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.
This week I did:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.