Weeknotes #220

Things I did this week:

Requirements isn’t a document

It has been a very busy week with a new product build kicking off, an existing product being in the design phase with prototypes being created for user interviews next week, and another existing product starting to go into requirements gathering now that we’ve finished the programme design that the product supports. I’ve been using the phrase “Requirements isn’t a document, it’s an understanding” quite a lot.

The last piece of work I did on Friday evening was preparing some copy for discussion with a Safeguarding Consultant on Monday and then testing with young people on Wednesday. These few words will have had so much focus and effort to get them right, but as they are the words that will show young people how to get help if they feel unsafe online or need to raise a safeguarding concern, it’s vital that we get them right.

Digital tools

My Digital Tools list was mentioned in Richard Sved newsletter. I’m now up to about 150 digital tools, and I’ve added it to a bigger page that includes some examples of charities doing digital things and some other useful resources.

Rapid ideation

I joined in with Reply’s Rapid ideation session to help a charity called SLIDE come up with some ideas of how to offer digital services. Although I don’t know much about the project it seems like a great way to get small charities understanding how to approach ‘digital’. And the ideation sessions were a fantastic example of the digital charity community (can you be a community if you don’t know each other?) using their skills and knowledge to help charities.

Charity Hour on ethical web design

I’ve followed a few Charity Hour discussions on Twitter but this was the first that I felt I could contribute to. It was led by ethical web designer and UX consultant, Tamara Sredojevic, and covered a range of topics around what charities can do to improve their websites and digital presence. The best thing about it was the rallying cry for charities to make more use of the ‘digital charity community’ that exists on Twitter. There is all kinds of expertise that charities could make use of if they knew about it.

Connect with experts

My products on Gumroad have had 15 views; 6 from my website, 4 from Twitter and 5 direct, and no sales (which is expected). I haven’t had time to do anything else with them but I did have another idea around the same theme of collating and curating the knowledge of experts for others to learn from. It would involve a newsletter where each email is about a Twitter thread from some internet business expert along with some reflection.

Innovation research

My lectures this week were about corporate competencies for innovation and research design. The topics are interesting, the lectures are painful (universities really are behind the curve in online education), and the reading is long. I’ve also started thinking about my dissertation which I think will be about innovation models and processes in the charity sector.


Things I thought about:

All charities are on a digital journey

“All charities are on a digital journey”. I read this in the Catalyst newsletter and felt like it gave my brain a little slap. It’s the ‘all’. All charities are on a digital journey, even those that don’t know it yet, even those that haven’t started yet. All of them. There is no such thing as a charity that isn’t on a digital journey. A charity cannot exist in the twenty-first century and not be affected by digital. That is a sobering thought.

Decision-making

I’ve been thinking about how to slice the prerequisites for decision-making, which (for the purposes of this) I think are how much information you have about the decision and what the consequences of the decision might be, which gives us:

  • If you don’t have all the information you need but the decision is reversible, make it.
  • If you don’t have all the information you need and the decision is irreversible, get more info.
  • If you have all the information you need and the decision is reversible, make it.
  • If you have all the information you need and the decision is irreversible, make it.

Basically, have a bias towards making decisions and taking action.

Coronavirus Tech Handbook

I was looking through the Coronavirus Tech Handbook again and found an empty page about the Digital Transformation of Charities. It seems like such a shame for the page to be empty given the size and scope of digital transformation charities are faced with, but it also occurred to me that it’s probably not the first place a charity would look for that kind of support and guidance. So that empty page exists only as an empty testament to another idea that someone had, started, and which never went anywhere. I have so many of those myself.

If side-projects lead to startups, what leads to side-projects?

I read in Michael Novotny’s newsletter on side-projects, which made me think about what gets people into starting their own little projects (of all sorts, not just tech) and led to an interesting discussion on Twitter. f I had time I’d write up a blog post about side-projects and online education coming together to breakdown learning and economic value creation into even smaller chunks.


Things I read:

First Principles for learning

I created and read through some websites about First Principles for learning, and how motivation is one of the most important first principles. This is interesting to me because some of the research we are basing our product and programme design around at work is that motivation is the biggest barrier to learning, progression and achievement. Obviously, low motivation has multiple complex causes, but if you can’t affect those causes how do you make sure you accentuate the things that lower the barriers?

Mindsets vs. Personas

I read through a list of websites about personas and/vs mindsets. I came to the conclusion that to understand a customer/user group we need personas, mindsets, and intents.

Innovation and social enterprise activity in third sector organisations

Innovation and social enterprise activity in third sector organisations, by Celine Chew and Fergus Lyon is from 2012 and “examines the different sources of innovation amongst third sector organisations that are involved in social enterprise activity… Social enterprise activity can also create a space for innovation in terms of positioning services for new users/funders, and can reflect a changing paradigm of delivering services.”. I found the implicit connection between innovation and commercialisation quite interesting, as if innovation should be focused on making money (which I’m not against but don;t agree with).

So much knowledge

I read some of Toby Rogers’ digital garden and blog. It’s interesting to see someone going through some similar thinking to myself around managing ideas (and starting a newsletter, and being an INTJ, and reading lots). I think these things are very individual journeys, and lots of people are figuring out their own ways of being as knowledge workers in an information society. Sometimes just the thought of how much there is to learn even within a narrow field such as product innovation feels overwhelming. How did the human race generate so much knowledge?


Tweets people sent:

Async by default

Chris Herd tweeted, “I’ve spoken to around 1,000 companies over the last 6 months about their plans for remote work going forward” and went on to share the things he’s learned about organisation’s approach to remote work including how many are reducing their office space, hiring remote to widen the talent pool, and changing the measures of output.

Simple rules led to coordinated complex behaviours

Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer at Horizons NHS tweeted “It’s hard to run a big organisation top down, so we end up with many policies/procedures. What if instead, we created a set of “simple rules” that everyone agrees to stick to & interprets in their own way?” Helen links to Timpsons as an example of an organisation that takes this approach. I think as we better understand complexity and how it emerges from autonomous agents following simple rules (like the murmuration of sparrows) we’ll see it tried out in management thinking and organisational design. I think ‘complexity’ is going to be the defining idea behind so many things in society over the next hundred years as we start to figure what it means to live in such a hyper-connected world.

Doing good

Rhodri Davies tweeted in reply to a question about who gets to define “doing good” as more organisations become purpose-led and more tech-for-good projects lay claim to what might have previously been the space of charities. “The really interesting question IMHO is what it means for role of charities. Think it wld be dangerous for them to claim sole ownership of “doing good”- rather they shld champion models of defining it that empower people/ communities & look to challenge “purpose charlatanism”.” I’ve written before about charities as modes of organising people in the civic space to provide a centralising function for groups and communities, so the idea of those modes could also contain ways of facilitating the people in involved in the work in defining ‘good’ is really fascinating to me.

Weeknotes #218

This week I did:

Get value sooner

I redesigned how young people interact digitally with the Trust to focus on giving more value earlier, lots of second chances, safety at every point, and targeted and tailored pathways. It has consumed all my thinking this week and I haven’t has much time for anything else. Apart of figuring out the complex technical architecture of making six products work together to create the experience we want young people to have it has also involved lots of conversations about safeguarding, changing operational models, design principles, etc., etc.

Testing Narakeet

I found Narakeet, a new product that creates videos from PowerPoint presentations and voice overs from the notes. I wrote up a quick review and used it to create a video version of my blog post ‘To improve the charity sector focus on the weak links‘. The idea of creating video versions of blog posts (I intend to do more) is that it hopefully makes the post more accessible and helps me test whether creating videos and having content on YouTube is something I might want to do.

Why do people have personal websites?

