

Talent is evenly distributed, opportunity isn’t

Rand Fishkin, talking on the One Knight In Product podcast about alternative ways to build software startups, says “talent is evenly distributed, opportunity isn’t”. How companies recruit, organise work, incentivise, etc., makes a big difference in how opportunity becomes more evenly distributed.

What I thought about this week:

The future of digital nomadism and off-grid developers

At the extreme of remote working are people who earn their living on the internet and live their lives away from the conventions of mainstream society. Kevin Kelly talks about the right to mobility and how that affects our notion of what a digital nomad is (not just twenty-somethings living in Thailand and setting up drop-shipping websites and affiliate marketing). Alex Standiford is a good example. He’s an off-grid developer, living in a RV in New Mexico. In my thinking about the 21st century Outsider, for the book I’ll never write, the off-grid developer looks like one of the archetypes of a digital nomad, where it isn’t so much about ‘nomad’ meaning ‘always moving’ but more about not being tied to a particular location and being able to make the choice about where to live and work because the internet has decoupled those two.

Contracts and covenants

I had an interesting chat with Ross that started out about type 1 and 2 decisions but moved onto the more interesting topic of contracts and covenants. In trying to understand the difference between the two, I think we’d say that the logic of a contract is , ‘you agree to do what I want and I agree to do what you want, and we both have recourse if either of us doesn’t’, whereas a covenant is more, ‘this is what I’ll do for you regardless of what you do for me’. So many of our interactions with people and organisations are based on contracts, either implicit or explicit, but this seems based on zero sum thinking where one person is only willing to give if they get something in return. The relationship between natural and legal rights and responsibilities that are expressed in contracts are, obviously, very complex, but maybe the idea of covenants, which consider giving as non-zero sum game, where you don’t always need to get something in return, adds another perspective.

Perhaps we are all myth-makers

Ashley tweeted, “perhaps we are all myth-makers rather than truth-seekers, and our real quest is not to figure out what is Real but to steer ourselves towards Good“. Perhaps in a post-truth world we can be more open to Heraclitus’ ontological position that reality is ever-changing rather than Parmenides notion that all being is fixed and static. Arguably, without the notion of the world around us having some underlying static structure to it humans would never have made the scientific breakthroughs that we have, it’s really hard to study something unless you believe it to be the same as when you observed it yesterday, but without adopting that stance we could never have reached our definition of truth, and therefore become truth-seekers.

Of course, it isn’t one or the other, both notions about the nature of reality have existed together for a very long time, and allow us to see the world in complex ways, but we do have a tendency to think that there is an objective ‘truth’ about things for which there really isn’t. The example of this that’s on my mind this week is conversations with colleagues that were full of discussions about misunderstandings around language and how we and others were interpreting what had been said. I wonder if the misunderstanding of misunderstanding is that there is a single truth to be understood. When people discuss things they are making meaning as they go, not explaining a scientific fact, and yet we attempt to understand what they said as if it was.

The Futures Cone helps think about possible, probable, plausible futures. Perhaps we need a Meanings Cone that helps us think of our interpretations as possible, likely, unlikely, impossible to help us understand each other better because we consciously don’t base our understanding on the assumption that there is a single truth in what someone says.

What I’m grateful for this week

Feedback begets feedback

The more feedback I give the more I seem to get. Or may I just notice it more. Either way I’m grateful for being able to give feedback and for receiving it.

Weeknotes #260

What I did this week (and didn’t do):

What do I require?

I spent a lot of time working on (and even more time thinking about) what some people might call requirements. I regularly get my thoughts tied up in knots trying to understand what we mean by ‘requirements’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc., but using ‘This is what we want to achieve’ and ‘These are the things we’re going to try’ seems much less ambiguous, so I tried . The problem I have, especially with ambiguous jargon but in general when defining or explaining anything, is the coastline problem. That is, how the problem looks depends on your measure. A circle drawn with only four big straight lines looks a lot like a square, but a circle drawn with a thousand small lines looks pretty circular. So, a requirement or goal specified at one level looks very different from another level. And then levels of what? My bottom-up answer would be, ‘levels of abstraction from the user behaviour’, but that opens up a whole load of other questions.

