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How to plan a workshop in 10 steps

I was helping someone plan a workshop today. While I was no expert in the content, it made me realise there’s a common structure I’ve come to use.

1. Briefly introduce the workshop leaders. You’ll demonstrate your expertise later, and presumably the attendees were impressed enough by your credentials to book a place.

2. Allow participants to say something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but you could ask them to rank how they’re feeling out of 10, or finish the sentence, “if you really knew me, your know that…”

3. Get participants to do something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but if you’re using a new tool later, this is a good, low-stakes opportunity to ensure everyone can access it. You could ask people to add a stick note to a physical wall or a Google Jamboard indicating what they’re hoping to get out of the workshop.

4. Go through the structure of the workshop. Explain what you’ll be covering, when the breaks are, etc. Ideally, link this back to the previous activity, outlining how the workshop will meet the participants’ requirements.

5. Provide some input. If you need to explain a concept, go through some theory, or otherwise lecture participants, do it now! Try to keep it to 15 mins, then stop for questions. If you’ve got two workshop leaders (always a good idea!) switch it you need to provide more input.

6. Stop for a 15 min break. Tailor the length of your breaks to the needs of your participants (accessibility, age, etc.) but give them at least 15 mins.

7. Practice. After asking for any further questions after the break* give participants a chance to practice what they’ve been taught. If there’s no immediately-obvious way to do this, break into pairs or small groups to discuss how they could apply what they’ve learned in their job/life.

8. Provide a space to park ideas and people. Deal with latecomers, off-topic ideas, and other miscellaneous things by having a ‘clinic’ breakout room and ‘Parking lot’ board.**

9. Check in after lunch. Ask people what they had to eat. Food is an easy way for a group to bond.

10. Ask participants to commit to next steps. If there’s a follow-up workshop, set homework. If there’s not, ask participants to commit to an action, and then follow up with them via email / social media / pigeon after a specified amount of time.


There’s plenty more workshop advice I could give, but I’ll stop there for now. Perhaps one more bit: although you should have dedicated Q&A time, there should never be a time when it’s not OK for participants to ask a question.


* always pause for longer than you think you need to (e.g. drink from a water bottle or coffee cup to prolong the pause)

** my friend Laura Hilliger calls this a ‘zombie garden’!


This post is Day 53 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com Posted in 100DaysToOffload

Lying in bed with Marcus Aurelius and Mahatma Gandhi, thinking about work

When our kids reach their eighteenth birthday and start their foray into adulthood, I’m going to give them some books which have helped me in my adult life, and which I think will help them.

One of those books is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a relatively slim book which contains the wisdom of someone who was not only a Roman Emperor, but a Stoic philosopher.

I’ve written both here and elsewhere about how much value I get from reading Meditations on repeat along with other books like Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence and Montaigne’s Essays. There are certain books that have layers of depth and meaning that it’s only possible to get to via repeated readings.

The thing I particularly like about the Meditations is that it was originally intended as a journal, as a series of exhortations by Marcus Aurelius to encourage himself to be a better person. As such, it doesn’t have a hypothetical audience, it has an audience of one. We’re merely literary voyeurs benefitting from his insights.

There are 12 books in the Meditations, and some sections are more heavily highlighted in my dead-tree version than others. There’s one bit, though, that’s always kind of baffled me.

At day’s first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that “I am rising for the work of man”. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? “Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!” Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort? Look at the plants, the sparrows, ants, spiders, bees, all busy with their own tasks, each doing his part towards a coherent world order; and will you refuse man’s share of the work, instead of being prompt to carry out Nature’s bidding? “Yes, but one must have some repose as well.” Granted; but repose has its limits set by nature, in the same way as food and drink have; and you overstep these limits, you go beyond the point of sufficient; while on the other hand, when action is in question, you so sorry of what you could well achieve.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5

Perhaps it’s because we live easier lives in 2020 than they did a couple of millennia ago, but this passage doesn’t really speak to me. But I feel like it should.

Others point to it as motivation and inspiration to avoid the lie-in and get on with the day. Reader, I have never had that problem, apart from when I’ve been mentally or physically ill.

