Weeknotes #215

This week I did:

Went to Wales

I went to the beach, swam in sea, rode the fastest zip line in the world, jumped on underground trampolines.

I can tell you what or when, but not both

We talked about project plans. I made the point I’ve made before about it being impossible to deliver a scope that is fixed upfront in a timescale that is also fixed. You can either have fixed scope and flexible schedule, or flexible scope and fixed schedule. I can tell you what you’ll get but not when you’ll get it, or I can tell you when you’ll get it but not what it’ll be. Everyone agreed that we have to take a stance in order to make delivery more realistic. And then everyone moved on to talk about the next fixed scoped piece of work and it’s delivery deadline. I think this is another small example of the difference between an industrial mindest, where work is conceived of like manufacturing the same thing repeatedly, and a digital mindset that conceives of work as uncovering uncertainty and learning in order to create something new.

A stigmergy for the transformation of the third sector

I wrote a blog post about using a stigmergy for transforming the third sector so that it leads the shaping of society away from individualism and towards collectivism. A stigmergy is a bit like a strategy but rather than requiring centralised control it allows a self-organising system to emerge based on the responding to actions taken. It seems like a much better approach to achieving change in something as diverse and uncoordinated as an entire sector. The post also goes into the idea of the third sector leading a shift in society away from individualism and towards collectivism. (The problem of changing how we think about things rather than just the things we do is a whole other problem).

And I thought about:

Post-humanist philanthropy

I’ve read a few things about the origins and historic connections between Humanism and Philanthropy. And also how some of the issues we face in modern society can be traced back through the humanist thinking of humans as the dominant species (but not all humans, actually just white European males) and how that belief led to the environmental damage, inequalities in society, etc.. So I wonder what Post-humanist philanthropy might look like?


I’ve been thinking methods and modes of thinking. We have lots of tools that help to guide thinking (ideation processes like Design Thinking spring to mind) but I think we’d benefit from being more explicit about the ways we think and so use those tools. I started with a list of words that seem related to thinking to see if this would help me some grasp some relationships but so far I just have lots of questions. Does ‘ways of thinking’ need a hierarchy to help explain how one way relates to another? Is ‘hierarchy’ one of the ways of thinking about things? Do we need to think different about different things, so consider Objects differently to Events? Is thinking really more about information (which Wolfgang Hofkrichner describes as a mediator between subject and object)? Or is information just the ‘stuff’ of thinking and separate from ways of thinking. It’s going to be a long piece of work.

The shift

I’m starting to get some grasp of how to explain what I mean when I talk about digital and digitisation, and it comes from expressing it as a shift away from industrialisation. So whether I’m talking about ways of conceiving of work as above, or how we explain business models, the same approach of showing the shift applies. The premise of my thinking then, is that this shift is occurring so how is it going to affect the charity sector and wider civic sphere?

Direct, discovery, define, design, develop, deliver. do

Over a year ago I started thinking about a linear process for running projects. I’ve started thinking about it again as part of the Fire Control problem where each step towards the goal helps to figure what the goal is. It isn’t quite a Big Upfront approach to project management that assumes we can know what will be achieved by the end of the project, but it follows a clearly phased process. Direct the scope of the project, discover the problems, define which problems to focus on, design the solutions, develop the solution, deliver it, and then do the work to operationalise the outputs of the project.

Personal websites

I’ve been interested in people’s personal websites for a while. Why do we have them (are they part of our digital identity), what do we use them for (recording thoughts in one place). Googling ‘why do people have personal websites’ just gives the usual articles about personal branding from the assumption that a personal website is all about work and career, which doesn’t seem very useful. So, I’ve started looking through the three and half thousand Twitter accounts I follow to see who has a personal website, how they use it, etc., to see what I can figure out. If I learn anything interesting I’ll probably write a blog post.

