Weeknotes #235

This week I did

Stop everything, I’ve got an idea

We kick off development on a new product next week. We’ve been really busy getting everything ready for the development and testing teams. We’re on schedule and things are looking good. But I have a concern that one of our tech choices is taking down the wrong route. When a product choice causes as many problems as it solves it’s time to consider not using it. Especially as solving all those problems requires even more technology and cost. I have an idea of how to fix it, so we’ll see how well that goes down next week.

Start some more

We started three new projects this week. One is about using an existing product in a different way to get some more value out of it, another is moving an old product onto new infrastructure and integrating it with a newer product to get the benefits of both, and the third is a big one that will allow us to provide opportunities to young people in ways we’ve never done before. It’s going to be a busy year.

Digital for charities in a post-digital world

We live in a post-digital world, a world where digital is so much a part of our everyday life that it is no longer viewed as extraordinary. Charities have a long way to go to be keeping pace in a post digital world, but that shouldn’t stop them from developing their

Innovation management in charities

I’ve been refining my dissertation proposal and have shifted from innovation models used to charities and charity sector agencies to innovation management practices in charities. It feels more focused and there is more established literature to compare how charities manage innovation activities.

This week I read

Humanitarian Innovation

I read this really interesting Literature Review for the Humanitarian Innovation Ecosystem. Well, it’s interesting if you’re a charity innovation geek like me, otherwise it’s probably a bit boring.

How will AI affect charities and digital?

This brilliant piece by Rhodri Davies about how artificial intelligence will affect charities is a great intro for starting to consider how charities might use AI and how the use of AI might affect a charity’s beneficiaries. I think more charities should be doing that kind of future thinking.

Consider charging for your services, charities urged

This piece from nfpSynergy suggests that charities should consider charging for their services. The article acknowledges that it’s a controversial suggestion, but really, should it be controversial? The article says, “It is a false dichotomy to assume that doing good has to be paid for by somebody other than the recipient of that good”, and perhaps actually feeds into the savior-complex that assumes that people who need help are poor. But the other side is that many charities do or could offer services in a commercial way to people that could afford to pay, who wouldn’t normally be the beneficiaries who use the service for free.

Charities and politics

The Tech For Good Live podcast this week had an interesting chat about how charities should be involved in politics. One of the points made is that in a perfect world charities wouldn’t need to exist because the state would look after everyone (which I’m not sure is actually true because charities bring far more value to society that just through tackling issues, but that aside…) but given we aren’t living in a perfect world, why wouldn’t the government want to support the charity sector to deal with societal issues rather than having to do it? The point that even different political parties when in power have never made it easy for charities suggests to me that what Weisbrod says about how the charity sector deals with the market failures of the state and that governments always focus on the mean voter that can keep them in power makes a lot of sense.

This week I thought about

Product assessment framework

I’ve been thinking some more about a framework for assessing products, partly because I’ve been doing it a bit at work, but also because it’s something I’d like to develop for charities. There are lots of things that can be considered about a product, and I think the usual ‘compare it to a wishlist of functional and non-functional requirements’ approach isn’t very effective. I’ve been playing around with a kind of ‘zones’ approach where we could start with a PESTLE analysis to consider the big picture of impacts and then moving onto zones that get closer to the specifics of the charity. An example for the Legal part of PESTLE might be, ‘What laws apply?’ ‘What regulations apply?’ ‘What industry standards and best practices apply?’, and then ‘What policies and procedures apply?’. Anyway, it’s another thing I’ll probably never finish.


I’ve tried journaling a few times but I never stick with it. It seems to work in helping me feel like I’m proactively reflecting on immediate problems but then I drop it once over that problem and so don’t get any long-term benefits. My latest try involved answering three questions: What went well today? What didn’t go well today? What can I do differently tomorrow? I managed three days.

Measuring for feedback loops

Most measures are linear. Better I think to measure in ways that generate signals when something is changing, which trigger actions to respond to the change. Measuring for the sake of measuring doesn’t achieve very much.

This week people tweeted


Andy Matuschak tweeted, “No one’s yet made a workable solution for web micropayments, but one aspirational design metaphor I like is an electricity meter. I don’t think about running my dishwasher as a transaction with a price and a receipt: I just do things, and I get a bill at the end of the month.” It’s an interesting economic model, to treat access to information as a paid-for utility like electricity. It’s definitely a problem that needs to be solved for the internet but I wonder what consequences it might have, perhaps an information-poverty gap where those that pay for get different information than those that don’t.

Having a strategy

Frank Bach, Lead Product Designer at Headspace tweeted, “What does “having a strategy” mean to you? Is it a vision, roadmap, clear path on how you get from X to Z?” The replies are interesting as you might expect. I have a particularly contrarian opinion about strategy, that the modern would is far to complex and changes far to quickly for any kind of plan that says ‘we’re going to do this and that to get from here to there’. I favour the idea of stigmergy. It suggests that the sending, receiving and responding to signals in the environment might be a better way to respond quickly to change and achieve goals without the need for a centralised plan to follow. Timpson’s offers an interesting example of how it might look in a business context.

Man gets respect on Twitter

In a conversation on Twitter about whether charity staff should be paid well for their work a man who originally thought that giving to charity where the staff were paid more than him felt like he wasn’t giving to the needy, changed his mind and accepted expertise should be rewarded regardless of sector. This is interesting on many levels, first that someone changed their mind on Twitter and received respect for it, including a retweet from Dan Pallotta, and as part of the ongoing conversation about how people view the cost of running charities and paying people who work in charities, and also because of how it connects to other current issues around wages in the charity sector.