I wondered, why do people have personal websites? So I looked through the bios of people I follow on Twitter and picked a few that have personal websites. I wanted to see if people regard their websites as finished brochures or portfolios, or whether they use them as online thinking and writing spaces. Almost all of the sites I looked at were of the finished brochure -type, suggesting that if their owners are writing online they are doing it on platforms that come with an audience.

Lecture time

Lectures start next week so I’ve been setting up my study section in Notion to make note-taking easier. I’ve got two modules this term; Innovation Policy and Management and Research Methods in Management. I’m looking forward to getting back into it.


Read about some stuff:

Reconceptualizing the digital divide

This paper examines the concept of a digital divide by introducing problematic examples of community technology projects and analyzing models of technology access. It argues that the concept provides a poor framework for either analysis or policy, and suggests an alternate concept of technology for social inclusion. It then draws on the historical analogy of literacy to further critique the notion of a divide and to examine the resources necessary to promote access and social inclusion.” Wauchner talks about how the concept of a digital divide and the ‘access to technology’ approach to solving the issue is unhelpful and how a more social inclusion model approach is more likely to be effective. He concludes that, “A framework of technology for social inclusion allows us to re-orient the focus from that of gaps to be overcome by provision of equipment to that of social development to be enhanced through the effective integration of ICT into communities and institutions. This kind of integration can only be achieved by attention to the wide range of physical, digital, human, and social resources that meaningful access to ICT entails.”

It’s kind of an interesting systems thinking point too. The more we think about things in isolation the more isolation we create. The more we think about things inclusively and interconnectedly the more connection we create.

Writing is Networking for Introverts

As an introvert that writes a bit, but doesn’t really have any interest in networking I wonder about this. Bryne’s answer is to outsource the extroversion by becoming micro-famous because it “combines an easier task (be famous to fewer people) with a better outcome (be famous to the right people).” I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any micro-fame, but on the other hand I have no need for networking. If I had more time I’d spend it writing more.

Why Community Belongs at the Center of Today’s Remote Work Strategies

Dion Hinchcliffe writes about how, “In the 30+ years that we’ve all been digitally connected worldwide via the Internet, we have collectively made many profound discoveries about how people can come together through computer networks to create mass shared value“, and how technologies that provide rich social interaction for the highest number of people for the longest period of time, offer the best opportunities for collaboration. This is interesting to me (for obvious reasons given the current situation, but also) as one of the exam questions I answered a few months ago was about the kind of enterprise digitisation that Hinchcliffe is talking about. My conclusion was that “For some businesses the coronavirus lockdown will serve as an accelerator for the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technologies, new ways of working, and new ways of unlocking value within the organisation”, but thinking from the ‘community’ point of view rather than the ‘technology’ point of view makes things look quite different (similar to Wauchner’s point above; tech is the tool to build the solution, it isn’t the solution).


Thought about some stuff:

What does ‘digital’ mean in the charity sector?

I’m interested in getting an understanding of what digital means in the charity sector. I created a list of 30 websites that come up in search results for ‘digital charity’ and I want to use them to assess and understand the state of digital maturity in the sector. My hypothesis is that if all of the resources and training being offered by these organisations (interestingly no charities show on the first few pages for term) is low on a maturity scale then this is a market indication of the sector.

Tech Ethics research collection

I’ve been working on my collection of research about Tech Ethics. I feel like I haven’t got very far, and I kind of lost direction so I’ve stopped until I figure out what I’m trying to achieve with the Collections on my website.

Notion everything

I was thinking about Notion Everything‘s business model. It’s a templates marketplace (built in WebFlow) for Notion; a collection of digital goods that customers can purchase to import into a digital product and short cut organising their Notions. It’s a bit like how WordPress has a marketplace for theme and plugins but is separate from Notion. Building up an ecosystem of things like this is essential for any digital product to succeed (WebFlow and Roam too). Having people creating training courses, user guides, other added-value offers is all part of increasing adoption, but the insecurity for those people building businesses on top of a digital product is that the company providing the product could choose to build their own version to compete.

Do people use Twitter Lists?

Having spent some time thinking about collating and curating collections of info about a topic (and looking for people on Twitter that are interested in that topic) I thought about how Twitter Lists could be better used. Hashtags work for seeing what’s going on immediately but don’t provide a long lasting solution for what’s going on in an industry, sector. Lists of people might. I wonder if well curated Twitter Lists might be an interesting product.

What do I want to use Twitter for?

I haven’t spent much time on Twitter this week but I have been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ve been thinking ‘What do I want to use it for?’ It seems to me that Twitter is a place for expertise and specialisation. If you want to become ‘the x guy‘ and have something to sell/somewhere else for people who interact with you to go then it works as an acquisition channel, but I also think that people who are well known on Twitter probably become that way by being well known off Twitter. I have no intention of becoming well known but it’s interesting to look at how others use Twitter. Anyway…


And some people tweeted:

Monitoring is the new meeting

Tiago Forte tweeted, “Does anyone know of a curation tool that allows you to monitor certain online sources for mentions of a word?” One of the replies was about PMAlerts which I quickly signed up for a set up alerts for ‘Digital charity’. The results it returns are very comprehensive and show links to things I would never had found otherwise. I have a bit of a hypothesis that the shift away from meet-ups with a small number of true-believers will be replaced by broader, smaller, more diverse engagement, and being able to find those opportunities is what monitoring tools like PMAlerts can provide.

Digital inclusion

YSS tweeted, “As a charity supporting people in the community, we’ve seen during lockdown the enormous impact digital exclusion has on people’s lives – simply being unable to connect with loved ones is just one example.” The YSS website showed as not secure but I went to the Good Things Foundation website and found their ‘Fix the Digital Divide‘ page and the ‘Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK‘ (It’s a pdf, but ya know). It seems routed in the ‘access to technology’ approach and doesn’t go as far as Warschauer in fixing the digital divide through broad social inclusion “enhanced through the effective integration of ICT”, but it’s good that there are people

How leadership has changed during COVID-19

Zoe Amar tweeted, “How has leadership changed during COVID-19? I spoke to charity leaders to find out how they are leading differently, and what this means for the sector.” The article highlights some examples of charity leaders focusing on the well being of their staff, which is of course important at any time. But when the day after we see stories like the Canal & River Trust leadership making decisions to make about twenty people redundant and it reminds us that leaders don’t always deal with things in the right way. I think leadership is always a moral dilemma of choosing between the individual and the organisation. Even in cases like this, where those people may not legally be the responsibility of the organisation, it is the role of leadership to take on that dilemma and behave morally, which should at the very least include treating people with respect.

Weeknotes #217

This week I:

Barriers as assumptions

I’ve been working through a complex solution design and requirements for joining five systems together to create a more cohesive process for young people joining programmes. I really enjoy figuring out solutions like this, woking through them step-by-step in my head into I hit a barrier and then back-tracking to the last veritably true position before I made an assumption that led to the barrier. That’s how I view barriers, not as technical limitations of the systems but as reflections of inaccurate assumptions. I think applies to lots of things.

Pipeline and platform digital business models

I wrote a blogpost about how pipeline business models are enabled by platform business models which are enabled by the internet, all built on top of each other and forming our ever-changing economic ecosystem.

Should you build a microsite?

I often see some hating on microsites across Twitter, so I wrote a blog post about when they should and shouldn’t be used. Microsites aren’t bad, they’re just misunderstood.

Digital tools

I’ve added 79 digital tools to my workspace. Some of my favourites are Narakeet, a tool that turns PowerPoint slides into narrated videos, Pory, which generates a website from AirTable data, and Daily140 which optimises Twitter into an email.