And read:

A Meta-Layer for Notes

Julian Lehr writes about notes and his “idea for a radically new kind of note taking app“. He talks about how the notes work in Hey (Basecamp’s email product), how postit notes are spatial in their relationship to the object they are about. He says that stand-alone note-taking apps are suboptimal and that, “Neither the creation nor the consumption of notes should be treated as separate workflows”. He talks about notes existing as a layer over all of the other apps that we use rather than within an app that is specifically for notes. I think there is an interesting assumption about what notes and note-taking is for which leads to the idea of surfacing notes in multiple locations as a means of connecting things. Are notes to right tool for creating connections? Does that make them a means of recording interest in something? Does the internet (and our brains) need more connections in this way?

Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society

Technology is blurring the lines between consumers and producers, amateurs and professionals, and laypeople and experts. We’re just starting to understand the implications. The articles starts by talking about how “the manipulation of matter and energy stands out as a central domain of both scientific and technical advances”, and talks through some of the big technologies of the last few hundred years (Electricity, nuclear power, space travel) before making it’s point that, “In the past the flow of information was almost entirely one-way, from the newspaper, radio or television to the reader, listener or viewer. Today that flow is increasingly two-way—which was one of Tim Berners-Lee’s primary goals when he created the World Wide Web in 1990.” It concludes rather abruptly with “For better or worse, we can expect further blurring of many conventional boundaries—between work and home, between “amateurs” and professionals, and between public and private.”, which seems only obliquely connected to the point that the internet is changing the ways information flows.

It’s interesting that the article talks about information and doesn’t mention data (John C Havens talks about data being the differentiator in changing society that we never had before in The Tech Humanist podcast). Information and data are very different things and conform to different rules, but both are greatly affected by the internet. Perhaps the unifying theme is not so much about what data or information is created but that its usefulness comes in how it flows around systems.

Four Ways of Thinking about Information

Wolfgang Hofkrichner’s paper describes four ways of thinking: reductionism, projectivism, disjunctivism, integrativism. I found some of the ideas on information complexity and simplicity, and unity and diversity quite interesting.

And read some tweets:

Changing your mind regularly

Ben Tossell tweeted: “strong opinions, weekly held is definitely a theme running a startup“. It follows the idea of ‘strong opinions, loosely (or weakly) held, but obviously changes it to suggest that the strong opinions should be changed with regular frequency. Avoiding the obvious issues with assuming that cliches contain insight, its interesting to think about what causes someone to change their mind frequently. If someone changes their mind because they’ve learned something new, we’d probably consider that a good thing, so then underlying this is perhaps something useful about ensuring a sufficient pace of learning so that you could change your opinion frequently and easily.

Work like we used hunt for food

Andrew Ruiz tweeted: “Work is probably the most rewarding if it resembles the way we hunt for food“. Which is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, the only reason that any of us are able to do any work other than hunt, gather and grow food is because civilisation figured out ways to produce enough food. In fact the entire premise of society and its progression is that there is enough food to eat. Secondly, without getting too nostalgic for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the idea of hunting a woolly mammoth involving people working in teams towards a single goal, providing value to their community, celebrating success with a ceremony, etc., starts to sound like our modern ideal of work. And it contrasts with the industrial approach to work.

Notes on Weeknotes

Giles Turnbull wrote some tips on writing good Weeknotes. I particularly liked, “The best way to write weeknotes is as a genuine personal reflection of the week.”, mostly because that’s how I use Weeknotes. I’ve often thought whether I write a blog post about each of the things I include if I didn’t use the format and frequency to prompt me, and although I think I might I don’t think they would have the same self-reflective tone.

Digital Economics

Digital technology is the representation of information in bits. This technology has reduced the cost of storage, computation, and transmission of data. Research on digital economics examines whether and how digital technology changes economic activity. In this review, we emphasize the reduction in five distinct economic costs associated with digital economic activity: search costs, replication costs, transportation costs, tracking costs, and verification costs.

Week Notes #202

This week I did:

Product configuration for online mentoring

We launched the MVP of the platform to enable online mentoring and deliver courses and workshops to young people so I defined the policy settings that control how four user types will behave, wrote six hundred test cases, wrote a user guide, and helped design the feedback loop for support and improvements. It was another fast-paced busy week with lots of individual pieces of the jigsaw being fitted into place and lots to hold in my head and make sure we understand the impact a change in one place affects all the connected parts. 

