Weeknotes #259

This week I did:

Next

We’ve learned a lot from the product we launched three months ago. We learned what it takes to work quickly and where the balance lies with quality, we learned how to create more problems and solve them too, and we learned about how much change is the right amount of change. But part of maturing a product is how well integrated it is into the rest of the organisation, and that’s our next challenge. It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of talking to people, a lot of thinking from everyone, but it’ll bring new perspectives and create new knowledge. Maybe some people think we’re just improving a product, making it bigger and better. I think it’s so much more. Our little baby is growing up.

Pressure is on

I had a chat with my dissertation supervisor and got some useful direction for writing the research methodology and literature review, the drafts of which have to be in this weekend. Submission deadline is two months away so the pressure is on to spend as much time as I can on it. The next thing is finalising my research questions and arranging interviews. It’s going to be really important to get the right questions and the right answers, otherwise the whole thing kind of falls over. But no pressure.

This is stile

Stiles.style has reached 300. So, that must make it the greatest collection of stile on the internet, as if it wasn’t before.


This week I thought about:

Uncomfortable learning

Operationalising a new product and taking a test and learn approach with it at the same time is going to cause some conflict. One wants to get on using the product to meet targets. The other wants to understand how well things are working. Different goals drive different behaviours. But, I don’t think they are conflicting behaviours. I think the realities of using the product provide the lessons to learn. I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve repeated it numerous times, “Users won’t use a product how we think they will”. A good product has enough wiggle room to allow people to figure out their own ways of doing things to achieve the things they want, and seeing how that happens in real life shows us the unknown unknowns, it tells us about the questions we didn’t think to ask. This kind of thing isn’t really conflict, it’s uncomfortable learning.

Goals

Nothing to do with football, but reading Ann Mei Chang on how big tech firms are happy to set big goals and charities and social enterprises feel really cautious about doing so, I recalled some of my old thinking about goals and methods for setting and achieving them. My current thinking is that in order to make goals achievable they should be written in conjunction with the investment necessary to achieve them, otherwise they are just aspirations or ambitions, not goals. The other school of thought I subscribe too is that the best method for achieving a goal is to start with a broad and uncertain goal, take a step towards it and get the feedback as to whether you are closer to goal and that the goal has become slightly more certain and defined. If either of those two are true, repeat, until you have a very certain goal and a well-defined path for achieving it. The usual approach for setting goals, which I’m very much against, is to set a goal with no idea how to achieve it, and then put more work into figuring out how to achieve it than actually achieving it.

NPD Processes

It occurred to me that most organisations, and certainly pretty much all charities, don’t need a well-optimised innovation or new product development process because they just don’t develop enough new products to warrant the time and effort in figuring out the right process for them. Whatever they may learn from trying a particular process won’t be relevant by the time they use the process again. Obviously this is not the conclusion that I intend to reach with my dissertation, which is all about how charities use innovation processes.


This week I read:

Charity Digital Skills Report 2021

The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report is out and makes for very interesting reading. Particularly, two of the insights about digital inclusion, “digital inclusion has proven a challenge for digital service delivery, with over 1 in 5 (22%) cancelling services because their users don’t have the skills or tech to use them. That is up from 15% at the start of the pandemic, showing how digital inclusion is still a pressing issue for the sector and a real area of concern when reaching beneficiaries.”, and “Digital inclusion has proved to be the biggest challenge faced this year. Just over half (52%) are worried about excluding some people or groups and 24% are concerned that their audience is not online. 12% of charities themselves have struggled with basic tech access.”. Obviously digital inclusion (which is really just social inclusion in the 21st century) is a complex problem that requires solutions from multiple angles; people having devices and the skills and confidence to use them, but also ensuring that services are designed to be as simple as possible. Oh, and I’m choosing to take it as an ironic statement about the state of digital in charities that in 2021 the report is a pdf.

Problem Solving Machine

Paul always writes good interesting stuff, and I completely agree, “if you’re disciplined enough to be able to live with that ambiguity for a while, you usually end up with a better answer to your problem“. Understanding problems is the biggest change we should make in solving problems. It’s one of the main points I talk about in my charity product product management emails. There are two problems with understanding problems, the ‘understanding’ part, and the ‘problem’ part.

Weeknotes #233

This week I did:

Scoped

Team scoped an MVP aligned with organisational objectives and funding obligations, confirmed technical feasibility, designed wireframes and got stakeholder approval in two weeks. Absolutely awesome people! Next we move into deep levels of definition and get set up for development.