Why do charities use the innovation processes that they do?

I submitted my draft literature review and research methodology. I had originally thought that my research should be able how charities are using innovation processes, but I’ve realised I’m much more interested in why they are using them the ways they are. This creates more of a challenge as it requires qualitative interviews, but I just need to get out of my comfort zone and get on with it.

Embedding a theory of change in your learning

I signed-up for NPC Labs user research session on theory of change (which I’m interested in) and learning (which I’m really interested in). I’m not sure why, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Swimming with seals

I’ve went swimming in the sea almost every day this week. The best one was around sunset and I was alone on the beach. As I lay floating in the water a seal surfaced, looked at me for a few seconds, I looked at it, and then it swam away.

Didn’t get feedback

Listening to One Knight In Product with Teresa Torres made me realise that I haven’t done any of the discovery work I set myself for July. So, if anyone reads this and wants to do me a favour: sign-up for my charity product management emails and tell me what you think about them.


What I read this week:

Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising…

…but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Why? Because it depends how you measure. And if you’re in the business of measuring and judging websites in order to rank them in search results then maybe you want some level of influence over how websites send you signals that you can judge them by.

Why? Because it’s easier to focus on frontend/visible aspects of technology and think that if the website is responsive then it must be optimised for mobile, which isn’t the case but many website platforms don’t get that stuff right by default.

Why? Because not all ‘Jobs To Be Done’ can or should be done on mobile devices (and with mobile behaviours). Sometimes, friction, intentional or unintentional, is good for getting people to stop and think. Convenience isn’t everything.

Why not? If your user research shows that the people that need your services find you through organic search results, need a highly-performant online experience, and only have mobile phones. The points is; do what your users need you to do, not what a search engine says.

Digital adoption within the NHS

Shock treatment: can the pandemic turn the NHS digital?, asks whether the NHS can maintain the level and pace of digital transformation that came about as a result of the pandemic, and also raises the ‘fix the plumbing or fund the future’ investment question, which I think is very closely connected. These are the questions facing every sector and organisation. Charities included. I feel like the answer is obvious; yes and no. Do organisations realise how important digital transformation is for them? Yes, at least a bit more than they did. Will organisations maintain the pace of change we saw from the pandemic? No, not without the huge external pressure making digital an existential question.

Decoupling time spent from value produced

James Plunkett’s article on the four-day week was shared around Twitter this week. It talks about the Iceland experiment and how it resulted in increased productivity, and more interestingly, predicts that, based on the historical data trend of reducing working hours, the four day working week will be generally adopted in the early 2030’s. If that’s the case, we might have a few more decades to go before society is ready to make the shift to decoupling the value we produce from the time we spend doing it. Stuart said it best, “Being at work never equated to doing work“.


What I thought about:

A diamond and a tree

Speaking of how we judge value, I had an interesting conversion about why different jobs are paid different amounts and how the job market values uniqueness of skill over what the role achieves. My analogy was ‘a diamond and a tree’. A diamond is considered to have high value because of how rare it is. Trees aren’t considered all that valuable but have an important impact on the environment and life (being able to breath, mostly). Maybe we’ve got our values round the wrong way.

Accepting responsibility

There’s lots said about blame culture and how toxic it is but I hardly ever see anything about the flip side; responsibility culture (if it’s even a thing). I think taking responsibility is one of those underlying amorphous parts of a product managers job. Obviously, everyone should take responsibility for their actions, but product managers are often the ones to be most aware of the trade-offs that exist when decisions are made (even if not actually making the decision), and that knowledge comes with responsibility. Taking responsibility for knowledge, not just actions, is an interesting responsibility to take.

