Category: Consultancy (page 1 of 2)

Dr. Doug’s Wednesday surgeries

TL;DR: I’m experimenting with 30-minute (free) ‘surgeries’ on Wednesdays. You can book me here: https://calendly.com/dougbelshaw


Every week I have one day devoted to consultancy or pro-bono work, and climbing mountains. In 2018, that day was usually a Friday, which was great for getting away and up mountains, but less good for my consultancy and pro-bono work.

That’s why I’ve decided to experiment with Wednesday as this day in 2019. It will split the work I do for Moodle into two (Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri) and hopefully ensure that this day I’ve carved out doesn’t become just part of the weekend!

I’m available to talk through anything you think I might be able to help with. Free of charge. That may, of course, lead to paid consultancy work in the future, but I’m keen to spread my wings a bit after ploughing the same (productive, enjoyable) furrow for the last 12 months.

Either way, I’m here for you and happy to help. You can book a 30-minute slot using Calendly at the link below. If you could give me some advance notice of what you want to discuss that would be incredibly helpful.

>>> Book a slot <<<

You can chain a knowledge worker to a desk, but you can’t make them think

This month marks two years since I left my post at the Mozilla Foundation and became an independent consultant as founder of Dynamic Skillset Ltd.

Now then, I’m aware that in sitting down to write this post, there’s is an expectation for me to follow certain conventions. One example is that last sentence: I’ve just used the phrase ‘sitting down’ when I’m actually standing at my standing desk.

Tired phrases and worn out cliches aren’t what I’m about. They’re of no use. I don’t deal in dead metaphors, but in lived experience. As a result, and having never been a fan of convention, I’m going to attempt to turn the usual tropes upside down. Here goes…

1. “I should have made the leap years ago”

Well, no actually. I remember being promoted straight into senior management straight from being a classroom teacher. It was an extraordinarily steep learning curve and, coming at a time when we had a young son and I was writing my doctoral thesis, I wasn’t ready for it.

This time, I was ready for it, having worked at two organisations that gave me progressively more responsibility for managing my own time. Had I not spent two years working on projects at Jisc, and then three years working remotely for Mozilla, it would indeed have been a ‘leap’ instead of a fairly smooth transition.

2. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride”

Yes and no. Mostly, it’s been about finding a sustainable rhythm that allows me to do work I enjoy with people that I like.

I can remember meeting a freelancer at a Nesta event just after I’d become a consultant. That old cynic’s words of encouragement? “Welcome to being skint”. In actual fact, it hasn’t been like that. There’s certainly been months where I’ve earned more and months where I’ve earned less, but I try not to measure my life solely on profit.

Instead, I measure it at how successful I’m being in removing from my life what the Ancient Greeks termed ‘akrasia‘. My aim is to live, as much as is in my power, a simple, upright, and moral existence. To do that, I have to be in control – of myself and my working conditions.

3. “It’s been really hard work”

Hang on, walking up a mountain in a blizzard is ‘hard work’. While I certainly haven’t slacked off, I wouldn’t say I worked any harder than I did while employed. I definitely work differently, and more flexibly, though. I’d already cut out my commute, but not having to attend meetings unless I really want to is pretty awesome. I’ve definitely applied Derek Sivers’ philosophy in that respect.

About six months in, I increased my day rate and went down to working four days per week. After all, I’m the boss, right? So now, most Fridays you’ll find me reading the things that I never used to get around to reading or, better yet, clocking up the Quality Mountain Days as part of my training for the Mountain Leader award.

4. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been”

I think a certain utilitarian philosopher said it best:

I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.

(John Stuart Mill)

Yes, we still have all of the creature comforts, but my attitude towards them has changed. I’ve stepped off the hedonic treadmill. When you’ve got more time on your own, and time to think, you realise that you’re not in competition with anyone.

That being said, the time alone also means you have to exercise greater self-care. That’s physical – making time to walk, swim, and go to the gym – but also mental. In fact, learning to live comfortably within your means (and your own skin) is an incredibly difficult thing when you don’t have as many things to distract you.

Am I ‘happier’ than I was when I was employed? Well, that’s an emotion that comes and goes. Do I feel like I’m more in control of my life? Yes. Do I feel like I’m flourishing more as a human being? Definitely. Happiness can be synthesised. Flourishing can’t.

