Connected systems

Connected systems aren’t just nodes in a network, they are made up of sensors collecting information, ‘brains’ interpreting the information, and apparatus acting on the interpretation and creating more data for the sensor to collect. It is these Interconnected feedback loops that create connected systems

Examples for the future might be cyborg limbs providing feedback to human brains, roads that detect when they are developing potholes, and buildings responding to the people in the room.

These connected systems of the future will require ‘sensing materials’, they’ll be built to respond to change.

How the cause-agnostic charities of the future will be innovators for the state and the vanguards of social change for good

Imagine a future where what we understand of how charities work to make society better is radically different from today. 

Cause-agnostic charities 

Today, starting a charity starts with the cause. The charity commission has a list of charitable causes that can be selected from. And if there are already too many charities working on the same cause, the Charity Commission suggests working with an existing charity.

In the future, charities wouldn’t be tied to a particular cause (along with the implied incentive of never solving the issue to ensure their continued existence), they would be a particular type of organisation operating in the civic space (rather than state or market) not for profit and with their impact on social good being their measure of success. 

These cause-agnostic charities would be able to point their problem solving skills at any social issue and apply proven methods to understand the issue and test solutions, acting almost as a charity-as-a-service for communities.

Innovators for the state

The NHS was created by bringing together a number of charity hospices to be under the control and funding of central government. 

If I was looking at that through an innovation lens I might say that charities independently identified a need in society, responded to it, tested solutions until they found a way to meet that need, and then found a backer to scale it.

What if that served as a model for how to use charities to identify the social needs of the population, test solutions by rolling out services into the community, and once those solutions are validated, handing them over to local government services to run.

If, in running an innovative service, the charity doesn’t validate the solution sufficiently for government to take it on they can look at alternative options like handing it over to the community or other organisation to run. The charity can move on to the next community issue to be solved, whatever it might be, but as the charity is agnostic of what causes they work on, the type of issue isn’t the deciding factor.

Charity would be of different sizes and have different skills, meaning they can be matched with social problems that they have experience with and have a good chance of developing good solutions for. 

Vanguards for social change 

As the government services take over the running of the validated solutions to identified problems in the community, the whole of society becomes a better place. As problems occur communities tender for charities to solve their problems, governments tender charities to support on national and international problems and the charity sector becomes the vanguard of positive social change that it should be.

Week notes #205

This week I did:

Crystal clear

I tried Wayne Murray’s crystal clear strategy for delivery instead of the scrum-style standup questions that I haven’t been having much success with.

What non-essential things am I stripping out?

  • Not going to meetings that don’t require my input because I know I can rely on the people in the meetings. – Varied success with this. The problem with meetings is that you only know if you being there was of value after the meeting. 
  • Not spending more time on a piece of work just to make it look ‘finished’ if it’s creating the understanding it needs to. – Still think this is a good approach. I think it also helps to communicate the idea that everything changes and nothing is ever truly finished. 

What have I learned from yesterday?

  • Clear definitions of the ideas and words we use matter. – It matters and doesn’t matter. The understanding matters but what we call things doesn’t matter. 
  • Not learning from existing problems means they’ll repeat again and again. – Not sure about this. It remains true but I’m not sure how to make sure I’ve actually learned it.
  • Reaching understanding requires time and effort. – It definitely does, and feels like it will be an ongoing challenge. 

What will I achieve today?

  • Get my thinking into a form that clearly expresses direction-setting questions, so that we can have focused discussions. – Feel like this failed. We don’t ask enough questions; we don’t have enough time. 

What do I hope to achieve this week?

  • A shared understanding about the proposition, assumptions, and tech choices for a new product. – I made some progress on this but don’t think I achieved it. I had the idea that the shared understanding is the balance between what the tech is capable of, how the Ops team deliver digitally, and the safeguarding of young people in an online space. 

How did it go? Well, I was hoping to take time each morning to think about each question again but always jumped straight into work without taking that time, which shows that I need more discipline. I also wonder how to approach answering the questions. Am I being too philosophical in my answers, or not specific enough, do they need to be more measurable? 

Why data will be so valuable in the future

I collected together some of my thoughts on data including how data is and isn’t the new oil, how all data is conceptually connected, and how Data Trusts can level the playing field for businesses and consumers.

Transitional on/offboarding for knowledge transfer

After reading Alex Danco’s email newsletter about how Silicon Valley was able to become so innovative in software development because the of the laws in California don’t prevent an employee from taking knowledge from one employer to another (an example of systems thinking about creating the conditions for emergence), I decided to write about my ideas about knowledge transfer between charities as employees on and off-board, and how it could be a mechanism for sharing practices and so drive improvement across the sector.


I signed up for Honeycode, Amazon’s app builder, but haven’t had time to do anything with it yet. The three use cases they mention on the website (team task tracker, budget approval and event planner) are all internal business apps, which seems to communicate Honeycode’s proposition, but until I play with it I won’t know 

Do you think they wanted to call it Honeycomb but then someone said, Google already used that, so they went with Honeycode?