Lessons from managing products in charities

I had an idea about creating a ten-part automated email campaign based on some of the things I’ve learned from developing products in charities. I don’t know why they couldn’t just be blog posts other than because I like experimenting with different media. I started making notes and figuring out the structure the emails would have. I don’t know how I’m going to get the time to finish them but I guess there’s no rush.

Digital creativity and new media

Although I didn’t attend the lecture (work call. Priorities, you know) I already think it’s a really interesting topic. I’m going to cathc up on the lecture, get into the reading and start thinking about the assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity? Develop a critical argument and illustrate with examples’.

It also turns out that the lecturer for this module is my dissertation supervisor so I’d better be on my best behaviour.


I read/watched:

Not-for-profit vs For-impact

I watched Simon Sinek’s video ‘Stop Calling Yourself a Not-for-Profit‘. He suggests using the term ‘For-impact’ to describe the kinds of organisation that refer to themselves as not-for-profit to focus on what they do rather than what they don’t do. It’s a fair point, if not particularly original.

Hwang and Powell said, “In recent decades, the nonprofit sector has evolved from informal activities of charitable do-gooders to highly formalized endeavors by enterprising individuals. In such areas as health care, higher education, social services, and the arts, nonprofits are major service providers.”. In this sense “Nonprofit” is professional term used to convey credibility and influence society, almost a badge of honour and a moral stance. ‘For-impact’ might seem more appropriate from Sinek’s ‘start with why’ point of view but in fact the sector is more complex than can be understood by a single axis or characteristic of not aiming to make a profit.

Morris talks about how “Institutions which are neither statutory, nor profit maximising, have been collectively and variously called the voluntary, third, non-profit, or more recently, civil society, sector.” and looks at the definition of the sector from a range of perspectives including the types of goods and services the sector provides and “the positive externalities that they create for society”.

Pallotta suggest calling it the Humanity Sector. His arguments against the other terms aside, he says, “What brings us to this work is our humanity. And what makes the work happen is the generosity of countless people from all socioeconomic levels, who make donations out of their humanity. Moreover, it is for humanity that all of this effort is undertaken. To call it by another name is at best to miss the point, and at worst to betray it.”

Clearly the reason no one can agree on what to call the sector is that no one can agree on what axis to analyse organisations in the sector.

Last Year in the Creator Economy

“Collectively, Gumroad creators earned $142 million in 2020, up 94% from 2019. This post discusses the forces that shaped Gumroad’s role in the creator economy in 2020 and will direct it going forward, as well as what you can do, today, to become a bigger part of it yourself.” This is so much more useful than obscure tweets that attempt to present themselves as insight.

Digital economy report 2019

“The digital revolution has transformed our lives and societies with unprecedented speed and scale, delivering immense opportunities as well as daunting challenges. New technologies can make significant contributions to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, but we cannot take positive outcomes for granted. We must urgently improve international cooperation if we are to achieve the full social and economic potential of digital technology, while avoiding unintended consequences.”


And thought about:

Leaning into difficulty

There are always lots of problems to solve, lots of difficulties to face. Picking which ones to focus on isn’t easy, but once we know which difficulties we want to tackle leaning into them, getting serious about them is the only way to affect them. Heads in sand doesn’t help.

Communication over coordination

Work needs coordination too, but it needs more and better communication more.

Right or wrong

Everyone is doing what they think is right, it’s just that we all think different things are right. It’s easy to think that some people are right and some are wrong, and usually that those who agree with us that are the ones who are right.


People tweeted:

People like me

Ethan Mollick tweeted “Homophily is the principle that we like people who are like ourselves, and it is a powerful force in explaining how society is structured. This paper shows it goes deeper than skin: You are more likely to be friends with people who literally think like you”. If, as the paper suggests, we are more likely to be friends with people who perceive and respond to the world in ways similar to us (which makes intuitive sense) then how do we get diversity and the benefits that come with it? Maybe work is the answer.

The shape of a product manager

Ravi Mehta tweeted, “Most PMs, even peak PMs, excel at only a handful of these competencies. The difference between the average PM and the peak PM is an understanding of gaps and the ability to unite a team that fills those gaps.”

Rules to live by

Jon Yates tweeted, “After 40 years, I’ve begged and borrowed a few “rules to live by”. Often mess them up! but here they are … What are yours?” The latest rule I’ve been thinking about is ‘Don’t shop hungry’, by which I mean don’t make decisions based the immediate situation you are in. Always try to step back, think about what you are trying to achieve and whether this will help you do it.