5. “I couldn’t have done it without X”

In these kinds of posts or speeches, the individual thanks their family (usually) and their friends and colleagues (sometimes) in a quasi-apologetic way. Doing so in this way puts the focus back on the individual themselves, as they thank others for ‘putting up’ with them, or for looking after things (children, pets, other organisations) while they pursued their dream.

On the contrary, this has been a collaborative endeavour from the start. My wife gave up one of her positions in a Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ school to help me with admin and logistics. She’s supported me in very practical ways, suggesting things I never would have thought about, and developing a real head for business.

In addition, and I’ll perhaps expand upon this when we reach our one year anniversary next month, setting up We Are Open Co-op with friends and ex-colleagues has been a revelation. The work we do together is often different from the work I do by myself with my own clients. Both are enjoyable. What the co-op brings, however, is camaraderie and collegiality.

So thank you, Hannah, Bryan, Laura, and John. Not for supporting me on some ‘crazy dream’, but for the everyday comments, advice, and guidance that you give me to help things tick along.

Final thoughts

I still get several people per year emailing me to ask whether I think they should pursue a PhD. It’s always a difficult one to answer. Likewise, I know there’ll be a lot of people reading this post thinking that they quite like the idea of being self-employed. So, given I don’t know your situation, I’m going to point you in the direction of Epictetus for some advice:

In every act observe the things which come first, and those which follow it; and so proceed to the act… A man wishes to conquer at the Olympic games. I also wish indeed, for it is a fine thing. But observe both the things which come first, and the things which follow; and then begin the act. You must do everything according to rule, eat according to strict orders, abstain from delicacies, exercise yourself as you are bid at appointed times, in heat, in cold, you must not drink cold water, nor wine as you choose; in a word, you must deliver yourself up to the exercise master as you do to the physician, and then proceed to the contest. And sometimes you will strain the hand, put the ankle out of joint, swallow much dust, sometimes be flogged, and after all this be defeated. When you have considered all this, if you still choose, go to the contest: if you do not, you will behave like children, who at one time play at wrestlers, another time as flute players, again as gladiators, then as trumpeters, then as tragic actors: so you also will be at one time an athlete, at another a gladiator, then a rhetorician, then a philosopher, but with your whole soul you will be nothing at all; but like an ape you imitate everything that you see, and one thing after another pleases you. For you have not undertaken anything with consideration, nor have you surveyed it well; but carelessly and with cold desire.”

(Epictetus, Enchiridion, XXIX)

Given that Epictetus was writing 1,900 years ago, I’m going to add ten very practical points to the above. Some of this is advice I was given to me before I started out, and some I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Get an accountant — preferably via a recommendation.
  2. Use online bookkeeping software — the same one as your accountant!
  3. Backchannel like crazy — reach out to people who may be able to help you, call in favours.
  4. Sort out your first six months — get contracts in place, verbal agreements don’t pay your mortgage.
  5. Create productive routines — as any creative person will tell you, it’s extremely difficult working in an environment without any constraints!
  6. Update people often — create something (newsletter, podcast, etc.) that makes it easy for those interested in your work to keep tabs on you and remind them that you’re available for hire.
  7. Build a realistic pricing model — otherwise you’re just licking your finger and putting it in the air.
  8. Share your work — it’s the best form of marketing.
  9. Meet with people often — both online and in-person, to build solidarity and to stave off loneliness.
  10. Book your own professional development — think of conferences and events you can go to, podcasts you can listen to, and books you can read to develop your practice.

I could go on, but for the sake of brevity I will stop there. Questions? I’ll happily answer them!

Preparing for ‘Story Hack’

Tomorrow, I’m helping facilitate Story Hack, a kind of book sprint at Gateshead Central Library. It’s part of a series of events funded by Arts Council England called STORY MODE:

Story Mode is a series of events that actively explore the role that Libraries play in their communities via a critical engagement with contemporary creative digital practices and how this activity can enable Libraries to grow in capacity and profile.

It presents new ways of working by presenting experiences and approaches from local, national and international practitioners. Story Mode events will connect Libraries to current engagement practices in contemporary visual, digital and narrative arts.

We’ll be using Sourcefabric’s Booktype platform to collaborate on during the day. Facilitators have been asked to curate relevant Creative Commons-licensed (or public domain) text for remixing, as well as to prepare a short, 15-minute talk about their work.