To me, motivation for work springs not from religion, or fear, or desire for glory, but, as Gandhi famously suggested, from a striving for the kind of happiness that can be achieved when “what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.

That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?


This post is Day 52 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

The state of professional social networking: a personal history

In September 2003, I was just married and embarking on a postgraduate course to become a History teacher. My online social life up to that point had consisted largely of MSN Messenger, but professional online interaction tended to happen via email or forums.

One particularly useful resource at the time was the Schools History discussion forum. This featured History teachers of all ages and experience and was a treasure trove of interesting information and resources.

Early on in my teaching course, I was a registered member of the forum, but was just a lurker. The information and resources were useful, but I hadn’t even introduced myself. My Gravatar history would suggest that my avatar was Cary Grant.

This changed one day when, after a seminar, the only other person on my course who was a member of the forum asked why I didn’t post anything on there? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, so I introduced myself soon afterwards and, well, that was that. I was regular poster on the forum from late 2003 for the next seven years or so.

Alongside the forum, I experimented with a Facebook account, courtesy of my academic email address. Ditto with MySpace, which I also didn’t use much. What I did do was blog a lot, as there was emerging what was known as the ‘edublogosphere’. I published every day on teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk as well as maintaining resources for my History students.

What I enjoyed about the edublogosphere was bloggers like me commenting on each others’ posts and discovering new voices. I remember FriendFeed being really handy in that regard. And then, in the midst of the Web 2.0 boom, came Twitter. I joined in the same month my son was born, January 2007.

It’s impossible for me to overstate the importance of Twitter to my career. It accelerated my development as an educator and gave me a network to draw from and rely upon. Part of me skipping middle management and going straight to senior management in schools is directly because of the connections and growth facilitated through my Twitter network.

I ran workshops on Twitter in the schools in which I worked. Most educators didn’t ‘get’ it until around 2010 when the BBC interviewed Stephen Fry, technophile and certified UK national treasure, about Twitter. He waxed lyrical about the platform, and all of a sudden people saw it as something that could connect you to celebrity. That was different. That was exciting.

Over the last decade, Twitter has become an entirely different platform. I’m not particularly interested in criticising it but will note that you get a different ethos and vibe when verified profiles are making official pronouncements using the platform. Even if you don’t particularly want to, you end up spending more time discussing politics and policing other people’s opinions.

As a result of my dissatisfaction with something I previously held so dear, since early 2017 I’ve been exploring decentralised social networks. Since then I’ve been using different instances of Mastodon, but also have accounts on different ‘Fediverse’ platforms as well, such as Pleroma and PixelFed.

In fact, I went reasonably far down the rabbithole, becoming Product Manager for MoodleNet, the world’s first federated social network for educators, and taking it from zero to one. So I’ve spent the last couple of years primarily thinking about issues relating to decentralised social networking.

Reflecting on all of this has made me realise that, for me at least, social networking has been intimately linked with professional networking. Now that it’s difficult to have a professional discussion on Twitter without politics getting in the way, where’s that moving to?

The obvious answer is LinkedIn, I guess, but there’s a definite self-congratulatory tone about updates there. Everyone’s “excited to be part of” something, or “pleased to be able to announce” something else. Look at me, ma! I’m doing business! 🙄

Despite, or perhaps because of, my background in Philosophy, I’m a practical kind of person. While I’m comfortable in the abstract, I want to get down to brass tacks – to what works in practice. So I can bide my time in the early stages of a social networks where people are talking primarily about the network itself, but am itching to get to more practical uses.

That’s coming, for sure. The Fediverse in 2020 is a more mature and nuanced place than it was in 2017, for example. But we’re still waiting for more than geeks and early adopters to get with the program. Then, for few glorious years, we’ll hopefully have a place that flourishes before the inevitable(?) commodification and selling out.


This post is Day 51 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com Posted in 100DaysToOffload

Weeknote 42/2020

This was a four-day working week due to my taking Wednesday off to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It was a ‘significant’ one, and I’ll be turning 40 in December too. Oops. Sorry Hannah.

We had a great day. I’d been a lot more organised than usual in my gift fiving and, given we’ve been together more than half our lives, I focused on the things that I know she likes. That includes walking on the beach in the sunshine, and ordering small plates from a gastropub.