Why charities choose wicked problems

Charities and other for-good organisations choose to tackle the wicked problems of our world because no one else can. Wicked problems are complex and interconnected social problems that defy a predefined solution. They are problems that require continual development of solutions that behave like Public Goods, which means they are not viable to be provided by the market. And they are problems that mostly affect the marginalised people in our society, which means the state does not tackle them as they do not affect the median voter. Charities tackle wicked problems through offering services that alleviate some the consequences of the problems and through affecting changes in the systems that cause wicked problems.

What are wicked problems

Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber were urban planners at the University of Berkley in California in the 1973 when they wrote an article called: “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”. In it they introduced what they called ‘wicked problems’; problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise. Rittel and Webber said that wicked problems have 10 important characteristics:

  1. They do not have a definitive formulation.
  2. They do not have a “stopping rule.” In other words, these problems lack an inherent logic that signals when they are solved.
  3. Their solutions are not true or false, only good or bad.
  4. There is no way to test the solution to a wicked problem.
  5. They cannot be studied through trial and error. Their solutions are irreversible so, as Rittel and Webber put it, “every trial counts.”
  6. There is no end to the number of solutions or approaches to a wicked problem.
  7. All wicked problems are essentially unique.
  8. Wicked problems can always be described as the symptom of other problems.
  9. The way a wicked problem is described determines its possible solutions.
  10. Planners, that is those who present solutions to these problems, have no right to be wrong. Unlike mathematicians, “planners are liable for the consequences of the solutions they generate; the effects can matter a great deal to the people who are touched by those actions.”

Why should an almost fifty year old idea about urban planning be relevant to charities and the causes and problems they tackle? Well, the idea didn’t stay with urban planning.

Wicked and messy

By 2007, ‘wicked problems’ had more proponents and a different name. Robert Horn, an American political scientist, called the phenomenon a “Social Mess” and described it as a “set of interrelated problems and other messes. Complexity—systems of systems—is among the factors that makes Social Messes so resistant to analysis and, more importantly, to resolution.” According to Horn, the defining characteristics of a social mess are:

  1. No unique “correct” view of the problem;
  2. Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
  3. Most problems are connected to other problems;
  4. Data are often uncertain or missing;
  5. Multiple value conflicts;
  6. Ideological and cultural constraints;
  7. Political constraints;
  8. Economic constraints;
  9. Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
  10. Numerous possible intervention points;
  11. Consequences difficult to imagine;
  12. Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
  13. Great resistance to change; and,
  14. Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

Over the decades, the idea has been adopted by designers, software developers, statisticians, economists, and policy makers. And the introduction of the term ‘Super wicked problem”, with additional characteristics of ‘Time is running out, no central authority, those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it, and policies discount the future irrationally’ helped to encapsulate the biggest problem we face as a species; global climate change.

That’s what a wicked problem is. And there are plenty of them.

Why wicked problems aren’t tackled by the market or state

The social contract (the individual’s relationship with the collective) is enacted by three modes of organising in our modern society; the state, the market and the civil space. Each of these use different methods to get people to deliver their part of the social contract. When a government makes a law, it is with the intention of organising people to adhere to a way of behaving (don’t drink and drive). When a business has a hierarchical structure that sends instructions from higher up to lower down, it is with the intention of organising people to maintain authority, responsibility and accountability (do the work you’ve been told to do). When the actions of one man walking around his garden are leveraged to raise money for charities, it is with the intention of organising people to support other people (financially through donations and socially through ‘cheering’).

Tame problems make for easy value exchange

Businesses use market modes of organising which only really allow for choosing easy (or ‘tame’ in Rittel and Webber speak) problems with knowable solutions. If you have neck ache the market can offer a wide range of potential solutions from pain killers to heated neck pillows to posture correcting chairs to a massage. And it’s up to you to know which solution fits your problem. In the eyes of the market the problem is solved when there has been a value exchange. You got what you wanted (something to help with your neck ache) and the business got what they wanted (your money).

Businesses don’t tackle wicked problems because even if they could offer solution they wouldn’t have a customer who was willing to pay a market-rate for that solution. Imagine a tech startup that could actually solve homelessness (stop laughing). What would the business model be? They couldn’t charge homeless people, they don’t have any money. Perhaps they could they sell their serve to local government, but once they’ve solved the problem for all their customers they put themselves out of business.