To improve the charity sector focus on the weak links

Rather than getting the big visible charity sector organisations to improve how they do things like inclusive hiring, the sector would benefit more from helping the people and organisations that don’t even think of themselves as part of the charity sector.


And thought about:

Learning as a criteria for success

I’ve been thinking about how I’m much more interested in learning than I am in building stuff or making money, or other tangible outcome. Some of those entrepreneurial types I see on Twitter seem to measure themselves by how much money they made on Gumroad, but at the moment I don’t feel that focusing on one thing for long enough in order to do that is interesting. So, I wonder what the criteria for successful learning might look like. How do I know I’m learning the stuff I want to learn at a sufficient pace?

Show & tell vs. Record & replay

Providing a show and tell to update stakeholders on progress and gain buy-in for continuing is ineffective. I know it’s considered an important part of modern digital practice, but I don’t like it. Show and tells take a lot of time to prepare, take up a lot of time in total for all the people that attend, and lock useful information away in PowerPoint presentations that no one will be able to find later. They are a high-cost, low-value activities. Better, I think, to create knowledge bases, where organised information compounds and increases in value over time, which stakeholders can access asynchronously when suits them.

How we represent things

When we map out a journey, such as how someone uses a website for example, we tend to make it linear, simplify it, make it work for us. And when we do so, how we represent that journey is a reflection on how true we choose to be to the experience of that person. If we don’t recognise and take on board all the wrong turns, changing decisions, misunderstandings, etc., then we are saying they don;t exist to us. We diminish their experience. I don’t know how to represent the fullness of the human experience but I know ignoring isn’t an option.


And read:

What fifty years of believing Friedman did to us

Kyle Westway wrote a brilliant piece for his blog and newsletter about the influence Milton Freidman’s essay titled “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” has had on our approach to business and the world we live in. The idea that the sole purpose of a business is to make money for its few stakeholders in competition with other businesses who are also trying to make money solely for it’s stakeholders has powered the late twentieth century’s industrialisation that has caused greater inequality in society and massive environmental damage. Replacing it (I say that like it’s happening because it has to, the world economic markets cannot continue to follow Friedman’s brand of Shareholder Capitalism) is the idea of Stakeholder Capitalism, that a business has a responsibility to all of the people and parts of the planet that are affected by it doing business. I wonder if any charities report on a triple bottom line

‘We Blew It.’ Douglas Rushkoff’s Take on the Future of the Web

Douglas Rushkoff is a futurist, author, early cypherpunk and professor of media studies at Queens College. His early writings on the internet paved the way for thinking about the web in revolutionary terms, as a tool to enfranchise and connect the world. He talks about how the internet has been monopolised by a few tech giants and is used in ways that reflect our societies means of participating in our underlying economy. He says that “climate change is the most pressing issue. Unless growth-based economics and corporate capitalism are reversed, there’s no way to stop it.”

Hacking is a Mindset, Not a Skillset

Spydergrrl’s presentation to the Geek Girls on how hacking is a mindset was an very interesting read. The hacker mindset is made up of accepting challenges (using barriers as motivation), getting outside the box (of our usual thinking, being creative), bringing your friends (because we solve problems better when we work together), give it away (sharing information empowers others) and pay it forward (teach others to think like hackers). I was looking for something like this after the idea that leaders (well, in fact everyone) should take more of a hacker approach to problem solving, specifically, if you are going to have to solve the same problem again in the future make sure that the solution you create now can be reused rather than having to start from scratch every time.


And a few people tweeted:

Diverse and inclusive boards

Kim Shutler tweeted a thread on diversity & inclusion on Boards. It’s an interesting read about implicit privilege, elitism and exclusiveness of charity boards. It made me think about our society’s and sector’s approach to governance and what new models of thinking about it our available.

Innovating at the systems level

David Perell tweeted “Innovating at the systems level is much higher leverage than innovating at the tool level, but tools give you an instant rush of happiness.” in response to Tiago’s tweet saying “I will always use whatever is the most mainstream, broadly accessible, user friendly notes app. I have no interest in innovating at the tool level”. The idea of being able to innovate at different levels, and that different levels have more or less leverage is really interesting to me. It kind of fits with my ideas about changing worldviews over centuries and changing practices over a number of years. The short term change feels better because it’s noticeable but the long term change has greater impact.

Action leads to insight

Joe Jenkins tweeted “action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action” from the book Power of Moments. That’s something I can completely get behind. Learn by doing.

Weeknotes #216

This week I:

Product strategy thinking

I’ve been thinking a bit more about what a product strategy might look like for what we want to achieve. I wrote up my ideas on how we could grow to reach our targets by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous delivery of owned and partner courses. My challenge now is to try to put that out of mind and come up with competing strategies.

Digital is a mindset

I went to the Bucks Mind board meeting where, among lots of other things, we reviewed and discussed the organisational response to COVID-19. It gave me lots of opportunity to think about practical connections between the concept of what a digital mindset is and how a small charity might adopt it. Digital isn’t a channel. If you’re thinking that it is, you’re probably thinking that digital equals technology. Technology is a channel. Using Zoom for group support calls is using technology to deliver a service. Digital is a mindset. It includes thinking about how to utilise variability rather than standardisation, continuous improvements and feedback loops, and ‘going where people are rather than getting people to come to us’.

100 stiles

I added the 100th stile to stiles.style. I’m still interested in this project and think it has some longevity, which isn’t always the case for projects I start.

Idea management isn’t project management

I reorganised my Work In Progress page, taking out the kanban board and using it more like a wiki. It feels easier to use for recording and exploring ideas rather than trying to manage ideas as tasks in a project.

I set up Super.so, a static site generator, to connect my Notion workspace to subdomain of my website: workspace.rogerswannell.com, which feels like a good step in working in the open.

I also added RogBot to the workspace. It’s a little out of date but I can so I did.

Notion shipped a ‘backlinks’ feature which displays the pages that link to that page, so I’ve started going through a few pages to link them together. But, should you link up, or link down, or link both ways?

Reflecting on The Children’s Society learning journey through the pandemic

I joined the Children’s Society video presentation about their response to the pandemic. They talked about how the messiness of the reality gets lost in the telling of a coherent story and that systems thinking makes it ok to have no master plan because you’ll never be able to predict the outcomes anyway.

What I learned about email newsletters: some advice for writers

I wrote some thoughts on what I’ve learned being a reader of email newsletters. It was good to get some thoughts together as I’ve been starting to wonder if I should try to write shorter blog posts more often and about things that more normal people might want to read (other than week notes my last blog post was about stigmergy and the third sector shaping a more collective society. I mean who wants to read stuff like that).


I thought about:

What to talk about?

I’ve been asked to take part in a video about digital product charity stuff. I’m really excited but I’m not sure what to talk about. I’ve got plenty of ideas about charity and digital but I’m not sure anyone else is going to find them interesting.

Digital differentiators

I’ thought a bit about ‘digital differentiators’, questions/provocations that highlight the difference between the old industrial ways of thinking and a digital mindset. Questions like “Do you bring your customers/users/beneficiaries to you or do you go to where they are?”, “Do you accept variability or do you aiming for standardisation?”. I don’t know what I might do with the idea but it’s something to add to my digital garden.

What I learned about Tech Ethics

I’ve been thinking about creating a collections page about Tech Ethics to provide a starter guide including people to follow on Twitter, books to read, definitions, current issues, etc. I haven’t yet finished my Service Design collection page, and I did intended to do one about Fundraising too. Anyway, it would be a useful way to wrap up some of what I learned. I also need to finish the blog post I started about charities implementing automated decision-making technology.


I read:

What if Your Company Had No Rules?

