Weeknotes 360

This week I did:


I spent some time on workflows this week. It’s really interesting to think through how information flows in ways that support the organisational operating model, how and when to silo information, and how to introduce modern thinking to get information flowing rather than being fixed.

I also refined a continuous improvement process to focus more on removing barriers for users in an iterative way. Working in big phases of designing everything up front when you know the least and then implementing it without any feedback loop to tell if it was the right thing to do, might be ok in some circumstances (e.g. government, see below) but more often than not it’s better to validate with real users as you go. I keep meaning to get around to writing more about this way of working.

I read:

The great unravelling

This report from the Post Carbon Institute talks about how as the Great Acceleration of the late 20th century slows, the Great Unravelling takes it’s place. It’s a term used to describe “a time of consequences in which individual impacts are compounding to threaten the very environmental and social systems that support modern human civilization.” The report describes thats “a global polycrisis occurs when crises in multiple global systems become causally entangled in ways that significantly degrade humanity’s prospects. These interacting crises produce harms greater than the sum of those the crises would produce in isolation, were their host systems not so deeply interconnected.”

The polycrisis is like nothing humanity has ever faced before. How we adapt, design and build systems to deal with the future we’ve created for ourselves is beyond anyone’s understanding. There can be no plan. Only systems interventions that are as likely to cause unintended consequences as they are to make things better.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “I know not with what concepts the global interconnected world systems will be built, but the world after that will be built with smallness and simplicity”

Shifting tides

This research report, based on interviews with digital activists and open movement leaders, is an interesting look at the open moment, and broadly what open means and what a movement is. For me, it reflects the friction that exists between having structure, vision, direction & control to achieve things, and being free, flexible and fuzzy about how it is achieved (see below for orchestras and jazz bands).

The new reality

The New Reality is a research study about how digital technology can deliver the next step-change in social impact. The report includes ten key insights:

  1. Digital services will deliver greater value than anyone can imagine (but first we need to address the culture and infrastructure issues that are standing in the way) – The use of technology to deliver social value is still in its infancy, yet examples given reveal an already staggering level of impact
  2. Until sector leadership stops delegating responsibility for digital we’re not going to get very far – Lack of engagement and buy-in from senior leadership was by far the most frequently cited barrier to digital transformation across the study’s interviews.
  3. Major skills gaps need plugging – The speed of technology change has created a gap between the digital skills that organisations have, and additional ones they need.
  4. You don’t need a digital strategy – When organisations first started to develop digital strategies it was a clear sign of progress. However increasingly this separation from the central mission reinforces a perception that digital is just another department with its own goals, rather than an enabler for all.
  5. The age of big, corporate IT is over – In the commercial world, painful legacy systems are finally giving way to a new generation of more nimble and flexible tools championed by a new style of IT leadership who say “yes” rather than “no”. Most non-profit sector organisations need now to question whether it might be the style of IT leadership that needs changing, not just the kit they’re running.
  6. A tried and tested process for delivering transformation already exists, it’s just not being used – Start small: pick one problem and put enough effort into transforming that one area through a lean, iterative approach. Learn from that and move on to the next thing.
  7. Funders need to divert efforts towards supporting core costs to help organisations through this period of change – Funders came under fire for choosing product-led investment over core- funding at a time when organisations need to reinvent themselves from the centre outwards.
  8. The next stage of digital for non-profits is not fundraising and marketing – Efforts and successes in digital to date have largely been focused on digital marketing and fundraising. Whilst these have been – and continue to be -valuable, the focus now needs to be on how digital technology can transform organisations around their core mission.
  9. Organisations need to implement and formalise R&D programmes – In order to avoid external disruption we need to move faster and challenge ourselves more in these extraordinary times. Some of the biggest successes in digital transformation have come from organisations who have integrated structured research and development activities into what they do.
  10. We need to think beyond web to a broad range of digital technologies to achieve maximum impact – The Government Digital Service has already demonstrated the value of reinventing information, advice and transactional services via the web.

Eight years on, how much has changed?

Start somewhere

Key findings from an exploratory study into making technology imaginable and usable for small voluntary organisations.

And I thought about:


I’ve been thinking about whether the metaphor of the team as an orchestra with someone in the role of conductor is what we should be aiming for. It suggests perfect synchronisation under the control of a pivotal person. I prefer an improv jazz metaphor for how teams work. Everyone is equal in their contribution, and appreciated for the uniqueness they bring. As someone joins they add to and changing the music, but when they leave the music carries on.

Government digital thinking

Government digital thinking doesn’t translate well to the charity sector, for a number of reasons, but a big one is how the people using the product are viewed and how we respond to assumptions about them. People who use government products and services have no other choice. People who use charities products, as people needing support or people supporting the charity, can choose. This dramatically changes the nature of the relationship between people and the organisation/product, and if those of us building products aren’t clear about that relationship it can be really hard to get the product right.

Evolving risk management

The dominant approach to risk assessment seems to still use the old ROSPA 5×5 numeric score to assess likelihood and impact. It might work well for health & safety in physical environments but I’m not sure it’s fit for purpose for complex risks across multiple environments. Maybe moving away from simple cause and effect risk management to a systems perspective and maybe including Cook’s research on safe systems might be a good way to go.