So, the market can’t solve wicked problems.

Limited resources make for easy spending decisions

Governments use state modes of organising which have some capacity for dealing with the wicked problems that arise from complex society. Running a country with all of it’s interrelated systems of health, education, economy, etc., etc., is a very wicked problem but laws, regulations, policy spending decisions, etc., allow governments to choose which problems to tackle and how much focus to give them.

Burton Weisbrod, an American economist who wrote about nonprofits, education, welfare and poverty, suggested that the nonprofit sector existed (at least in part) because of the failure of governments to provide sufficiently for all members of society. Every government has limited resources and will always direct spending at things that satisfy their median voter to try to ensure they are kept in power. These two thing; limited resources and pleasing the median voter, mean no Government ever spends enough on the marginalised people in society.

Weisbrod said that government spending decisions cause a market failure which nonprofit organisations then attempt to resolve. For example; the government chooses how much to to pay nurses (state spending decision). Nurses find their pay insufficient to feed their family (market failure). Charities operate food banks to help nurses feed their family (nonprofit sector response). If the government was to resolve the problem they would do so by paying nurses more, because that’s an instrument available to them within the state mode of organising, but it wouldn’t set up food banks because they are within the civic modes of organising.

So, the state can’t solve wicked problems.

Why charities choose wicked problems

Charities use civic modes of organising which often means they find ways to get people together over something they care about. Food banks only work within the civic modes of organising because it takes a one group of people (those that operate the food bank) to organise another group of people (those making donations to the food bank) in order for another group of people (those using the food bank) for the benefit.

Causes make for narrow solutions

Charities are cause-focused. The cause, is the primary concern of all charities and for-good organisations. Charities have a charitable purpose to tackle their chosen cause because the Charity Commission (and UK charity law) says they have to be (there are twelve charitable purposes to choose from and an ‘other’ category). Choosing a cause and charitable purpose is one of the first steps in registering as a charity. This makes sense if having regulations in place to ensure that only those organisations that are actually doing some good in the world are to benefit from charity status is what is most important, but it makes less if you actually want organisations that can tackle wicked problems. When a charity talks about their cause, they are referring to the wicked problem they are tackling but the problem with being so cause-focused is that it sometimes leads charities to approach the solution in very narrow ways. (I think cause-agnostic charities would be better equipped to contribute towards tackling wicked problems but that’s an aside). Charities have to tackle a wicked problem because it’s legally a part of what it is to be a charity in the UK, but it also limits what they can achieve.

Impacts make for poor measures

Charities are a response to the market failure of governments. choosing not to spend sufficiently on public goods . If a government was able to solve homelessness through providing enough suitable housing, support for addiction, mental health problems, etc., and all those other things that contribute to homelessness, then there would be no need for charities (or tech startups) to tackle that particular wicked problem. But tackling wicked problems is costly, however it is approached. And reducing the impact wicked problems have on people is almost impossible to measure in order to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the charity’s work. Charities have to tackle wicked problems because government spending choices don’t tackle them, but its expensive and almost impossible to measure the impact.

Can charities solve wicked problems?

In an increasingly connected and complex society wicked problems become even more intertwined and impossible to predict what changes will have what outcome. This must be recognised and accepted if charities and for-good organisations are going to have any hope of affecting change. Systems thinking and systems change work offers some chance to positively affect the wicked problems in the direction we might want, but figure out how to truly tackle wicked problems is a wicked problem in itself.

So, can charities solve wicked problems?

Some thoughts on digital project management

Inspired by be more digital‘s post on Simple project management here are some of my far less useful thoughts on managing digital projects.

Why is digital project management different from non-digital project management?

Because the Internet changed everything. It changed almost every aspect of our lives, it changed how organisations run, and it changed the way we think. Internet-era ways of working from Public Digital and the Digital Design Principles from CAST have lots in common (including a move away from project-orientated thinking, but more of that below). A few of the principles that change how we approach project management from a digital mindset are:

  • User first – Digital projects should ‘start with user needs, and keep them involved’, ‘design for user needs, not organisational convenience’, ’embed user research’, and understand how ’emerging technology may alter or create behaviours’.
  • Test and learn – Digital projects should ‘Start small and optimise for iteration’, ‘Take small steps and learn as you go’, and ‘Make things open; it makes things better’.
  • Safe, secure, private, accessible and sustainable – Digital projects need to understand the opportunities, and risks that being online brings. This includes, ‘Be inclusive’, ‘think about privacy and security’, ‘build for sustainability’, and ‘Recognise the duty of care you have to users, and to the data you hold about them’,

Whether the project work is digital, such as building a new website, or not, the project can and should be managed using these kinds of modern principles and practices. It achieves better things for the people that use what the project delivers.