I listened to the Freakonomics podcast about ‘No rules rules‘, the book from Netflix about their organisational culture. I think the interesting bit was about how Reed Hastings (Netflix’s CEO) learned from mistakes he’d made in previous companies in figuring out what kind of culture he wanted, but needed Erin Meyer who knew about creating company cultures to actually make it happen.

How three non-profits won with NoCode

It’s interesting to read about some of the uses and challenges for non-profits using no-code as I’m interested in what it can do for digital in the charities. I have a sense that although it may be easier to learn and quicker to deploy, a new technology doesn’t solve a charities technology problems. And I need to find some time to learn how to use Bubble or some other no-code tool to actually build something (and a good idea for what to build).

Digital gardening & tools for thinking

In learning more about creating more digital thinking space and ways of collecting and organising information, and devloping ideas I’ve been reading Building a digital garden by Tom Critchlow, Maggie Appleton’s Digital Garden, Buster Benson’s notes, Brendan Schlagel’s Canonize: Creating a Personal Canon, and the Zettelkasten method, a personal tool for thinking and writing that creates an interconnected web of thought. Its emphasis is on connection and not mere collection of ideas, which is the concept behind Roam.


Some people tweeted:

Why Map, Even?

David Holl tweeted: Some takeaways on what I’ve gotten from learning Wardley Mapping. He talks about the speed of change and how Wardley mapping is useful for visualising ideas in order to see risks and opportunities. Ben Mosir’s 100 reasons to learn Wardley Mapping thread is interesting too.

Your voice matters

Afsa tweeted: I intend to share five things today as part of my goal to get consistent with writing & be visible. I hope my learning & inspirations will inspire some of you to join me. Your voice matters. I’m always impressed by the ‘working in the open’ and ‘self-reflective experiential learning’ that I see on Twitter, and I think setting goals around sharing, writing consistently and being visible are an excellent way to do it, but the really interesting bit in Afsa’s tweet is the last sentence. To me, it says you should be open and share your experiences and what you learned from them for others.

The meta value chain

Jack Butcher tweeted about the book he illustrated: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. The thread contains quotes from Naval’s tweets, podcasts, blog posts, etc., including “Optimistic contrarians are the rarest breed.”, “Impatience with actions, patience with results.”, and . You know the internet knowledge value chain has gone meta when someone blogs about someone else’ tweet about someone else’s book about things someone else said.

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?

Thinking

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.

Week notes #214

I did:

The future is asynchronous

I presented some discovery work I’ve been doing for the next phase of our online learning environment. It has been centred around user needs of accessing the platform, booking on sessions, and asynchronous session delivery. Thinking about asynchronous delivery, all the different ways we can support young people to achieve outcomes, is really interesting. It opens up so many more opportunities not only anytime/anywhere, but more importantly about how young people develop a sense of agency around their professional development.

Some thoughts on the Charity Digital Code of Practice

What might a digital charity look like in fifty years? What kinds of thinking models might be needed between now and then to make digital every part of a charity? “Becoming a digital charity offers new modes of operating. It isn’t just digitising existing ways of working, but completely transforming the business model and how they achieve their purpose. But its all about steps in the right direction. The Charity Digital Code of Practice can help charities think about what those steps might look like.”

Launched The Fire Control Problem

I launched my SMS course after the team at Arist helped me with a technical issue of their system not accepting UK phone numbers. Its one of those virtual world meets the physical world problems.

Its interesting to me to be using the process that the course describes in figuring out what to do with the course.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • SMS learning is for individuals. It seems obvious but I hadn’t really thought about it. There is no sense of other people learning the same stuff like you might get from a more open platform like Twitter.
  • SMS is very one way. It doesn’t allow users to question or debate the contents, they have to take it at face value.
  • The concept of achieving uncertain goals rather than the usual approach of defining them first is a bit of a hurdle to get over, and if the user doesn’t grasp the proposition from the start the rest of the lessons might be a bit confusing.
  • The concept might lend itself to an exploratory approach of ideas rather than purely as a means to achieve goals.

Year 2: The revenge

I picked the modules I’ll be studying for the second year of my MSc:

  • Innovation policy and management.
  • Digital creativity and new media management.
  • Blockchain technology and its impact on innovation, management and policy.
  • Research methods in management.
  • Dissertation.

It’s going to be a busy year.


I thought about:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Catchy statement, sounds like it might be true, but how might you test it? It seems to me that if you were to describe what makes ‘culture’ and ‘strategy’ opposite to each other you might describe culture as more subtle, amorphous, vague, driven by story-telling, and strategy as objective, defined, perhaps more scientific or numbers-based. So, based on this, if an organisation is driven by its narrative rather than by insights, then it could be true to say that it is led by its culture and not its strategy. Another question is whether that’s a good thing or not. (And just to add another thought; “Systems swallow culture and strategy whole”.)

Testing vs learning

When launching a product, testing is about confirming what you know, learning is about being open to finding out things you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Both are important but learning is the most difficult because it can only happen with real people using the product.

The fear of digital

What is the fear of digital about? Is it the fear of being replaced, the fear of the new, of the unknown?

Stigmergy

“Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even individual awareness of each other.” Maybe this is the opposite of strategy that I’ve been looking for.


And I read:

Remote work and the future of the high street

The high street is dying. Remote/home working as a result of COVID 19 is exacerbating this. But I think there’s an opportunity to do everything better.

Ross describes a town where, “Air quality is high. The local economy is booming. Social mobility is high and unemployment is low”, and essentially asks the question is it possible to have all of these things in the same place at the same time.

So, if I understand what he’s saying correctly, rather than office buildings being full of people from a single company there will be offices with people from lots of different organisations. These co-working spaces will bring people into town centres via environmentally sustainable transport and thus making town centres being convenient places for the kinds of tasks that you have to do in person, things like getting a haircut, banking, and frequenting a cafe or coffee shop.

But we have to ask, why do those things require lots of people to all travel to a location that is convenient for the hairdressers, banks and cafe owners, rather than the business travelling to convenient locations for their customers? The answer used to be obvious, because its more economically viable for the business and because consumer behaviour supported it. When people had no choice but to go to workplaces then businesses would open to provide for the needs of all those people in one place. Giving people a choice changes consumer behaviour. If everyone has a choice (and of course not everyone will) about whether to go to a town centre to work, will there be enough people to sustain that local economy? There will undoubtedly be fewer people, so what defines economic sustainability might be different to pre-COVID times, but will is be enough to drive cause low unemployment and high social mobility?

I think the nature of the problem, as with so many of the post-COVID-rebuild efforts, is one of tight or loose-coupling. In pre-COVID times town centres, and lots of other parts of the economy/society were tightly-couple. Tight-coupling is fragile and risky, it relies on stability throughout the system, it can’t accept too much drastic change. Tightly-coupled systems are like a house of cards, if one card shakes, those connected to it and connected to those that are connected to it feel the effects of that shaking. To create another tightly-coupled system of town centres, one where each part is reliant on all the others for its stability and success, would be to fail to learn from the shock our economy is going through. So perhaps Ross’ vision of town centres as nice places to work could be a reality, but depending on how it is built effects how long it lasts.

An example of the loose-coupling of town centres? Amazon is buying town centre warehousing space far more cheaply than it could of when high street property values were at pre-pandemic levels so that they can deliver across the surrounding town far more quickly than they could from warehouses farther away. Amazon know how to be loosely-coupled. Their warehouses don’t have any great reliance on the surrounding infrastructure and systems that make up a town. As long as Amazon can get vans in and out of the warehouse and have a steady supplier of workers (and if not they’ll bus them in from other towns), they are happy. Whatever happens in the local economy, Amazon can continue unaffected. That is loose-coupling.