A non-service-designers guide to service design

I published my ‘work in progress’ collection of information, blogs, resources, books, podcasts, and people to follow about Service Design. My tweet about it received more attention than I was expecting, especially as it was late on Sunday evening, but I’m keen to add more to it and take it out of it’s ‘work in progress’ state to where it feels like a complete set of resources. Then I can leave it for a while to work on other sets of resources for things like user story mapping. Anyway, it’s number three on my list of writings to finish this weekend so I’ll see how far I get.

Charities need better technology

I’ve been working on a blog post about how a number of charities were struggling with identifying and using the right platforms for communicating and providing digital services with their service users from The Catalyst’s article ‘The top ten digital challenges facing the charity sector‘. I’m trying to make the point that the digital communication technologies that charities are using aren’t fit for purpose as they are designed either as enterprise tools for communicating between colleagues or consumer tools for communicating with friends and family, and that what charities need is a different type of product, one that is built privacy-first, has enterprise-level security, and enables people within an organisation to talk to people outside the organisation. Hopefully I’ll get it finished soon.

And I studied:

Digital collaborative platforms

This week’s lecture discussed the “crucial change brought by digital technologies in the way we collaborate in organisations and beyond. The topic discusses changes in the business environment, in which organisations become more collaborative. It explores some trends in digital collaborative platforms, using mainly the examples from social media, and building the arguments to expand the logic to proprietary tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections. Finally, the lecture discusses the economics and motivation of collaboration, drawing upon examples.”

It was a really interesting topic and one of the better lectures of the module, probably because I’m interested in collaborative platforms (Go MS Teams!) but especially for the parts about people’s motivations for using or not using these organisational knowledge management tools.

And thought about:

It hasn’t been a great week for thinking, too much stuff requiring immediate attention and not enough space to go deep, but…

Building in the open

Oikos Digital launched their new website, which is cool anyway, but is being built in the open, which is way cooler. I love the approach. I’d love to build a site entirely in the open that starts with a feedback tool and performance dashboard so that people can be involved in the entire build, from thoughts on the design and layout, co-creating content, testing on different devices and scenarios.

Solidarity and widening our ‘us’.

I’ve listened to a few podcasts on the multiple-order effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the structural racism in our society that is being highlighted and tackled by the Black Live Matter movement, utilitarianism and effective altruism’s approach to doing the most good. The theme I see running through all of them is ideas of solidarity (defined as: unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.). We humans tend to have solidarity with those we feel we have something in common. For some people, this commonality is narrowly defined (only men in a certain age group, of certain wealth, with certain education, etc., etc.) and for others it’s widely defined (the majority of people from a nation, a race, or even the entire species). The inequalities in our society come about from a clash of these solidarities. I think diversity of solidarities is probably a good thing, so the solution isn’t about saying everyone should have the same sense of solidarity, but instead if everyone widened the group of people they consider themselves to have commonalities with, widening the number and groups of people they consider to be ‘us’ rather than ‘them, then perhaps the exponential effects could tackle some of the inequalities and make for a fairer world.

And read tweets about:

Systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery

Tom Loose more tweeted “Hunting an accessible* intro to systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery.”

That’s one of those fascinating intersecting-worlds moments. 

One reply included a link to Design 4 Services for thoughts on system thinking in services,

“This dynamic complexity requires a new way of thinking. It is no longer enough to simply examine and act upon each part of a system in isolation.  It is necessary to examine how each part interacts with each other; and work on the system as a whole.” and a reply from Tom, “a good primer… Just need to inject the notion that internet-era agility & analysis let’s you speed up and improve quality of feedback loop”

Another reply had a link to the Systems Innovation’s YouTube Playlist, some of which I’ve watched before (they’re really good and I should watch more).

But still the question, how to apply system thinking to internet-era ways of working? How to create useful crossover between two sets of ideas, take parts of one and apply to another?