Does it need to be a project?

Is the work you intend to undertake really a project or is it just what you do packaged as a project?

  • Will it have a deadline for completion that is external to the work? – Not just a date that senior management teams want it finished by but a date where something else is going to happen that will fail is the project isn’t completed on time.
  • Will this work have a separate budget from other work? – Not just a line on an internal budget sheet but actually a specific and dedicated budget, perhaps from a funder who expects this project to be delivered using the funds.
  • Will it have people dedicated to working on it (maybe even, if you’re lucky, as their only priority)? – Not people doing this work as part of their usual day job but either this is all they work on or it is very clearly recognised that they are working on this in addition to their day jobs.

If you’ve got three No’s it probably means the work you want to do either isn’t a project or is a project in name only. Three Yes’s means you should probably be approaching the work as a project. Why does it matter? Because, even though all work is fundamentally about these three things: time, money and people’s knowledge and efforts, a project ties them together more tightly and has extra pressure on all three.

What are you managing?

There is a universal law of projects; there is always too much to do in too little time. And there are really only three ways to deal with it:

  • Reduce what work you do to fit it to the time available,
  • Increase the time available to fit the work you want to do, or
  • Increase the capacity and capability of people working on the project.

Actually, in reality, a flexible shifting of all three is most likely to help a project be successful. It might be seventy or so years old, but the iron triangle of project management represents these three things as Scope, Time and Cost. It says that:

  • The quality of work is constrained by the project’s budget, deadlines and scope.
  • The project manager can trade between constraints.
  • Changes in one constraint necessitate changes in others to compensate or quality will suffer.

‘Quality’ is at the centre of the triangle. A project that is delivered on time, on budget and scope, is considered of high quality. A project that is late, over budget, or doesn’t deliver what it should is considered of lower quality. Project management is about managing the quality of the project. It is done through managing the scope of the work, the available budget and the time and skills people have, but project management is much more then just task management.

Managing the work

How do you prioritise project work?

You shouldn’t. All of the work that needs to be delivered in a project is the work that need to be delivered. Using Must, Should, Could (MoSCoW), for example, as a means of prioritising the bits of work introduces more uncertainty than it brings clarity. “What do you mean by we ‘should’ do this piece of work? Are we doing it or not?”. There shouldn’t be any uncertainty about the deliverables.

Prioritisation is often used as a proxy to avoid having the difficult conversation about scope, time and people, but all it does is cloud the issues and take focus away from delivering the project. Keep it simple. The project work is all of the work, and all of it is important (if it isn’t important why is it even part of the project). If you can’t deliver it all, for whatever reason, have the conversations that lead to solutions.

Working in phases

Phasing project work is sometimes seen as a means of deprioritising some work. “We’ll do it in phase 2” sometimes means some non-specific future that may or may not occur. If that’s the case, let it go and focus on delivering the current project. If the project is actually broken into phases then you need a means of deciding which work to do in each phase. Assuming that each phase corresponds to work being released to users, then the work should be sliced by what will be most valuable to the people who are going to be using it. One thing finished and delivered in a phase is better than two half finished things over two phases.

Managing time

Is the project on schedule?

All project schedules are a guess. Some guesses are better than others, and having some sense of when the project will finish is important (as I said above, what usually makes projects different from other work is the added pressure which often isn’t sustainable for long uncertain periods). Sometimes the ‘is the project on schedule?’ question is more often a reporting problem-to-solve than it is a scheduling problem. Because no one ever really knows whether a project is on schedule at any point in time until it’s delivered, this question is really asking how confident are we that it will be delivered on time. How that confidence is communicated is more fundamental than answering schedule questions.

Managing people

Do the people have the right capabilities and capacity?

For a project manager, managing people isn’t about telling people what to do, it’s about ensuring the project team have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to be able to do the work required in the project, and that the team has enough time to do all the things. This is often the hardest part of project management, which is why the easier parts of managing scope and schedule are often focused on instead. The people involved in a project are the greatest factor in the quality of the project being delivered, give them the consideration they need.