The Hacker Ethic of Work

“In the hacker ethic of work, work has to be interesting and fun and, above all, must create value for the worker, the organization and for society as a whole. Workers also must have freedom to organize their work in a way that is more functional to reach their own goals and in the manner that best fits their needs and insights”.

Simone Cicero, who has written more recently about platforms and complex systems, wrote about the hacker ethic of work in 2015, describing it as in the quote above, as an approach to work that involves creativity and freedom. In our complex world, an organisation that is able to adopt the hacker ways of making things that are open and reusable, collaborative and co-created, agile and flow-based, and understand user’s needs can become market leaders.

For me, this article from 2015 and Ross’ article are connected by a thread that approaches work more from the side of the worker than the side of the organisation. Both seem to me to be asking for a change. They recognise a move away from the industrial concept of the worker as a tool to be used by the machines of business and towards the worker as a nodes in the complex systems that make up our economy, society, and environment.

Simone says, “as individuals living today we have a duty to face the future with the eagerness not just to see it happen but, rather, to choose to be part of it and give it a different shape”.

Industrialisation

Industry and its discontents“, a podcast by Seth Godin in which he talks about the system of industrialisation. He says industry craves productivity because cheaper wins but cheaper products require cheaper labour, which requires of people that they do morally questionable things to meet their short-term needs. This feels like one of the most important podcasts I’ve ever listened to and mentions many of the justification for moving away from the industrial mindset.

I see in all three of these the theme of society moving away from industrialisation and towards digitisation. The digitisation of society won’t provide some perfect utopia, it will be full of challenges, problems, inequalities, and unintended side-effects

It’s about legacy

“A “programme in which they repair stuff” shouldn’t be compelling viewing. It’s only made so because we hear people’s stories, and what the objects mean to them. And within each episode, we have the “will they be able to restore it? What will it look like?” arc of the chosen objects. We need to be clear that fundraising works best when we talk about individual stories, and what changes as a result of a donor’s support and our organisation’s intervention. This is how we make a connection.”

I’m fascinated by fundraising, as a discipline, a sector and a practice. I think, because it seems so unique. It only exists in the third sector. Things like HR and Marketing, as interesting as they are also, exist in every sector. So, Richards newsletter, and his post about The Repair Shop are like little peaks into the world of fundraising and the mind of a fundraiser.

Because of the way my brain works, I struggle to understand the things Richard talks about, things like love, legacy, restoration, and I guess the connections that storytelling creates. I can conceive of fundraising in a transactional way as a value exchange between three parties; the donor, the charity, and the beneficiary, and how is differs in nature from a commercial value exchange between two parties and adds to fundraising’s uniqueness, but how it actually works in practice is a mystery to me. Is it just marketing by another name? Is it sales, or should it be? Perhaps what I’d like to understand is more about the approaches fundraising uses to fit it into my mental models for the shift from industrial to digital.

Oh, and he mentioned my tweet about what a strategy needs to express in his email newsletter, which was a complete but nice surprise.


Some people tweeted:

Salaries in charity job adverts

There is a claim (I see it mostly on Twitter, from which you can draw you’re own conclusion) that putting the salary in job adverts helps to tackle the gender pay gap. I was interested in where the idea comes from, how robust it is in theory, and whether there is any research or evidence, so with a bit googling I tried to track it down.

There is a press release from the Young Women’s Trust that states, “Employers should stop asking job applicants how much they earn and include salary details in adverts to help close the gender pay gap”. The press release goes on to mention the salary history/wage equity laws that have been introduced in the United States that make asking a candidate about their current/previous salary illegal but doesn’t mention salaries in job adverts again.

I couldn’t find any research that concludes that including salary details in a job advert has any affect on the gender pay gap (I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t exist, just that I didn’t spend very long looking for it). There is some research that says following salary history bans employees received “increased pay for job changers by about 5%, with larger increases for women (8%) and African-Americans (13%). Salary histories appear to account for much of the persistence of residual wage gaps“. And I there is some research that shows that “when there is no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men are more likely to negotiate for a higher wage, whereas women are more likely to signal their willingness to work for a lower wage. However, when we explicitly mention the possibility that wages are negotiable, these differences disappear completely.

Looking it at from a complexity point of view of course its impossible to know what action will have which result so we can’t say that having salaries in job ads won’t contribute to tackling the gender pay gap, but based solely on what I’ve seen, we can’t say that it will either. Perhaps it is better instead to focus on a wider commit to better hiring practices across the the charity sector.

Also, I’ve seen concerns expressed about how we go about making change happen. If naming and shaming charities on Twitter (and actually, organisations don’t tweet, real people probably with the words ‘social’, ‘media’ and ‘executive’ in their job title do) is the default means to get them to change their practices, then what does that say about the charity sector?

But, here’s the interesting question: in a world of misinformation and easily swayed opinions, if something feels like the morally right thing to do but is based on growing public opinion and not on firmly established research and viable hypothesis, is it still the right thing to do?

Architecting organizations by designing constraints

Simone Cicero tweeted “A new approach to organizing is slowly establishing itself. This new approach is essentially small-scale, emergent and outside in, and doesn’t aim at simplifying complexity but at rhyming with it. This approach is based on architecting organizations by designing constraints.”

This is intriguing to me because of my interest in modes of organising within the three spheres of society. If Simone is seeing a new mode in the market sphere, one that conforms to more modern, perhaps non-newtonian, concepts from complexity science, then I’d like to understand more about it.

Is the market unsympathetic?

Justin Jackson tweeted “The market is unsympathetic to your passion. You can build whatever you want, but ultimately you’re beholden to the market and what it wants. Without customer demand, you don’t have a business.”

Yes, in the most obvious way, as we understand markets as unthinking mechanisms of capitalism, they have no sympathy for what any individual puts their time and energy into. But the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Markets do need people who are passionate and invested in what they build and how they build it because without that passion nothings gets built and the market has nothing to be unsympathetic about.

Fake Grimlock replied: “LEARN PASSION FOR THINGS PEOPLE WANT. IT THAT SIMPLE.”

Weeknotes #213

This week I:

Creating guidance

I’ve spent quite a lot of time working through the logging-in process to figure out improvements on the technical side and in the guidance we provide. Guidance content is an interesting challenge in many ways. When the user is on a mobile device they have to switch between the guidance which might be on a web page open in a browser app and the app they are logging into, or between the guidance in an email and logging into a web page in a browser, either way there is lots of switching between the two which makes it difficult to keep track. The guidance also need to check that they are taking the correct step and not just assume that the previous step was completed correctly, otherwise the instructions become increasingly confusing.

Developing a digital mindset

I started a blog post that was meant to be a few quick reflections on the Charity Digital Code of Practice. I’m less than half way through and have already written more than two and a half thousand words. I seem incapable of writing short blog posts, but I’ve definitely found it really interesting how so much of digital thinking in the charity sector is short-term implementation. I struggle to find anyone thinking about the vision of digital charities or the mindsets that will be required of digital charity people in the future. There seems to be the general expectation that we’ll be able to continue to use the same old ways of thinking and just apply them to digital. Anyway, I hope to finish the blog post over the next few days.

Finished hiking the Ridgeway

Last weekend I hiked the final twenty five miles of the Ridgeway. It has taken my brothers and I three years to complete the almost ninety mile route. I don’t spend very much time with my brothers, and this hike reminded me why. I’m quite different to them. They talk about what they’ve watched on Netflix and the houses they are buying. I talk about the ethics workshops I went to last week, my plan to spend the next few years on a roadtrip around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland.

How to hit a moving target

I turned some of my thoughts about achieving uncertain goals into a short course delivered via SMS. It is in part to test whether short courses using delivery methods such as SMS, Chatbots and scheduled emails should be part of our proposition at work. How much value can you really get out of a few text messages? I set up a landing page, and just need to finish writing the course and then get some people to sign-up.