It was lovely to spend the day together and a great reminder that before Moodle I used to work four days as a consultant, taking Wednesdays off. I need to get back to that.

One of the places we ended up wandering around was Barter Books, one of my favourite places, particularly because I always come away with an unexpected find. This time around, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places jumped out at me, and I’ve loved randomly dipping into its contents.


Talking of work, this was Week 3 of a four week Catalyst-funded discovery programme with nine charities. It’s gone really well, mainly because we’ve got a lovely cohort, and I took my ‘benevolent dictator’ role seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disciplined with a project!

Other work this week has included the kick off for a top-secret Greenpeace project that is going to both be exciting and challenging. We ran a pre-mortem as part of a mini thinkathon with some senior Greenpeace staff, and although we’ve totally got the talent and experience to deliver, by the end I was a bit 🤯

The third block of work I’ve done this week has been with Outlandish. My work with them has been squeezed a little this month due to my other commitments, but I’m looking forward to spending half of my time working with them on productisation and Building OUT from the start of November.

A couple of Outlandish blog posts this week mentioned me. The first was a quick update about what I’ve been doing with them over the past three months. The other was a really interesting post from Abi documenting a couple of hours in the life of Outlandish where a lot of consent-based decisions were made. It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re in an organisation that struggles to make decisions.


My therapy session again focused a lot on the internal drama within our co-op. One particular thing came out of the session was that I, like many people, look to other people for reassurance. As my therapist skilfully helped me to realise, this is doomed to failure for a couple of reasons:

  1. We don’t necessarily receive the kind or amount of reassurance we require from others.
  2. Even if we did receive the right kind and amount of reassurance from others, it’s only a temporary fix.

As such, we must look within ourselves for reassurance. For me, this is reminiscent of a Stoic idea that I’ve always found challenging: we should be so indifferent to the world that our happiness is independent of our current circumstances.


While I didn’t write anything here this week, on Thought Shrapnel I published:


Next week, I’ll be finishing off Catalyst stuff, diving more into the Greenpeace project, and spending time on Outlandish work. We’ve got a couple of nights booked just over the border into Scotland for the weekend after next, so we’re hoping the North East doesn’t go into Tier 3 lockdown…


Image of Dustanburgh Castle from the beach at Low Newton, Northumberland.

Weeknote 41/2020

Traffic cones in a large puddle

This week has been much like last week — busy, somewhat fraught, and involving lots of thinking about the future. It’s been typical autumn weather, with bright sunshine one moment and a torrential downpour the next!


I applied for a role at the Wikimedia Foundation entitled Director of Product, Anti-Disinformation after a few people I know and respect said that they thought I’d be a good fit:

The Wikimedia Foundation is looking for a Director of Product Management to design and implement our anti-disinformation program.  This unique position will have a global impact on preventing Disinformation through Wikipedia and our other Wikimedia projects.  You will gain a deep understanding of the ways in which our communities have fought disinformation for the last two decades and how this content is used globally.  You will work cross-functionality with Legal, Security, Research and other teams at the Foundation and imagine and design solutions that enable our communities to achieve our Vision: a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

As a result, I ended up writing about my issues with Twitter’s attempts at anti-disinformation in the run-up to the US Presidential election.

On Friday evening, a recruiter for a different global product director role got in touch seemingly slightly baffled that I’d applied for it, given my career history and credentials. I suppose it’s easy to undervalue yourself when various people chip away at your self worth over a period of months during a pandemic.


I’m very much enjoying working with Outlandish at the moment. It’s particularly nice to work alongside people who not only work openly and co-operatively, but are genuinely interested in improving communication, trust, and empathy within their organisation.

During October, due to my commitment to a four week Catalyst-funded discovery programme with nine charities, I’m only working with Outlandish the equivalent of one day per week. However, from November to January, I’ll be spending half of my week (2.5 days) divided between two things:

  1. Helping them productise existing projects, and training/supporting new ‘product managers’ (although that role will look slightly different initially)
  2. Working on helping them expand their ‘Building OUT’ programme which stands for Openness, Understanding, and Trust.