Do charities need innovation?

Does any organisation, in fact? An amalgamation of ideas from a conversation on Twitter, Ann Mei Chang, and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation takes my thinking towards this: If the problem is unknown and the solution is unknown, then innovation is an approach, a mindset, a skillset, a method that can help to make both known. If the problem is known and/or the solution is known, then innovation isn’t needed.

Weeknotes ‘258

This week I did:

Understanding problems

I was only at work two days this week due to exams but I was trying to be disciplined with myself about understanding problems before jumping to solutions. It made me stop and step back a few times. And it meant asking more questions, which even though I tried to explain why, I think some people found it annoying. Something to work on.

Last exam

Did my last exam. So that’s all of the modules for my MSc finished. And I got 76 on the last assignment I submitted. It puts me right on the borderline between distinction and merit, so depending on what result I get for my exam, it should push me over the line.

Productising services

Started some more product advisor work. It’s interesting to see organisations thinking about how to productise their services. My sense at the moment is that the majority will settle on a kind of business-process-as-a-service type model that gives some flexibility around people performing processes and the automation of other aspects. The charity and social good sector doesn’t feel quite ready for fully product business models.

Innovation processes in charities

Had a good chat with my dissertation supervisor about the literature review and research methodology I’ve been working on. I have a better structure in mind for the research and feel like I’ll soon be in a good position to finalise my research questions and send out the questionnaire.

Interface Integrate Iterate

I had my first sign-up and I pinned a tweet about my four email series about some of my ideas about the role product management can play in charities. Hopefully I get some feedback on the ideas that helps with my thinking about what makes good product management in charities.

And thought about:

What good product management in charities looks like

How to get the value of product management into charities that don’t value product management? That’s the question. That’s the challenge.

Microloans

As part of my revision for my exam I read about blockchain being used to provide credit to the four billion of unbanked people in the world. It made me thinking about microloans as a funding mechanism for charities. So, a charity could launch a campaign to secure zero interest loans rather than (or in addition to) donations, use the money to fund recruiting a fundraiser, who then raises enough money to pay back the loans, pay their salary, and fund other work for the charity. I’m sure in reality managing loans is massively complicated, but in my head it all makes sense and seems like a good opportunity (this why I don’t work in finance).

Public roadmaps

I’m a bit smitten with public roadmaps. It isn’t the roadmap itself, whatever it’s format (lets not get into that discussion again), it’s the courage and commitment to publicly state what you’ve achieved recently and will be working on in the future. Organisations that have public roadmaps are up there with remote-first organisations.

And read;

Value creation 101

Jelmer tweeted an interesting thread about value. Although I don’t agree with everything in the thread, for example about value being connected to scarcity and supply & demand, I think concepts like this are important to think about.

Product Management Handbook

I’ve started reading Scot Colfer’s Product Management Handbook, and Lauren Crichton’s Q&A with Scott. I love this quote, “Product managers don’t do anything. We listen. We think. And we talk. We understand other people’s perspectives and find value in the sweet spot where those perspectives converge. Product management is a role based on the power of conversations.” I wonder if its why some organisations, delivery-focused organisations perhaps, struggle with product management, because it doesn’t look like it delivers anything in the way designers and developers do. So the showing value in other ways becomes important, often through tangible artifacts, documentation, etc.

Principles vs. rules

The BetaCodex Network looks really interesting. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Weeknotes #257

This week I did:

Blueprinting

I spent quite a bit of time creating blueprints for how parts of products might interact as a way of exploring the translation from programme design into product development.

Service blueprint

In some ways, it was a week of visual working. We’ve been talking about how we do documentation better so that it’s quick to produce and easy to understand, and settled on screenshots being a good place to start. And one of the project teams is using Trello to track their work. I think, at the back of my mind, I’m taking onboard a comment someone made in the DigiScot talk about async working when we we’re talking about how we replace meetings, that drawing and visually representing ideas is a useful alternative to writing, so although I still write a lot, I’m trying to also work more visually so that more people can be involved.