Good digital project management not only puts users first, it also puts the people on the project team ahead of scope and schedule. (Tweet this)

Weeknotes #218

This week I did:

Get value sooner

I redesigned how young people interact digitally with the Trust to focus on giving more value earlier, lots of second chances, safety at every point, and targeted and tailored pathways. It has consumed all my thinking this week and I haven’t has much time for anything else. Apart of figuring out the complex technical architecture of making six products work together to create the experience we want young people to have it has also involved lots of conversations about safeguarding, changing operational models, design principles, etc., etc.

Testing Narakeet

I found Narakeet, a new product that creates videos from PowerPoint presentations and voice overs from the notes. I wrote up a quick review and used it to create a video version of my blog post ‘To improve the charity sector focus on the weak links‘. The idea of creating video versions of blog posts (I intend to do more) is that it hopefully makes the post more accessible and helps me test whether creating videos and having content on YouTube is something I might want to do.

Why do people have personal websites?

I wondered, why do people have personal websites? So I looked through the bios of people I follow on Twitter and picked a few that have personal websites. I wanted to see if people regard their websites as finished brochures or portfolios, or whether they use them as online thinking and writing spaces. Almost all of the sites I looked at were of the finished brochure -type, suggesting that if their owners are writing online they are doing it on platforms that come with an audience.

Lecture time

Lectures start next week so I’ve been setting up my study section in Notion to make note-taking easier. I’ve got two modules this term; Innovation Policy and Management and Research Methods in Management. I’m looking forward to getting back into it.


Read about some stuff:

Reconceptualizing the digital divide

This paper examines the concept of a digital divide by introducing problematic examples of community technology projects and analyzing models of technology access. It argues that the concept provides a poor framework for either analysis or policy, and suggests an alternate concept of technology for social inclusion. It then draws on the historical analogy of literacy to further critique the notion of a divide and to examine the resources necessary to promote access and social inclusion.” Wauchner talks about how the concept of a digital divide and the ‘access to technology’ approach to solving the issue is unhelpful and how a more social inclusion model approach is more likely to be effective. He concludes that, “A framework of technology for social inclusion allows us to re-orient the focus from that of gaps to be overcome by provision of equipment to that of social development to be enhanced through the effective integration of ICT into communities and institutions. This kind of integration can only be achieved by attention to the wide range of physical, digital, human, and social resources that meaningful access to ICT entails.”

It’s kind of an interesting systems thinking point too. The more we think about things in isolation the more isolation we create. The more we think about things inclusively and interconnectedly the more connection we create.

Writing is Networking for Introverts

As an introvert that writes a bit, but doesn’t really have any interest in networking I wonder about this. Bryne’s answer is to outsource the extroversion by becoming micro-famous because it “combines an easier task (be famous to fewer people) with a better outcome (be famous to the right people).” I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any micro-fame, but on the other hand I have no need for networking. If I had more time I’d spend it writing more.

Why Community Belongs at the Center of Today’s Remote Work Strategies

Dion Hinchcliffe writes about how, “In the 30+ years that we’ve all been digitally connected worldwide via the Internet, we have collectively made many profound discoveries about how people can come together through computer networks to create mass shared value“, and how technologies that provide rich social interaction for the highest number of people for the longest period of time, offer the best opportunities for collaboration. This is interesting to me (for obvious reasons given the current situation, but also) as one of the exam questions I answered a few months ago was about the kind of enterprise digitisation that Hinchcliffe is talking about. My conclusion was that “For some businesses the coronavirus lockdown will serve as an accelerator for the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technologies, new ways of working, and new ways of unlocking value within the organisation”, but thinking from the ‘community’ point of view rather than the ‘technology’ point of view makes things look quite different (similar to Wauchner’s point above; tech is the tool to build the solution, it isn’t the solution).


Thought about some stuff:

What does ‘digital’ mean in the charity sector?

I’m interested in getting an understanding of what digital means in the charity sector. I created a list of 30 websites that come up in search results for ‘digital charity’ and I want to use them to assess and understand the state of digital maturity in the sector. My hypothesis is that if all of the resources and training being offered by these organisations (interestingly no charities show on the first few pages for term) is low on a maturity scale then this is a market indication of the sector.

Tech Ethics research collection

I’ve been working on my collection of research about Tech Ethics. I feel like I haven’t got very far, and I kind of lost direction so I’ve stopped until I figure out what I’m trying to achieve with the Collections on my website.