One of Outlandish’s values is that they are ‘doers’, meaning that the space between verbally proposing something, gaining the consent of colleagues, and getting on with it is really short. It’s so refreshing, and meant that on Friday I was able to publish the MVP of a playbook using existing Building OUT-related resources.


On Thought Shrapnel this week I published:

Here, I published:


Other than the above, I’ve been making final preparations for a milestone birthday for my wife, Hannah, next week. I’ll reach the same age as her in a couple of months’ time, so at the start of 2020 we’d begun to draw up plans to celebrate both birthdays. Those plans went out of the window due to COVID-19, so I’m trying to make the day as nice as possible, with an eye on a belated celebration later.


Image of traffic cones in large puddle at Morpeth, UK.

The problems with Twitter’s attempts at anti-disinformation in the run-up to the US Presidential election

This week, Twitter published an article summarising the steps they are taking to avoid being complicit in negatively affecting the result of the upcoming US Presidential election:

Twitter plays a critical role around the globe by empowering democratic conversation, driving civic participation, facilitating meaningful political debate, and enabling people to hold those in power accountable. But we know that this cannot be achieved unless the integrity of this critical dialogue on Twitter is protected from attempts — both foreign and domestic — to undermine it.

Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, Additional steps we’re taking ahead of the 2020 US Election (Twitter)

I’m not impressed by what they have come up with; this announcement, coming merely a month before the election, is too little, too late.

Let’s look at what they’re doing in more detail, and I’ll explain why they’re problematic both individually and when taken together as a whole.


There are five actions we can extract from Twitter’s article:

  1. Labelling problematic tweets
  2. Forcing users to use quote retweet
  3. Removing algorithmic recommendations
  4. Censoring trending hashtags and tweets
  5. Increasing the size of Twitter’s moderation team

1. Labelling problematic tweets

We currently may label Tweets that violate our policies against misleading information about civic integrity, COVID-19, and synthetic and manipulated media. Starting next week, when people attempt to Retweet one of these Tweets with a misleading information label, they will see a prompt pointing them to credible information about the topic before they are able to amplify it.

[…]

In addition to these prompts, we will now add additional warnings and restrictions on Tweets with a misleading information label from US political figures (including candidates and campaign accounts), US-based accounts with more than 100,000 followers, or that obtain significant engagement. People must tap through a warning to see these Tweets, and then will only be able to Quote Tweet; likes, Retweets and replies will be turned off, and these Tweets won’t be algorithmically recommended by Twitter. We expect this will further reduce the visibility of misleading information, and will encourage people to reconsider if they want to amplify these Tweets.

Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, Additional steps we’re taking ahead of the 2020 US Election (Twitter)

The assumption behind this intervention is that misinformation is spread by people with a large number of followers, or by a small number of tweets that can a large number of retweets.

However, as previous elections have shown, people are influenced by repetition. If users see something numerous times in their feed, from multiple different people they are following, they assume that there’s at least an element of truth to it.


2. Forcing users to use quote retweet

People who go to Retweet will be brought to the Quote Tweet composer where they’ll be encouraged to comment before sending their Tweet. Though this adds some extra friction for those who simply want to Retweet, we hope it will encourage everyone to not only consider why they are amplifying a Tweet, but also increase the likelihood that people add their own thoughts, reactions and perspectives to the conversation. If people don’t add anything on the Quote Tweet composer, it will still appear as a Retweet. We will begin testing this change on Twitter.com for some people beginning today.

Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, Additional steps we’re taking ahead of the 2020 US Election (Twitter)

I’m surprised Twitter haven’t already tested this approach, as it’s a little close to one of the most important elections in history to be beginning testing now.

However, the assumption behind this approach is that straightforward retweets amplify disinformation more than quote retweets. I’m not sure this is the case, particularly as a quote retweet can be used passive-aggressively, and to warp, distort, and otherwise manipulate information provided by others in good faith.

One of the things that really struck me when moving to Mastodon was that it’s not possible to quote retweet. This is design decision based on observing user behaviour. It’s my opinion that Twitter removing the ability to quote retweet would significantly improve their platform, too.