Existence is self-evident. Until it isn’t.

Beth Crackles podcast with Wayne Murray was really good. They talked about organisational strategy, how charities are institutional and inward looking, and how they have to keep asking ‘why’ to get to understand their relevance. The question of the relevance of charities (rather than an individual charity), of what is the purpose of charities in society, is really interesting to me. I see the concept of a charity as a type of organisation that achieves social good as facing pressures on two sides; from decentralised social movements on one side and businesses adopting purpose on the other side. Charities will find themselves more and more in a squeezed middle of social impact as more people realise that there are far more ways to do something good.

And I learned:

Shared understanding and collaborative working is hard

Especially when deadlines are approaching. Especially when short term goals matter. Especially when it feels easier not to. 

Does it do what it shouldn’t do?

When you build a product from scratch you know if it does what it should do, that’s why we have Show & Tells and usually the discussion ends there as there isn’t any need to ask if it does something it shouldn’t do. But when working with an off-the-shelf product and then configuring it to work in ways it isn’t designed to, that question becomes very important. 

Most popular

My most popular blog post of all time is ‘Microsoft Planner Vs. Trello’ with 10.85% of page views, with ‘Learning a framework for playing Go Fish’ coming in second with 10.01%. I don’t have any more analytics than that but my assumption is that the MS Planner post gets shown in searches on Bing, but I have no idea why people come to the Go Fish post.

And thought about:

Note taking and expanding on ideas

I’ve become a bit obsessed with Andy Matuschak’s thoughts on note taking. I make lots of notes, but they are mostly functional such as things we talk about in a meeting or things I don’t want to forget. I don’t yet have a means of making notes that makes them easier to join up. I’ve got lots of ideas about digital, innovation and the future of charities but I can’t quite get them all together in any kind of coherent way to be able to build on them. The idea below about ‘the charity sector as innovator for the state’, which came back to me after reading a tweet, actually started months ago when I was reading Stephen Bubb’s history of charities, but I lost it because I didn’t have a system of note taking that makes it easy to connect and expand on ideas. 

I’ve looked at a few other approaches to organising knowledge including lightweight ontologies and Gherkin documentation but I haven’t made any progress and iIt’s frustrating me and my efforts to improve my writing workflow and get on with some of the essays I want to write.

What questions are we asking?

Words like ‘requirements’ and ‘functional specification’ mean different things to different people. So we can either carry on using them to look clever and be confused, or we can use real language. Business requirements = what do we want to do? Functional specifications = how are we going to do it? Apart from the humanness of saying what we mean, using questions opens up space for exploration whereas using terms that require definition closes down discussion. Asking the right questions helps us reach shared understanding. 

And saw on Twitter:

Third sector and public sector

Mike Chitty tweeted about the relationship between the third sector and the public sector, which gave me an opportunity to reply about how the third sector could operate almost as an innovation lab, uncovering problems, figuring out solutions and then handing over the solutions to the public sector to scale and improve society. I see precedent in how lots of charity hospices were taken over by the state when the NHS was created, and the benefits of charities and voluntary organisations. One of the more obvious ways these types of organisations play the role of innovator for the state is in advocating for changes to laws but it could also apply to service delivery. It could be that as more commercial businesses adopt for-good purposes that blur the boundaries between business and charity organisations that the third sector shifts even more towards experimenting with innovative solutions for society.

Accessible LMS

Nicolas Steenhout tweeted, “The field of accessible LMS is thin. That is, there are nearly no learning management systems that I can find that are WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.” Why would you build a Learning Management System that isn’t accessible?

Let’s talk about High Agency

Shreyas Doshi tweeted about how high agency is a prerequisite for making a profound impact in one’s life & work. He defines agency as ‘finding a way to get what you want, without waiting for conditions to be perfect or otherwise blaming the circumstances’. I don’t disagree. High agency, and the internal locus of control that it comes from, probably is an important prerequisite for making an impact but it seems very simplistic. It doesn’t recognise any other factors that affect making a profound impact or that they might be ways of making an impact for people with low agency. Simplistic models of complex things do more harm than good.

The future of education looks like Y Combinator

David Perell tweeted a thread about the future of education, and what I find most interesting about it is not whether the future of education does or doesn’t look like Y Combinator, but that in developing the future of education, the past of education isn’t the place to look for inspiration and that there are other ways of doing things in other sectors that offer some interesting alternatives to just trying to take the old ways of educating and trying to make them work online.

How to Do Strategic Planning Like a Futurist

I recently helped a large industrial manufacturing company with its strategic planning process. With so much uncertainty surrounding autonomous vehicles, 5G, robotics, global trade, and the oil markets, the company’s senior leaders needed a set of guiding objectives and strategies linking the company’s future to the present day. Before our work began in earnest, executives had already decided on a title for the initiative: Strategy 2030.