Charity Island Discs

I watched Wayne and Lesley’s video for Charity Island Disc. I think stuff like this is wonderful community-building activities. It makes me think about my mountainboarding days where we tried to do lots of things to bring people into a community. Fundraising, as a function/career-choice/whatever is really fascinating to me. I don’t know very much about the practice of fundraising or the sector, but it seems unique to the charity sector (whereas most of the other function, e.g. HR, Finance, Marketing exist in corporate sectors) both in what it does and how it works. It would make an interesting social graph and might reveal whether there are people in the community who are pivotal to that community. My expectation would be that there aren’t, and that the community isn’t structured that way (like the mountainboarding community was). Given the income distribution of charities in the UK (95% with income lower than £1m) I wonder if the social graph of Fundraisers would correlate with the vast majority of Fundraisers not being part of or even aware of the community, but those involved in the community being more closely connected with the larger charities.


And I thought about:

Mind blowing ideas

In thinking and researching for the blog post I mentioned above I’ve learned a little bit about paternalism in charities, complex systems leadership models where authority is an emergent property rather than being held by a single gatekeeper, the history of usability and user research, especially in helping people use software, how maybe the idea of user-led organisations comes from the social model of disability, and how strong organisational culture used to be considered a good thing but now maybe utilising the strength of weak ties might be better.

All the unfinished projects

I have so many unfinished projects. Some of the ideas were complete rubbish, some were probably ok but I got bored and moved on. I bet so many people are the same. What if there was somewhere where we could all upload the projects, whatever stage they are at, from idea to validated audience or whatever, and then other people to take on the project, progress it a bit, mix projects together, reinspire each other. Of course, I can’t start this because I’ll never finish it.

Tecthics

I still have to write up my thoughts around all the research I did last week around tech ethics, ethics frameworks, a guide for charities introducing decision-making technologies, and probably a bit of a rant about people talking about tech ethics when really they just mean applying their ethics to tech.

Jobs To Be Drunk

I started reading When Coffee and Kale Compete which takes about the Jobs To Be Done framework for understanding that customers ‘hire’ products to accomplish things for them (people don’t buy drill bits they buy holes).

My website visitors

My little website gets about 20 visitors a day, and almost none of them read the stuff I write about, which I’m completely fine with. The steady stream of traffic seems to be from weird occurrences of search results like how my website shows on the first page of google along with Simon Sinek’s website and twitter account for the phrase “what almost every leader gets wrong”.

Screenshot of first page of google search results

I posted Sinek’s video to the Notes section of my website so I’ll be able to find it next time I want it. I wonder if I should add my thoughts about what he says to the page? Nah, I’ve got plenty of other half-finished blog posts that I’m far more interested in.


And some people tweeted about:

Building app when you’re not technical

Janine Sickmeyer tweeted “Non-technical founders always ask how they can build an app if they don’t have a tech team” She goes out to give some really good advice about identifying a problem and customer pain points, prioritising features for an MVP before going into the options of hiring a tech tean, using no-code tools, or a hybrid approach.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well

Dalton Mabery wrote a thread of advice about writing online from David Perell. The advice includes “There are no original thoughts, only original combinations”, “People will follow those who have earned trust, credibility, and authority. Those can’t be bought, only earned over time.”, and “Consistency develops ability”. These threads about writing online whilst writing online get a bit meta but I find the ideas about writing online (in this thread and in general) really interesting as uncovers some of our ideas about how expert knowledge and information sharing is and isn’t supposed to work.

What email service do you use for newsletters?

I bookmarked this thread as soon as I saw it as I knew it would create a really useful up to date list of all the new email newsletter providers which I’m sure I’ll need soon.

Alfie goes paddleboarding

https://twitter.com/RNLI/status/1299369907491082240

Weeknotes #212

This week I did:

Affecting the most important measure

We’ve been doing some user research guided by a kind-of North star of ‘effective skill learning’ to understand how much of effective skill learning is contributed to by the contents of the course, the method of delivery, and the relationship with the instructor. My sense at this stage is that the relationship accounts for about 60% of the outcome, the course content about 30%, and the technology only about 10%. If I’m right this will help us ensure we make decisions that maximise the relationship element and reduce anything that damages that.

Retros & reviews

I had some interesting discussions about how piloting new technologies and operating procedures should be used to uncover issues and weak points before rolling out to a larger audience, and not have the expectation that pilots are going to run perfectly. Things going wrong in a pilot makes the pilot a success because then you can fix them so they don’t happen in real scenarios.

Blended learning

I’ve thinking about what we build next and how our concept of ‘blended learning’ works. I’m not sure that defining the ‘blend’ by channel. i.e. digital and physical is helpful in creating the learning experience. I prefer to think of us as providing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous delivery, so that young people can access a programme that is presented live (be that in person or via video) and they are access it at times suited to them (be that by watching video in the evening or working through tasks at the weekend). How this looks will come out of our understanding of what aspect (as above, content, delivery method or relationship) matters most in effective learning. So, if the relationship has the biggest impact on effective learning then we can prioritise the part of the blend that enable relationships, but if delivery method matters most then we’ll focus our efforts on improving that. We can then decide how the blend of synchronous and asynchronous apply on different levels, so should each step in the journey and module have a way of being taken synchronously and asynchronously, or are some parts only available as one or the other but overall the programme is synchronous and asynchronous?

The ethics of moderation

I’ve been writing a discussion paper on the ethics of decision-making technologies in charities. I hope to finish it this weekend and share it with our Safeguarding Board and other stakeholders to start the discussions about ethics next week. It’s a really hard thing to write but I feel like I have a responsibility to push for the ethical use of data, technology and products.

Work in progress

I started using Notion more and got my workspace set up. I add to my library, tidied my tasks list and roadmap (which used to be in Trello), and wrote this blog post in Notion (I used to use Google Docs). I’m hoping it will improve my workflow, help me collect ideas and references more effectively as i’ll have everything in one place.

I looked at using Airtable but it didn’t have any easy way to create records from sharing on my phone, and as I do quite a lot of writing, didn’t seem like the right solution.

I have my ideas database where I record ideas and concepts that I get interested in so that I can find the info I’ve previously researched easily. I’m still using the notes section of my website for more public sharing of things I find on the internet so I need to decide whether moving them to Notion will make it easier to access previous research or just over-complicate it. I also need to get better at noting my own thoughts and ideas.

Introduction to tech ethics

I went to an online workshop with philosopher Alice Thwaite on tech ethics. We talked about freedom and how it’s more important than freedom of speech, how technology amplifies speech, Foucault and how anonymity creates power, how design is a process of changing from the current state to a desired state, normative and descriptive statements, the UN declaration of Human Rights, deontological and consequentialist ethics for handling information and making decisions, creating an ethical framework and how ethical considerations should be criteria of success for the products we build. Quite a lot for two hours.

Ethics of AI & algorithms

And I went to another of Alice’s workshops on the ethics of artificial intelligence and algorithms and talked about how power is a better way to talk about AI rather than bias because it elevates the discussion from about the tech to its affects on society, theories of power and ways power can be held over others legitimately or not, and creating a target goal, model, training data and algorithm for an AI system.

Product Management and the public interest

Kathy Pham from Harvard Kennedy School convened 300 product mangers to meet online to listen to lots of three minute lightning talks on the topics of “how product is different in mission focused organizations and companies, and what public interest tech means at this point in time”. With people from the UK, US, Canada and Philippines working in all kinds of different public interest spaces from government to parenting and housing to advice. Three minutes isn’t very long (I guess unless you’re the one doing the talking) but it gave a really wide range of the different problems products people are tackling. It made me wonder, if I was going to do a talk, what would it be about?


