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.

Some thoughts on a reflective digital practice

Reflective practice is used in other fields such as social work and nursing, and I think there are lots of benefits to being more reflective in our digital work.

What is reflective practice

Reflective practice is an active, dynamic action-based and ethical set of skills, placed in real time and dealing with real, complex and difficult situations.

Moon, J. (1999), Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice, Kogan Page, London.

Reflective practice is, in its simplest form, thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It’s about giving yourself the opportunities to learn from experience. You spend time thinking about what you did, and what happened, and decide from that what you would do differently next time. It’s a habit, a skill, to be developed. It’s sometimes a difficult thing to do when under pressure to produce more outputs, but it has many benefits.

Some of the benefits of reflective practice

Reflective practice is a skill that when practiced well allows you to join the higher level thinking and theory with the lower level day-to-day activities and experiences. It creates a mindset that asks questions, seeks different points of view, considers how things connect and affect each other and brings to light issues and problems.

Benefits include

  • Helping you to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, interests and areas they’d like to develop
  • Helping you feel more confident and in control of their learning and development
  • Helping teams feel more cohesion as they learn together

How to become more reflective

In People Skills, Neil Thompson, suggests that there are six steps to becoming more reflective:

  • Read – around the topics you are learning about or want to learn about and develop
  • Ask – others about the way they do things and why
  • Watch – what is going on around you
  • Feel – pay attention to your emotions, what prompts them, and how you deal with negative ones
  • Talk – share your views and experiences with others in your organisation
  • Think – learn to value time spent thinking about your work

Some ideas for a more reflective practice

Retrospectives

Retrospectives are a part of Scrum and Agile thinking. They are an opportunity to think back about how a particular piece of work went. They can be formal meetings or quick conversations.

It works because:

  • More formal versions of retrospectives such as meetings and reports communicate to the team that reflective practice is valued
  • The discussion allows people to reflect together and learn from each other
  • They can lead to changes and improvements in practice

Weekly update email

Every Friday send an email to interested people saying what you did this week and what you’ll be doing next week.

It works because:

  • It’s good to communicate
  • It makes you look back over the past week and forward to the next week
  • It’s of the moment with no consequences or accountability
  • It’s in easy to read sound bites
  • It isn’t a project update so it can be lighter, more general

Time tracking

Record, even roughly, how you spend your time during the working week.

It works because:

  • It’s purely quantitative, there is no connection to outcome at the point of recording meaning there is no need to justify how you spent your time
  • It helps you to think about when you do things not just what you do, so if you notice you haven’t put any time into a particular project you can do that next week
  • Over time you start to see which parts of your work take up your time. This enables you to think about whether time spent equals value delivered

Read books and articles

Reading seems to be one of the least valued work activities, even among knowledge workers, but it should be encouraged as part of a reflective practice.

It works because

  • It brings in ideas from outside the team or organisation
  • Lots of people can read the same thing, discuss it and reach a common understanding
  • It builds knowledge quickly making reflecting on other things easier