3. Removing algorithmic recommendations

[W]e will prevent “liked by” and “followed by” recommendations from people you don’t follow from showing up in your timeline and won’t send notifications for these Tweets. These recommendations can be a helpful way for people to see relevant conversations from outside of their network, but we are removing them because we don’t believe the “Like” button provides sufficient, thoughtful consideration prior to amplifying Tweets to people who don’t follow the author of the Tweet, or the relevant topic that the Tweet is about. This will likely slow down how quickly Tweets from accounts and topics you don’t follow can reach you, which we believe is a worthwhile sacrifice to encourage more thoughtful and explicit amplification.

Six years ago, in Curate or Be Curated, I outlined the dangers of social networks like Twitter moving to an algorithmic timeline. What is gained through any increase in shareholder value and attention conservation is lost in user agency.

I’m pleased that Twitter is questioning the value of this form of algorithmic discovery and recommendation during the election season, but remain concerned that this will return after the US election. After all, elections happen around the world all the time, and politics is an everyday area of discussion for humans.


4. Censoring trending hashtags and tweets

[W]e will only surface Trends in the “For You” tab in the United States that include additional context. That means there will be a description Tweet or article that represents or summarizes why that term is trending. We’ve been adding more context to Trends during the last few months, but this change will ensure that only Trends with added context show up in the “For You” tab in the United States, which is where the vast majority of people discover what’s trending. This will help people more quickly gain an informed understanding of the high volume public conversation in the US and also help reduce the potential for misleading information to spread.

Twitter has been extremely careful with their language here by talking about ‘adding’ context for users in the US, rather than taking away the ability for them to see what is actually trending across the country.

If only trends with context will be shown, this means that they are being heavily moderated. That moderation is a form of gatekeeping, with an additional burden upon the moderators of explaining the trending topic in a neutral way.

While I’m not sure that a pure, unfiltered trending feed would be wise, Twitter is walking a very fine line here as, effectively, a news service. Again, as I commented in Curate or Be Curated years ago, there is no such thing as ‘neutrality’ when it comes to news, no ‘view from nowhere’.

Twitter needs to be very careful here not to make things work even worse by effectively providing mini editorials of ongoing news stories.


5. Increasing the size of Twitter’s moderation team

In addition to these changes, as we have throughout the election period, we will have teams around the world working to monitor the integrity of the conversation and take action when needed. We have already increased the size and capacity of our teams focused on the US Election and will have the necessary staffing to respond rapidly to issues that may arise on Twitter on Election night and in the days that follow.

A post on the Twitter blog from last year counted 6.2 million tweets during the EU elections last year. The population of countries making up the EU is only slightly larger than that of the USA, but next month’s election is much more controversial.

In this scenario, Twitter cannot afford (or hire) a moderation large enough to moderate this number of tweets in realtime. As a result, they will have rely on heuristics and the vigilance of users reporting tweets. However, because of the ‘filter bubble’ effect, the chances are that users who would be likely to report problematic tweets may never see them.


In conclusion…

If we step back a little and look at the above with some form of objectivity, we see that Twitter has admitted that its algorithmic timeline is an existential threat to the US election. As a result, it is stepping in to remove most elements of it, and replacing it with a somewhat-authoritarian approach which relies on its moderation team.

From my point of view, this is not good enough. It’s too little, too late, especially when the writing has been on the wall for years — certainly the last four years. I’m deeply concerned about social networks’ role in undermining our democratic processes, and I’d call on Twitter to learn from what works well elsewhere.

For example, on the Fediverse, where I spend more time these days instead of Twitter, developers of platforms and administrators of instances have developed features, policies, and procedures that strike a delicate balance between user agency and disinformation. Much of this comes from a federated architecture, something that I’ve pointed out elsewhere as being much more like how humans interact offline.

This post is already too long to rehash things I’ve discussed at length before, but Twitter has already started looking into how it can become a decentralised social network. In the meantime, I’m concerned that these anti-disinformation measures don’t go far enough.

Learning through frustration

There’s an interview with Derek Sivers somewhere in which he’s asked about the best way to get started with minimalism. His interviewer finds his response unexpected: go out and buy loads of stuff, he suggests, and feel the need to declutter. That’s the heart of minimalism.