Notion everything

I was thinking about Notion Everything‘s business model. It’s a templates marketplace (built in WebFlow) for Notion; a collection of digital goods that customers can purchase to import into a digital product and short cut organising their Notions. It’s a bit like how WordPress has a marketplace for theme and plugins but is separate from Notion. Building up an ecosystem of things like this is essential for any digital product to succeed (WebFlow and Roam too). Having people creating training courses, user guides, other added-value offers is all part of increasing adoption, but the insecurity for those people building businesses on top of a digital product is that the company providing the product could choose to build their own version to compete.

Do people use Twitter Lists?

Having spent some time thinking about collating and curating collections of info about a topic (and looking for people on Twitter that are interested in that topic) I thought about how Twitter Lists could be better used. Hashtags work for seeing what’s going on immediately but don’t provide a long lasting solution for what’s going on in an industry, sector. Lists of people might. I wonder if well curated Twitter Lists might be an interesting product.

What do I want to use Twitter for?

I haven’t spent much time on Twitter this week but I have been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ve been thinking ‘What do I want to use it for?’ It seems to me that Twitter is a place for expertise and specialisation. If you want to become ‘the x guy‘ and have something to sell/somewhere else for people who interact with you to go then it works as an acquisition channel, but I also think that people who are well known on Twitter probably become that way by being well known off Twitter. I have no intention of becoming well known but it’s interesting to look at how others use Twitter. Anyway…


And some people tweeted:

Monitoring is the new meeting

Tiago Forte tweeted, “Does anyone know of a curation tool that allows you to monitor certain online sources for mentions of a word?” One of the replies was about PMAlerts which I quickly signed up for a set up alerts for ‘Digital charity’. The results it returns are very comprehensive and show links to things I would never had found otherwise. I have a bit of a hypothesis that the shift away from meet-ups with a small number of true-believers will be replaced by broader, smaller, more diverse engagement, and being able to find those opportunities is what monitoring tools like PMAlerts can provide.

Digital inclusion

YSS tweeted, “As a charity supporting people in the community, we’ve seen during lockdown the enormous impact digital exclusion has on people’s lives – simply being unable to connect with loved ones is just one example.” The YSS website showed as not secure but I went to the Good Things Foundation website and found their ‘Fix the Digital Divide‘ page and the ‘Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK‘ (It’s a pdf, but ya know). It seems routed in the ‘access to technology’ approach and doesn’t go as far as Warschauer in fixing the digital divide through broad social inclusion “enhanced through the effective integration of ICT”, but it’s good that there are people

How leadership has changed during COVID-19

Zoe Amar tweeted, “How has leadership changed during COVID-19? I spoke to charity leaders to find out how they are leading differently, and what this means for the sector.” The article highlights some examples of charity leaders focusing on the well being of their staff, which is of course important at any time. But when the day after we see stories like the Canal & River Trust leadership making decisions to make about twenty people redundant and it reminds us that leaders don’t always deal with things in the right way. I think leadership is always a moral dilemma of choosing between the individual and the organisation. Even in cases like this, where those people may not legally be the responsibility of the organisation, it is the role of leadership to take on that dilemma and behave morally, which should at the very least include treating people with respect.

Weeknotes #216

This week I:

Product strategy thinking

I’ve been thinking a bit more about what a product strategy might look like for what we want to achieve. I wrote up my ideas on how we could grow to reach our targets by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous delivery of owned and partner courses. My challenge now is to try to put that out of mind and come up with competing strategies.

Digital is a mindset

I went to the Bucks Mind board meeting where, among lots of other things, we reviewed and discussed the organisational response to COVID-19. It gave me lots of opportunity to think about practical connections between the concept of what a digital mindset is and how a small charity might adopt it. Digital isn’t a channel. If you’re thinking that it is, you’re probably thinking that digital equals technology. Technology is a channel. Using Zoom for group support calls is using technology to deliver a service. Digital is a mindset. It includes thinking about how to utilise variability rather than standardisation, continuous improvements and feedback loops, and ‘going where people are rather than getting people to come to us’.

100 stiles

I added the 100th stile to stiles.style. I’m still interested in this project and think it has some longevity, which isn’t always the case for projects I start.

Idea management isn’t project management

I reorganised my Work In Progress page, taking out the kanban board and using it more like a wiki. It feels easier to use for recording and exploring ideas rather than trying to manage ideas as tasks in a project.