Digital governance and risk management

I joined a really good talk by BeMoreDigital & Beyond Profit about managing digital risk and governance. I’ve been thinking for a while about how things like governance and risk management in charities, which are done in traditional non-digital ways, so it was really helpful to see others thinking about it. Governance is part of the business model of charities so as those business models become increasingly influenced by the internet, its important that we think about different ways of doing things like risk management.

Charity product management emails

I finished the first iteration of my ‘Interface – Integrate – Iterate‘ emails series about why charities need good product management. Next thing on the list is to get some feedback and figure out what improvements I can make. My aim (at the moment at least) is that this might develop into a project for after my dissertation about how to get good product thinking into charities.

June retro

End of the month. Time to look at the delivery plan I set at the beginning of the month and see how much I achieved and plan for what I want to achieve next month. Although this is only the second month of following a monthly process of reviewing progress and setting new goals for next month, it seems to be working really well.

And I thought about:

Influence

All a product manager has to get things done is their influence. And when something happens that damages that influence, even if it was out of the PM’s control, the thing to do is get to work on building up that influence. Vaguely connected, at least in my mind, is how this shows as a micro version of internet economics with attention and reputation being the currency. No one on the internet has authority over anyone else, but lots of people have more influence than others. So, for digital ways of working, whether on the internet of within an organisation, building and managing influence is important.

Consequences

I’ve been thinking about linear processes for product development (since that’s kind of what my dissertation is about) and how communication works throughout the process. I think there is a kind of entropy at play where well-ordered ideas and become more disordered at each stage as they become designs and then code. It’s a bit like playing a game of consequences where each time there is a hand-off to a different team, what was produced is hidden from the next and they only have the contextual rules of the game to guide what they then add. So, I’ve been thinking about how to reduce the entropy that occurs throughout the product development process.

Competition on the internet

My Twitter is made up of three ‘worlds’; charities, product management, and creator economy & nocode types. I see myself, one day, contributing to bringing those worlds closer together, but in the meantime I learn a lot from being part of these worlds. The lessons I learn from how the creator economy understands how to use the internet help me think about how the charity sector uses it internet (not really a spoiler but its way behind and doesn’t understand nearly as much). ‘Competition’ is a good example of that. The creator economy people know that they aren’t in competition with each other, even if they are doing very similar things, because they have an abundance mindset (something the internet has enabled). The charity sector, on the other hand, still has a scarcity mindset that drives competition. Competition works fine for usual market dynamics because the forces that drive it are mostly hidden, so everyone expects to be in competition but no one really knows who wins what. The problems occur when competition takes place in internet spaces which are more public, because then it’s easily taken as an attack.

And read:

Assemblage Space

I read John Willshire’s email newsletter Artefact 229 where he talks about his idea of Assemblage Space as a tool for thinking about the future and where our ideas about what the future might hold come from in our past. I was particularly interested in ‘the narrow now’ as the gateway through which how we remember the past and how we think about the future goes through. It helps us be aware that we are coming from a particular perspective, but it doesn’t help us see that the narrow now is always moving towards the future. Its the metaphysical conundrum of whether we conceive of time as a continuum or a series of fixed moments, but as John says in the video about A Spaces, the cone isn’t really the thing to focus on: the thing to focus on is the groupings of the things in the cone and how they relate to other things.

Lean impact

I read some of Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact which talks about whether/how innovation methods such as build-measure-learn loops can be used in the not-for-profit and social good space. There are some unique and obvious challenges about how impact projects are funded which make learning and scaling impact more difficult, but as Brid Brosnan from the British Red Cross shows, it is possible and it is changing.