I feel the same about learning. Somehow, I managed to spend 28 years of my life in formal education, from entering school as a four year-old, to graduating from an Ed.D. at the age of 32. I learned a lot, but I wouldn’t say that most of it suited the way I learn best.

No, I’m not talking about vacuous ‘learning styles’, I’m talking about the assumption that everything can be broken down into a sequence that should be learned by people in the same order. I just think, for me at least, learning doesn’t work like that.

Instead, I seem to learn best through frustration. So long as I’m motivated enough to care, when I find something annoying or confusing, something kicks in to make me want to figure it out. Thank goodness for the internet!

Sometimes there’s a perfect YouTube video to watch or article to read, but more often than not it’s a random post on a forum somewhere, or a Reddit comment, or social media post in the middle of a thread.

Is this ‘optimal’? Does it ‘scale’? Probably not. But, for me, people who package things up in ways that are too step-by-step are being a bit disingenuous. After all, I bet they didn’t learn this stuff that way themselves.


This post is Day 50 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com Posted in 100DaysToOffload

Weeknote 40/2020

I like the balance in the numbers of this week’s weeknote 🙂

Bluebell Wood, Morpeth, Northumberland

This week has been pretty intense, in lots of ways. It’s been the first week of a four-week Catalyst-funded discovery programme, with We Are Open Co-op as one of 11 digital partners helping 103 charities. The aim is for them to have identified a problem area, done some user research, performed some ideation, and prototyped an idea.

It’s going well, and although there wasn’t enough lead-in time, we’ve got a great cohort. The hardest thing, I think, is for them to think of something which isn’t a huge change management project for their organisation, but rather something testable and achievable inside the month-long window.

Another thing that has led to this week’s intensity was the short notice I had to present a proposal to the Outlandish members circle about working with them up to the end of January 2021. Thankfully, a number of them had already helped me frame it, so the proposal passed and I’m looking forward to continuing helping them with some productisation.

There’s yet another thing that has added to this week’s intensity: the huge spike in COVID-19 cases around where I live. It’s got to the stage where we’re wondering whether to send our two children to school next week. I don’t want them to get ill, and I definitely don’t want to get infected myself. After all, I don’t get sick pay.

Finally, there’s ongoing tension within our co-op. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but mediation has proved unsuccessful, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

Due to the above, I didn’t end up writing anything here this week, but on Thought Shrapnel I published the following:

Next week I’m primarily focusing on Catalyst stuff, although I’ll also be adding some Outlandish and Greenpeace into the mix.


Image of Bluebell Wood, not too far away from where I live in Morpeth, Northumberland, England.

Weeknote 39/2020

Tux sticker for Windows key on keyboard

It’s been a busy week, yet here I am at 05:30 on a Saturday morning writing my weeknote. Why? A combination of having a cold, an increasingly weak bladder, and things swirling around my head.


I shared in a previous weeknote that, although I’m at my desk in my home office between 08:00 and 16:00 every day, of a 37.5 hour working week, I’ve been getting paid for around 27.5 hours. This week, I knocked off early at 14:00 on Friday, reducing the total number of hours I was available for work to 35.5, and I got paid for 34.25 of them.

I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, any time you track numbers and try to make them go up, you can do so. Second, a few people have asked me recently about our co-op’s model for getting paid, so I thought I’d write a few words about it here. I will just add a disclaimer that it’s always a work in progress, and this might have changed by the time you read it if you’re not reading this in September 2020.

As, we are open, an overview of what I’m about to say is available on our wiki. Basically, from the day rate we charge clients, we take off 25% as a co-op ‘pot’ for a range of activities. This includes paying for:

  • General expenses (accountant, admin support, various platforms)
  • In-person meet-ups (remember those?!) and monthly co-op days
  • Business development at an agreed internal member rate
  • Internal projects (e.g. updating website) at an agreed internal member rate
  • Relevant stuff that members want to do (e.g. events, professional development, CoTech fund)

I mentioned this is always a work in progress, and we’re only just now (four years in!) agreeing a lightweight process for internal projects over £1k. In general, we generate processes in a ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ kind of way. Other than ones we’re legally required to have, of course, like safeguarding, privacy, and various fairness policies.