Thought about this week:

Tech ethics, tech ethics, tech ethics

Most of my thinking this week has been about tech ethics. From two workshops with the philosopher Alice Thwaite, reading Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles, listening to podcasts Kate O’Neill, and Rachel Coldicutt sharing some of her thoughts in answer to my long list of questions about tech ethics in the charity sector, I feel like I have lots of different perspectives that I need to figure out and fit together.

Tech ethics is a really interesting topic to learn about, and something I want to include my essay about AI, and use as the basis for a blog post about guidance for charities introducing decision-making technologies, and write a discussion paper for work, so I need to take the time to make sure I’m taking in all the stuff I’ve learned.

Posthumanism & Actor-Network Theory

Posthumanism offers an idea to redefine humans beyond the humanist ideas that were defined in the middle ages by white men (and probably contributed to lots of discrimination throughout history) and into the future of our species as we become more connected with technology.

Actor-network theory uses the principle of generalized symmetry to say that all of the elements of a network have equal agency, including the human and non-human actors such as the systems that form a network. To me this starts to form a different approach to ethics for the future.

These both seem to be quite future-looking theories with some focus on the interaction between humans and technology so they are also interesting to think about and frame some of the thinking I have for my essay about the effects AI will have on our society.

Building an accessibility business

Jonathan sent me some documents on his thoughts about strategy for A11y.space. I really enjoyed reading them and thinking about business strategy. It’s one of those complicated real world things where no matter what model you apply nothing ever fits. It’s been a while since I had to think that way and its so easy to get tied up in knots that lead to inaction. Anyway, the internet needs to become more accessible and I’m sure A11y.space can contribute to it.


Tweets from this week:

How did Uber grow so quickly?

Scott Gorlick tweeted about how Uber approached growing. One of the fascinating things is how offline all the methods they used are. It shows how the myth around internet businesses and being purely digital are so wrong.

Digital job competencies

Dan Barker tweeted “Here’s a list of competencies that people use in ‘digital’ jobs. Which of these would you say are most important for your job/area? What is missing from the list / what doesn’t fit?”

With things like ‘analytical thinking’, ‘influencing others’, and ‘objective analysis’, the list is interesting for not mentioning words like ‘digital’, ‘data’, ‘design’. Instead it focuses on the core competencies of modern work that enable people to solve complex problems in fast changing environments rather than the traditional factory-like concept of work where workers are expected to do what the manager told them (a simplistic contrast, I know, but there does seem to be qualitative differences between the modern workplace and management approach and its older version).

Let the people learn

Hermanni Hyytiälä tweeted “If organisations want to get better at what they do, then their people have to be able to learn. Working within a rigid operating model that is designed on outdated management assumptions and related structures makes it almost impossible for employees to reflect and learn.”

Like I’ve said before, you have two jobs: learn and integrate that learning into the organisation. Employee knowledge is an intellectual asset that organisations should utilise as a competitive advantage.

Week notes #211

This week I did:

You can’t learn without launching 

The pilot of our Online Learning Hub went live this week. I love pilot go lives. I love how everyone seems to think it means job done and to me it means we can finally start learning. And I learned loads. I made sure I was part of first line support helping young people and volunteers solve any technical or usability issues that came up. 

User research can tell you what problems people are facing but the only way you can learn whether your product can solve their problem is to get them using it. Maybe this is the hill I’ll die on.

How rad is Wayne?

Wayne asked for recommendations for website builders, with the replies including what people use for their sites. I realised I’d never done a comparison of Wix, Squarespace, WordPress.com so I quickly created three websites to let people know just how rad Wayne is. I found Wix the easiest to learn and quickest to create a site with. SquareSpace wouldn’t let me publish without paying them. WordPress was probably the hardest to use (even though it was most familiar to me) (and Jonathan did Webflow). I did think about writing up the comparison so it could be a useful tool for whenever anyone else asks the question Wayne asked, but Irealised that I’ve never be able to keep it up to date as all those platforms are constantly changing.

Tech ethics 

I became very interested in charity tech ethics and quickly blew my mind with all the stuff I read, podcasts I listened to and chats I had with quite a few people on Twitter (more than I ever have, including Hera Hussain and Rachel Caldicot, who are kind of heroes of mine).

I started a doc with some questions about charity tech ethics which I’m hoping some of the people I spoke to on Twitter will contribute to (although I’m sure they weren’t expecting four pages of my rambling thoughts when they offered to help).

Something I noticed about how some people talk about tech ethics is that they really just mean that they don’t like the ethics of a big tech company like Amazon or Facebook. I don’t get the impression many people have got any further into tech ethics than the obvious dilemma of charities using big tech to work with people knowing that those companies are using those people’s data in ways the charity might not agree with, but the charities feeling like they have no choice as that’s the tech all of their beneficiaries use. I find the ethics around charities using decision-making technology, and tech ethics in general, fascinating so I’m keen to spend some time understanding it better and maybe write a blog post with some guidance for charities thinking about implementing decision-making technologies.

Digital business exam

I scored 80 on my exam (my highest score), which takes my average to 67.


And thought about some stuff:

Solutionising or outcomes

When doing discovery work, writing use cases and requirements I often hear the phrase, “Don’t solutionise at this stage”, which I agree with, but sometimes wonder if we get confused between what looks like a solution and what is actually an outcome we’re trying to achieve. I’ll look out for more examples and think about some more.

Newsletters

I’ve been thinking about improvements for email newsletters. Email is a great delivery mechanism, and if you’re using a newsletter app then consumption is pretty good. Where there is space for improvement is in collating and curating content. Currently each email newsletter is the work on a single athor. If there was a platform where authors could upload articles and subscribers could subscribe to topics, then the platform could send the subscribers email newsletters with articles from a range of authors but about the same topic. 

Phygital

hancock.lighting is an interesting concept, taking a physical world thing and making a digital version. I wonder what else in the real world could have a digital equivalent and how you’d make the connection between the two.


And read some tweets:

Writing about writing

A small collection of tweets about writing:

Superpowers

Shane Parrish tweeted: Superpowers you can have:

  • Ability to change yourself & your mind
  • Not taking things personally
  • Not needing to prove you’re right
  • Careful selection of all relationships
  • Staying calm
  • Being alone without being lonely
  • Being ok being uncomfortable
  • Thinking for oneself

And Dickie added:

  • Laser focus on one task at a time
  • Easily spotting bottlenecks and leverage points
  • Creating tight feedback loops

I find the kinds of things on lists like these interesting because they have no clear means of learning. They are wisdoms; knowledge + judgement, only gained through experience.

Expressing a strategy 

I tweeted: A strategy needs to express:

1. Where we are now and why we can’t stay here.

2. Where we want to get to and why it’s the right place for us to go.

3. How we’re going to get there and why this is the right way for us to do that.

I’ve since been thinking about a fourth question, something like “How will we know we’re heading in the right direction and what would cause us to change?”

I think it was probably my most successful tweet ever, not because of its contents but because James Gadsby Peet replied, which got it noticed by his followers, and so on as things do on social media.

Week notes #210

This week I did:

Principles for organising 

We were doing some product demos with some volunteers and I picked up on some confusion around how content is accessed in a number of scenarios. I realised that we hadn’t yet defined the principles around how we organise content and so it wasn’t surprising that we couldn’t explain it clearly. 

I spent some time writing about my thoughts on what principles we should use figured out how to split all the variations into six boxes divided by two situations in which content would be accessed and three ways in which it would be used. This gives us clear direction for decision-making.