Andragogy

I stumbled across the concept of andragogy, which is the theory of how adults learn from Macolm Knowles. Knowles said that when adults learn they should be self-directed and take responsibility for their decisions. “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.” So, adult learning programs should take these things into account.

Weeknotes #256

Things I did this week:

Took some time off

I sat by the river and watched the fish swimming slowly among the rocks. I knew I didn’t need to be anywhere else doing anything else. I had no Internet connection. No one else was around. It is only by the peacefulness of these places that we know the chaos and conflicts of the other places.

Game plan

I did do a bit of work this week. I’ve been thinking about how to create a game plan that allows us to join Programmes, Projects and Product, and the various teams and stakeholders. It represents the people involved, the value creation steps they’ll take, the outputs they produce, etc. So my next step is to find someone to present it to and validate it’s usefulness.

Product management in charities

I didn’t get as much done on my Interface, Integrate, Iterate emails about the roles and benefits of product management in charities as I would have like to have done, but I am making progress. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of completing them by the end of the month, but I’m still trying. Then I need some charity digital/product people to test them with and see if they make sense.

The end of blockchain

Not the technology, just the module I’ve been studying. We had our final lecture and I’ve started revising for the exam. Once that’s over I’ll have finished all the module study for my masters and achieved 40% of my grade, so now just the other 60% from my dissertation.


Some stuff I thought about:

Simple services

I saw a poster for Citizen’s Advice in Torpoint which explained how in simple, clear language the one and only way to get in touch to get help. Send a text message (the simplest and most prevalent channel available) and they’ll call you back to arrange an appointment. The poster could of also had a phone number, and an email address, and QR code, and a web address, but none of that is necessary. Rather than offering lots of ways to get in touch, which could confuse people and then requires all those different systems to be joined up, much better to offer a single simple way into the service. I’d love to see the metrics on the SMS booking service.

Citizen’s Advice’s vision states “You won’t ever struggle to get help from us. Our services will be available when you need them in a way that works for you”, and this poster is a great example of how the vision a charity holds can work on the ground, in a real life situation.

What do charities compete with?

Wayne Murray tweeted about how charities are in competition with Netflix and pubs when trying to engage people. There are so many ways to look at this. It’s undeniably true that we all only have a limited amount of time and attention so if we spend it at the pub we can’t also spend it volunteering with a charity. If people consider supporting a charity as on par with watching TV and socialising, then maybe there is direct competition. But if donating time and/or money to a charity is an extraordinary act for most people, then maybe it doesn’t compete with ordinary activities. And if you look at it as ‘doing good for myself’ (relaxing, socialising) and ‘doing good for others’ (supporting a charity), then maybe they are both worthy activities that have their place, which may or may not be in competition.

Can a charity live without a website?

James Heywood tweeted an interesting question about whether a charity can live without a website, and what some of the positives and negatives of doing so might be. It made me think how interesting it would be to take two similar small charities and create different digital strategies with the same objectives, where one strategy uses a website and the other doesn’t, and see which performs best.


A few things I read:

Is product management in continuous discovery?

I read a few posts by Teresa Torres, ‘The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets‘, ‘The Path to Better Product Decisions‘, and ‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating‘. They made me think about the function and discipline of Product Management and whether it’s definition is too fixed, not defined well enough, or the kind of role that should be in continuous discovery to figure out how it solves the right organisational problems within a range of scope.

The Computer for the 21st Century

Mark Weiser wrote The Computer for the 21st Century thirty years ago. In it he predicts the success of wearable tech as a means of collecting and presenting data, and explains why Virtual Reality never really took off. His premise is that in order for computers to be fully adopted they need to become unnoticeable, to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”. Virtual reality takes people into the computer’s world rather than the computer coming into our world, so for all it’s usefulness it can never be as widely used as wearable devices which as easy to forget about but continue to do their computational work. Why does it matter? If he’s right, then maybe the idea serves as a guide for new and emerging technologies such as Voice, automated vehicles, blockchain, etc., and our adoption and response to it. The more a technologies blends into everyday life, the more it we be adopted.

