Weeknotes #207

Some things I did this week:

Platform thinking for safeguarding 

I wrote a discussion paper on how to approach achieving a high degree of safeguarding on a digital platform. As a platform (rather than a pipeline) it requires some different thinking (and maths) so, if two people have one connection, then 825 people 339,900 possible connections at any one moment (n * n-1 / 2 just so you know). When planning how to approach monitoring and moderating the platform it’s important to think about the right thing (the number of connections, not the number of people).

Variety pack

I had some user research discussions about how teachers might work with our educational content in a variety of circumstances, from selecting a re-arranged package that they use repeatedly to being able to build up a number of custom packages. Achieving the right amount of variety without providing an overwhelming number of choices (there are thousands of variations) is an interesting problem.

Becoming a cyborg

I watched Maggie Appleton’s talk about “How to Become a Neo-Cartesian Cyborg” and thoughts about the ‘Building a second brain’. It helped me clarify some of my thinking about what an idea ‘is’. I think it is a distinct piece of information; codified knowledge expressed in a transmittable way. Ideas, in this framing rather than ideas as aha moments, are the building blocks of creating other things. 


And some things I learned:

Simplifying the complex

When communicating, and by that I mean providing information with the purpose of convincing someone of something (communication isn’t neutral), simplifying that communication makes it more likely they’ll agree with you. Now, we could call that simplification ‘withholding all the facts’, but it’s a question of degrees. Knowing the boundaries of acceptable presentation gets the job done and keeps you out of trouble.

Fewest moving parts

Efficiency in machines comes from having the fewest moving parts. Where one moving part touches another moving part there is always friction and so energy lost through heat. A perfectly friction-free system would achieve maximum efficiency. So, when we talk about efficiency in working processes or reducing friction in a website sign-up process, we should look at the number of moving parts in the system first rather than thinking we can achieve those things with some surface-level changes.

Learning about learning

We we’re talking about behaviour change and pedagogical models at work, which are fascinating in their own right, but even more so when applying the thinking to creating a blended online education offer that allows people to self-serve some of their learning, receive specialised support, etc., and using those models to think coherently about how the subject is taught, what from the subject is taught, and how is the learning measured.

6G is coming

I didn’t even know 6G existed but apparently we’re expecting it to be rolled out in 2028. In fact doesn’t exist yet and is still in the research phases but the experts are predicting that it will provide internet connection speeds of 1 terabyte per second (the equivalent of 142 hours of movies in one second). 6G will also have a decentralised approach meaning devices can connect to each other without going through a central provider, which opens up lots of possibilities in real time sensor processing for augmented humans and artificial intelligence.


Some things I thought about:

All the problems

I look around and see so many problems, problems facing people right now, and I sometimes feel bad that I’m not doing enough to help solve those problems. I was thinking about this on one of my late night walks and it occurred to me that if everyone was working on solving the problems of today then no one would be imagining and investigating the solutions of the future. The work I do, and want to do more of, is around contributing to an understanding of what the solutions of the future might look like. The things I think and write about like cause-agnostic charities, the digital charity, platform business models for charities, and what the charity of the future might look like, is worthwhile work to be doing. It doesn’t contribute to solving the problems we face today, but I hope it contributes to solving the problems we’ll face in the future. 

Changing charity boards 

NonprofitAF wrote an article about boards of trustees being “archaic and toxic”. Apart from being a really interesting topic, one of the things I like about the article is that it presents a balanced view of the problem; that not all boards are bad, and that there are some ways in which organisations are trying out new governance models. I like this. I’m not keen on the spate of articles that seem to be written to attack particular aspects of the charity sector without offering any solutions to the problems they raise. I think reasoned critique that generates discussion and thinking is helpful, whereas ranting about a problem isn’t.  

Anyway, models of governance is something I want to explore with future.charity but my initial thoughts are that there needs to be some clarifying as to what charities need, governance, stewardship, or something else, not assuming that one type of governance fits all types of charities, and designing governance into the business model of the charity rather than as external to it.

Process models for knowledge management

I was looking at process models and how they have certain characteristics in common. So, for example: 

  • Design sprint: map, sketch, decide, prototype, test. 
  • Design thinking: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test.
  • Double Diamond: discover, define, develop, deliver. 

They all have two characteristics in common; they are linear, and they are conceptual islands. The linear nature of them makes sense if a) you view the world and the work you do as non-complex, production-oriented work that can follow a simple step-by-step process, or b) you want to sell your model and you need to make it easily digestible by people who don’t have time to learn in-depth about how lots of process models should be used. These models are also always fixed (you can’t add another step, for example), unable to respond to change, and isolated, so not connected to other models. The more we recognise work as creative knowledge work that cannot follow the fixed process steps that these models suggest, the less useful these tools and models become. In fact, I think they become contraining of good work.