I set up Super.so, a static site generator, to connect my Notion workspace to subdomain of my website: workspace.rogerswannell.com, which feels like a good step in working in the open.

I also added RogBot to the workspace. It’s a little out of date but I can so I did.

Notion shipped a ‘backlinks’ feature which displays the pages that link to that page, so I’ve started going through a few pages to link them together. But, should you link up, or link down, or link both ways?

Reflecting on The Children’s Society learning journey through the pandemic

I joined the Children’s Society video presentation about their response to the pandemic. They talked about how the messiness of the reality gets lost in the telling of a coherent story and that systems thinking makes it ok to have no master plan because you’ll never be able to predict the outcomes anyway.

What I learned about email newsletters: some advice for writers

I wrote some thoughts on what I’ve learned being a reader of email newsletters. It was good to get some thoughts together as I’ve been starting to wonder if I should try to write shorter blog posts more often and about things that more normal people might want to read (other than week notes my last blog post was about stigmergy and the third sector shaping a more collective society. I mean who wants to read stuff like that).


I thought about:

What to talk about?

I’ve been asked to take part in a video about digital product charity stuff. I’m really excited but I’m not sure what to talk about. I’ve got plenty of ideas about charity and digital but I’m not sure anyone else is going to find them interesting.

Digital differentiators

I’ thought a bit about ‘digital differentiators’, questions/provocations that highlight the difference between the old industrial ways of thinking and a digital mindset. Questions like “Do you bring your customers/users/beneficiaries to you or do you go to where they are?”, “Do you accept variability or do you aiming for standardisation?”. I don’t know what I might do with the idea but it’s something to add to my digital garden.

What I learned about Tech Ethics

I’ve been thinking about creating a collections page about Tech Ethics to provide a starter guide including people to follow on Twitter, books to read, definitions, current issues, etc. I haven’t yet finished my Service Design collection page, and I did intended to do one about Fundraising too. Anyway, it would be a useful way to wrap up some of what I learned. I also need to finish the blog post I started about charities implementing automated decision-making technology.


I read:

What if Your Company Had No Rules?

I listened to the Freakonomics podcast about ‘No rules rules‘, the book from Netflix about their organisational culture. I think the interesting bit was about how Reed Hastings (Netflix’s CEO) learned from mistakes he’d made in previous companies in figuring out what kind of culture he wanted, but needed Erin Meyer who knew about creating company cultures to actually make it happen.

How three non-profits won with NoCode

It’s interesting to read about some of the uses and challenges for non-profits using no-code as I’m interested in what it can do for digital in the charities. I have a sense that although it may be easier to learn and quicker to deploy, a new technology doesn’t solve a charities technology problems. And I need to find some time to learn how to use Bubble or some other no-code tool to actually build something (and a good idea for what to build).

Digital gardening & tools for thinking

In learning more about creating more digital thinking space and ways of collecting and organising information, and devloping ideas I’ve been reading Building a digital garden by Tom Critchlow, Maggie Appleton’s Digital Garden, Buster Benson’s notes, Brendan Schlagel’s Canonize: Creating a Personal Canon, and the Zettelkasten method, a personal tool for thinking and writing that creates an interconnected web of thought. Its emphasis is on connection and not mere collection of ideas, which is the concept behind Roam.


Some people tweeted:

Why Map, Even?

David Holl tweeted: Some takeaways on what I’ve gotten from learning Wardley Mapping. He talks about the speed of change and how Wardley mapping is useful for visualising ideas in order to see risks and opportunities. Ben Mosir’s 100 reasons to learn Wardley Mapping thread is interesting too.

Your voice matters

Afsa tweeted: I intend to share five things today as part of my goal to get consistent with writing & be visible. I hope my learning & inspirations will inspire some of you to join me. Your voice matters. I’m always impressed by the ‘working in the open’ and ‘self-reflective experiential learning’ that I see on Twitter, and I think setting goals around sharing, writing consistently and being visible are an excellent way to do it, but the really interesting bit in Afsa’s tweet is the last sentence. To me, it says you should be open and share your experiences and what you learned from them for others.

The meta value chain

Jack Butcher tweeted about the book he illustrated: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. The thread contains quotes from Naval’s tweets, podcasts, blog posts, etc., including “Optimistic contrarians are the rarest breed.”, “Impatience with actions, patience with results.”, and . You know the internet knowledge value chain has gone meta when someone blogs about someone else’ tweet about someone else’s book about things someone else said.