Skills for the 21st Century

Online courses that that teach how to do something, e.g., take notes, write, produce newsletters, etc., are great but really what we need is learning opportunities for developing the top twenty skills for the 21st century.

  1. Judgment and Decision Making
  2. Fluency of Ideas
  3. Active Learning
  4. Learning Strategies
  5. Originality
  6. Systems Evaluation
  7. Deductive Reasoning
  8. Complex Problem Solving
  9. Systems Analysis
  10. Monitoring
  11. Critical Thinking
  12. Instructing
  13. Education and Training
  14. Management of Personnel Resources
  15. Coordination
  16. Inductive Reasoning
  17. Problem Sensitivity
  18. Information Ordering
  19. Active Listening
  20. Administration and Management

I think there might be a new project in there somewhere to figure out how to learn these kinds of skills…

Weeknotes #250

This week I:

So close

We were very close to launching a new product. We’ve been working really hard on it but it’s just not ready, and neither are our people. Some times that’s how it goes. The thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that product development codifies organisational complexity. It’s Conway’s Law on another level. The strengths, weaknesses, gaps and skills of the organisation will show in the product. I wonder whether it’s even avoidable.

Every organisation is going through digital transformation

Every organisation is going through digital transformation, some just don’t know it yet. I attended a board meeting where we discussed the strategy for Bucks Mind for the next two years. We’re at an interesting stage in the growth of the organisation where technology is becoming essential to it’s success. It’s a big step to take, and quite an unknown for many people in the organisation. The idea that technology solves problems, takes care of itself, increases efficiency, etc., when in fact technology increases complexity, dependency, demands more formalised skills, etc.

How and if to educate users

I had an interesting chat about educating users of a product. On one side of the argument; if you have to explain how to use the product maybe it’s too complicated, but on the other side, people don’t have time to explore every piece of functionality. Can education be a barrier for some and an enabler for others? Maybe education should help the user know what they can achieve, but then the product should help them achieve it without having to think about how to do it. Maybe it’s ‘educate for outcomes, self-explanatory for outputs’.

What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

I picked the essay question for my assignment for the Blockchain module I’m studying. I had thirty to choose from, which I filtered down to:

  • How can blockchain technology change the structure and the operations of organisations?
  • Discuss how blockchain can have a positive impact on the UN Sustainable Goals.
  • Assessing the concept of Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO) as a new corporate structure highlighting benefits and downsides.
  • What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

…but I think I’m going to do “What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?” There should be some interesting things to think about around how smart contracts are and can be used, how necessary trust and transparency across supplier networks, and how organisations profit from digital asset ownership.


Thought about:

Solving interesting problems

The problem with not having any slack time at work is it stops us from tackling interesting problems. When faced with barriers and no time, we pick up the easier work instead in order to get stuff done rather do the tangential work to remove the barrier. This completion bias keeps us doing shallow work, work that needs to be done, but at the ultimate expense of creative work. So, more slack time at work. More slack thinking.

Who measures impact?

Funder gives charity money, charity uses money to help people (or animals, environment, whatever), charity measures impact of helping, charity reports impact to funder. That’s how it usually works, I guess. But what if funders didn’t ask charities to report on their impact but instead to enable to funder to measure the impact directly with those who received the help. Or, what if there were organisations that specialise in measuring and reporting impact that act as intermediaries between funder, charity and beneficiary? Why should it be that charities measure their own impact? Apart from any ‘marking your own homework’ issues, it probably isn’t the core capability of most charities and maybe they’d benefit more if their measurement efforts were focused on service delivery improvements.


I read:

Useful things for privacy and ethics in tech innovation

A list of agile sessions, tools, frameworks, blog posts and other useful things for considering privacy and ethics in tech innovation, from Steve Messer.

Blockchain’s role in the future of work and organisations

Digital transformation