All of which is a round-about way of saying that one of the reasons I got paid for most of my hours this week was that I got paid at the agreed internal member rate for business development.


Another reason was that I spent a good deal of time setting up things for the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response project that I’m leading from our side. We kick off on Monday with an full-day session for a cohort of nine youth-focused charities and non-profits, teaching them how to do discovery work. This is an intense user-focused four week process where each organisation:

  • Identifies a problem to be solved
  • Performs some user research
  • Comes up with some potential solutions
  • Tests one or more solutions

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and the main thing is to try and prevent organisations jumping straight to ‘solutioneering’ (as I’d call it).

Mercifully, I’m not alone in doing this for our co-op, otherwise I’d collapse like a flan in a cupboard. There will be four members involved in this project, plus my lovely wife, Hannah, who will be joining in to help support organisations through the user research phase.


Other co-op work kicking off at the moment is some web strategy work for Greenpeace International, which I’m looking forward to getting involved with. Greenpeace is a network of organisations, with National and Regional Offices (NROs) ensuring that global campaigns are translated and contextualised for the areas they serve. They also run their own campaigns.

Some of this work will build on what we’ve been doing with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team over the last six months, and Laura has been doing with them for the last five years. It’s great to be involved in work like this that has the potential to make such an impact at scale.


I’m also continuing to be on loan to Outlandish, another CoTech co-op which contains absolutely lovely and talented people. I’ve been working on productisation with them, and developing the soon-to-be-renamed Sociocracy stream of work with them. I’ll have to go down to one day a week in October due to everything else that’s on, but I’m hoping to continue working with them into 2021.


On the home front, our son had a cold at the start of the week which, because he’s asthmatic, meant he had a cough. The upshot was that he had to have a COVID-19 test, which of course came back negative, but did mean that we all had to isolate for 24 hours until the results came back. It’s going to be a very disruptive school year for our two children, I think, but at least their schools are upping their remote learning game a bit.


Due to all of the above, I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked, only managing to publish a short post here entitled Running with the wolves, and the following on Thought Shrapnel:

As a side note, my decision to only auto-post to Twitter a few months ago means I’m a lot calmer and less anxious than I would have been, I think, about the state of the world. I mention this because I logged in for the first time in a while to check something and realised just what a doomscrolling hell pit it’s devolved into in the past few years.

The advice I’ve been giving those wondering how to quit mainstream social networks is:

  1. Connect to the people you care about via other means (e.g. chat apps, email)
  2. Tell people you’re going to be quitting the platform at a particular date
  3. Delete the app off your phone
  4. Limit the time you spend on the social network and try to post as little as possible
  5. Deactivate your account

Once you’ve deactivated it, you may, after a period of reflection, do what I did and turn your account into broadcast-only mode. You can use services like IFTTT and Zapier to auto-post from pretty much anywhere.


This weekend, I’m going to focus on getting better. Specifically, although I feel rubbish when I don’t do any exercise, it also tends to delay my recovery from cold and flu symptoms. So I’m going to try and do as little as possible.

Next week, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be working on Catalyst Discovery, Outlandish, and Greenpeace stuff. It’s good to be busy!

Finally, for those wondering, this post took almost exactly an hour to write, as it’s now coming up to 06:30. Time for me to go back to bed…


Photo of a Tux sticker (Linux mascot) that I bought to replace the Windows logo on my keyboard this week. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that bother you the most.

Running with the wolves

The price of being a sheep is BOREDOM. The price of being a wolf is LONELINESS. Choose one or hte other with great care.

This gapingvoid cartoon from years ago has really stuck with me during the ups and downs of my career.

I find working in (most) hierarchical organisations boring and stifling. It’s not always all bad, but the more hierarchical the organisation, the more limiting the walls of the box of your job role. Being a sheep sucks.

On the other hand, going it alone is anxiety-inducing and lonely. During the short time I was a solo independent consultant, it was only the opportunity to work with other consultants (big shout out to Bryan Mathers) that kept me going.

So I’m thankful and grateful that I’m part of a co-operative and get to work with other co-operatives. It’s like hunting in packs, or running with the wolves. Except more friendly.


This post is Day 49 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

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