I gave the solution an amusing nickname. And later when talking about it realised how it makes it easy to get adoption. Having a shorthand phrase for a long explanation means that once everyone understands the explanation the nickname is all we need in order to talk about it. 

Although in total it was probably about half a days work I feel like it demonstrates some of the good practice around getting our thinking straight, having clear guiding principles, and finding ways of communicating better. 

The language we use

I read some of our user research feedback and one of the key points was about making sure the language we use is right for the young people we work with. I think Lou Downes Good Services book is really good for helping thinking about this too. The language we use with young people starts with the language we use with ourselves and our colleagues, and I’m keen to do things like make headings in documents say ‘What problem are we solving?’ rather than ‘Problem statement’.

Why charities exist 

I wrote a bit about the identity crisis of the charity sector when it focuses on the narrative that charities exist to fill the gaps caused by government policy and that instead they should focus on what charities can uniquely do for society, which I think is to bring people together around a cause

Charities in an AI world 

I’ve been working on my essay about the weaponsiation of digital, and blogging some of my ideas along the way, including a quick one about what a future with AI might mean for charities. I also mentioned my idea about solutions in increasing orders of magnitude, so we should be implementing solutions on a 1 – 2 year time scale, investigating solutions for in 10 – 20 years, and imagining solutions for in 100 – 200 years time. 

More accessible today than yesterday

I watched a webinar with Jonathan Holden and Webflow about accessibility. It was really interesting and I learned a lot more about accessibility as a vision and aspiration that just a technical checklist. One of the interesting ideas was that all concepts for websites start out being accessible and the barriers that make site become less accessible are built with every decision that doesn’t consider all of the user’s needs. I did a lighthouse audit on my site, fixed a couple of things and reached 100 on the accessibility score


Thought about:

Where strategy goes wrong

If (and there are lots of other definitions) we say that strategy is ‘where we are now’, ‘where we want to get to’, and ‘how we’re going to get there’, then that creates a conundrum for those setting the strategy. In order to have the impetus to move towards the desired state of being they have to be able to express what isn’t working about the current state, otherwise why would there need to be any movement away from it. But expressing to people that what they do and how they do it is no longer desirable is a difficult thing to say and to hear. I think most strategies and leaders shy away from that. But without it there isn’t motivation to change, why would you if the message you’re getting is that you can carry on doing what you’ve been doing. That’s where strategy goes wrong.

The intersection of introversion and confidence 

Someone I was speaking to described themselves as a ‘confident introvert’, to mean that they feel comfortable talking to people, being assertive, etc. (the kinds of behaviours you might expect of an extrovert), but they need lots of time on their own to recharge afterwards. I guess I could refer to myself in a similar way. I don’t have any anxiety about talking to large groups (perhaps because the introvert in me doesn’t care what they think) but I prefer to spend more time alone than with people. Someone else I spoke to described me as ‘calm’, and I guess that comes from self-confidence in knowing how to deal with all kinds of difficult situations, and perhaps from spending lots of time on my being calm. Anyway, perhaps our use of extrovert/introvert as shorthand for lots of human behaviors, feelings, etc., isn’t always helpful. As is often the way with so much dualistic thinking.

Everybody stalls

I was watching two brothers in a little black car. One teaching the other to drive. They were practicing reversing, getting the biting point, checking the mirrors, feeding the steering wheel through his hands, all going fine… until he stalled. Everybody stalls. I’ve been driving longer than that learner driver has been alive and I still stall. A moment of inattention, too many other things to focus on, and the important part that keeps you moving is the thing that stops you.

For this young learner driver that stop started him crying. Through tears and sobs out came all the times his dad had shouted at him for getting things wrong, telling him he was stupid, a failure. Slowly those feelings were put away again. Not dealt with, not stopped, just put away. He started the car and pulled away with perfect clutch control. 

Every stop is a start. And everybody stalls.

Change your mind

I hear lots of talk about change. I listen out for it because I’m interested in it, but I never hear anything about changing the thinking. I often come back to Pirsig’s point about if you tear down a factory but the rationality that built the factory remains it will just build another factory. I see this as the challenge with digital transformation (or whatever we call it) and changes in response to the pandemic. If organisations do new things with old thinking, the old things will appear again. If you want to change, change your mind. 


And read some tweets:

Words don’t matter, except when they do 

Sarah Drinkwater tweeted, “Are you interested or building tech that’s inclusive, accessible, fair, innovative, not extractive….? If so, what do you call it? Kind of obsessed with how language blocks us; ethics or responsibility don’t resonate with all, and they’re processes we use versus destination”

The replies are really interesting. Lots of clever thoughtful people grappling with the same questions. I think there are two questions here; one about the tech and one about how we name things and communicate about them from a shared understanding. 

For the tech and responsibility question, the aim I would hope is to just be able to call it ‘tech’ because all tech is responsible, ethical, sustainable, etc. Responsible people build responsible tech. So its a people problem (aren’t they all) and the challenge is how we move people from where we are now (a long way away from responsible people building tech) to where tech is responsible by default because that’s how people build it, which takes lots of discussion and is why we need to name things.

I wonder if by naming something we think that we give us shared understanding, but then, as Sarah says, the words get in the way, and we slowly realise that we don’t have a shared understanding so we go looking for more words to have more discussions. The perhaps- useful thing is that we don’t have to have an agreed understanding. Responsible tech can mean what it means to you and you can explore that and build from it. And responsible tech can mean something else to somebody else, and they can explore and build from their understanding. Sometimes we think we need to reach agreement when really what we need is diverse exploration.

Words are the boat that carries us to the other side of the river of understanding, and once there can be left behind as we continue our journey. Intent matters. And action definitely matters. But words don’t matter.

Co-creating the Future

Panthea Lee tweeted, “I’ve architected, negotiated, led a lot of co-creation work. True co-creation. With stakeholders from diverse backgrounds (regionally, economically, politically, culturally) + some that hate each other” and goes on to share some of what she’s learned.

It’s fascinating. I’ve said before how with everything, the more you look the more you see. Everything has deeper and deeper layers and it’s easy to assume that when we say ‘co-creation’ we mean the surface layer stuff of getting people together who wouldn’t normally be together to work on something. Panthea is really clear that that isn’t true co-creation. True co-creation challenges power imbalances, reckons with historical injustices, leans into tension and confronts controversy, and invests resources in standing up what comes out of the process.

I read this and it blows a little bit of my mind. There are so many deeper layers to go into, with co-creation and with so many other things.

Alternative Education 

Ana Lorena Fabrega tweeted about curating a list of alternative education resources around the subject of ‘micro schooling’. It’s the first time I’ve heard the term but |I’m really interested in it. Micro schools typically have fewer students in a class, often of mixed age and ability, and make use of a wider range of educational activities. 

Given the pandemic and the situation of it being potentially dangerous to put large numbers of students all together in the same place at the same time, and being economically unviable to keep all those students at home where they need parents to also be at home, perhaps some models of micro schooling an offer some solutions. It certainly seems to be where adult education is heading but educating young people in this way will have very different challenges.

Personal site stack

Indie Hackers tweeted, “What’s your tech stack for your personal website?”

There are lots of really interesting approaches and wondered what you’d learn if you mapped the approaches against what each person was trying to achieve. For some it’s an intellectual exercise in making different pieces of tech work together, for others it’s about simplicity of use, and for some its about reducing cost (although probably as another intellectual exercise rather than because of the money).

One of the sites mentioned was built using Notion and Fruition. I’m really interested in this approach to building websites, especially for wiki/knowledgebase/note-taking sites. It’s probably the opposite from the completely hand-coded approach and might be really poor for accessibility, SEO, performance and best practices, and those things are worth considering, but as an easy for a group of people to work together in the open it’s pretty hard to beat.