We need smart networked process models. Models that are capable of sensing and responding to change, that are interoperable, connected and able to communicate with other models, and are continuously improving. These models, built on the principles of the internet-era, need to reflect and utilise the complexity of the world and knowledge work, and be part of an ecosystem of models that support good knowledge work.

And perhaps organisations need Knowledge Managers whose job is about teaching people how to use tools and models effectively. Just as organisations have project managers who are responsible for the ‘when’, the flow of the work, knowledge managers would be responsible for ‘how’, the ways the work is done. They would be part of the shift organisations need to take away from the industrial production-oriented mindset of work and towards the modern creation-oriented knowledge work. 

I’ve seen organisations use the term ‘knowledge manager’ before when they mean ‘information manager’, and usually put that person in the IT department. Instead, I wonder if knowledge management, or to put it another way, intellectual asset management, sits better with HR/Learning and Development as it implies a different approach, that helping people know how to use the right conceptual tools is an important part of their work.


Some tweets I liked:

#CharityDigiReport

Zoe Amar tweeted about the Charity Digital Skills Report. Apart from the slight irony of the report being a pdf and accessed from a non-responsive website, the report has some really interesting but not surprising information about the state of digital in the charity sector. It says that “80% [of charities] are fair to poor at developing digital products”. That’s definitely a challenge with lots of causes, including the assumption that charity services should be delivered by people because this is essential to qualities of the service. I also found and started listening to the Starting At The Top podcast by Zoe and Paul Thomas.

Streaming apps

Paul Downey tweeted: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a PDF downloading on a mobile phone — forever.” I’m not sure what he meant but lots of people seemed to take it as a bad thing. ‘Dystopian nightmare’ was mentioned. I’m not sure that it is a negative vision of the future for mobile. It’s a bit too centralised for my liking, but it’s conceivable that the mobile phones of the future don’t download an app and then connect to a web service in order to make the app do stuff and instead effectively stream apps and services to the phone in the same way we watch movies.

Who to follow?

Sonja Blignaut tweeted a quote saying “We follow those that reflect our most cherished ideals, not those who reflect the most accurate picture of reality.” Does the inverse work? Can we know our most cherished ideals by looking at those we follow? Or is it more complex than that?

Those who do not blog

Stephen Gill tweeted: “Those who do not blog about their mistakes doom other people in the organisation to repeat them” Well, yes. Not much more to be said about that, is there.

Andy Matuschak: Designing Education

Podcast with David Perell

Developing ideas over time

Good knowledge work is the ability to absorb and develop ideas over time.

But there is no good way to do reflective work for knowledge workers. Should learn through deliberate practice. No set and agreed knowledge to be learned, no objective measures of correctness, no an established teaching practice.

Poor feedback loops for reading skills, not obvious that you aren’t absorbing.

How to get new and interesting ideas in front of yourself. Design for weird inbounds.

How do you structure a note taking system that gives life to ideas?

Collect small observations. Evergreen notes are atomic, durable.

It’s a search problem, and success depends on where you start.

Can’t right notes that are about a specific topic or solve a specifc problem.

React to impulses and whatever interests you.

Write for specific people.

Affordances transparently suggest an objects use and constraints.

Profound design shapes your perception in ways you may not even be aware of.

Visible design for safety. Undo where possible.

Learning about tech in schools

I was chatting to an old school friend about how we’re both in jobs that we couldn’t have even imagined when we were at school. Back then, the Internet become mainstream and sending an email was a big deal.

It made me think about tech education in schools and wonder whether teachers get the message across to their students that whatever subject they are learning they need to learn how to use technology, that whatever job they get when they are older it will involve technology.

Entrepreneurial Schools

Heard a brief thing on the radio about encouraging students in schools to be more entrepreneurial by starting a business with £10. It started me thinking how they could do that.

If I were them I would leverage the community aspect of the school to provide stock to sell and as customers. I’d set up an Ebay shop that would be stocked with items donated by students, parents and teachers. However, to make better use of the school community and encourage people to keep providing stock (there needs to be a part of the strategy that considers sustainability), I’d award points to each of the donors based on how much the items they donated sell for, e.g. 1 point for 1 pound. These points can then be redeemed at the school for things like free tickets to school plays.

Of course, it would be promoted via the usual social media channels that kids love, ifttt’d from ebay to FB, TW, IG, etc. The points system could be run on Mailchimp so that everyone involved gets regular emails telling them how many points they have earned and what products are for sale this week.

So, what would the £10 be spent on? The postage of for the first round of items sold until you’ve got some profit to pay the delivery on more items.