In terms of the focus of the day, we’ve been given the following prompt:

The advent of collaborative online platforms for journalists, writers and visual artists has had a profoundly disruptive effect upon the nature of traditional media and how we access it. This situation raises more questions than it answers. Questions like: Do digital platforms have the same aura and appeal as physical media? Does the truth matter anymore? Who should we give our attention to and why?

Thankfully, my network is filled with professionally-generous people. The following are just 10 of those whose work I can confidently and openly share with others in relation to the above prompt:

In terms of my own work, I’m going to use five links to describe what I’ve worked on over the last five years:

  1. http://neverendingthesis.com
  2. http://digitalliteraci.es
  3. http://openbadges.org
  4. https://learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy
  5. http://weareopen.coop

I’m going to learn a lot tomorrow, and see myself as much as a participant as I am a facilitator!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

Coming up with a manifesto to underpin my work

I don’t talk about my limited company very often on this blog. That’s mainly because when people pay me to do some consultancy for them, they want me to do the work. Dynamic Skillset Ltd. is just who their finance department pays, and the name of an organisation that occasionally appears on my slide decks.

While things are going well and I’m perfectly happy with current arrangements, it’s time for me to belatedly write a mission and manifesto for Dynamic Skillset. That’s for a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s just a good thing to do: it means I’ll know with confidence what I should say ‘yes’ to, and what I should probably decline.
  2. Writing a mission statement is something I advise all organisations to do if they haven’t already got one — so it’s a bit disingenuous for my own not to have one!

It was working at Mozilla that convinced me of the power of the organisational mission and manifesto. The idea is that everyone’s work is tied to the mission, and both new and current work can be tested against the Mozilla manifesto. In fact, the work I led there around the Web Literacy Map is actually linked to from the manifesto itself. I can remember being in meetings where someone would come up with an idea, only for it to be shot down with the (quite legitimate) response, “how is this moving forward the open web?”

So, missions and manifestos are extremely powerful. The mission ensures that you’re laser-focused on what the organisation was set up to do. For charities and non-profits, this is likely to be about making the world better in some way. You can see some examples here. For publicly-traded companies, it’s providing a financial return for shareholders. The mission is the ‘why’ of your organisation.

The reason you need a mission and a manifesto is because there are many ways to arrive at the same destination. The guiding principles of how you go about achieving your mission is what your manifesto is for. It needs to be specific enough to allow you to choose one course of action over another, but not so specific that you need to update the manifesto too regularly. There has to be some, what I would call, ‘productive ambiguity’ in there.


A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance. (Wikipedia)


In early 2017, I changed the strapline at dynamicskillset.com to read ‘helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology’. I’m happy with that. It seems like a decent enough mission. What I need to do now is come up with a manifesto. Note that I’m not plucking this out of thin air — I do think about this stuff, but just haven’t written it down before now!

Given that it might take a few iterations to get this right, please note that what follows may not be up-to-date if you visit this page after February 2017.

  1. Share openly — The open sharing of ideas and resources contributes to the development of a more progressive and inclusive society.
  2. Teach digital skills and literacies — No individual is born knowing how to use digital tools. Therefore, the effective use of technology is something that has to be learned.
  3. Embrace change — Change is in the fundamental nature of things, so adaptation is an important mindset to adopt.
  4. Trust, but check — Collaboration and teamwork is built upon trust. This, along with many things, cannot be measured using a spreadsheet.
  5. Encourage diversity in credentialing — People are more than their job history and academic achievements. Alternative credentialing systems can allow for more democratic environments that represent individuals in a more holistic way.
  6. Evangelise for stronger privacy and security — Privacy and security are related, but different concepts. We should care about privacy for the same reason we put curtains on our windows, and security for the same reason that we put locks on our doors.
  7. Go open source wherever possible — Open source software, hardware, and governance are ideal states that can encourage stable, inclusive platforms for innovation.
  8. Respect difference — Most people work best in different ways, at different times, and in different places than the 9-5 office based job.
  9. Discover what motivates peopleMoney, and other forms of financial compensation, are less effective than other incentives at encouraging desired behaviours.
  10. Focus on learning — Education is to learning what management is to leadership.

It’s not perfect by any means, and as soon as I hit publish I’ll probably think of other things and different ways of saying the above. However, after being prompted by the latest issue of Emma Cragg’s newsletter, I thought I’d better get something written…

7 approaches to educational technology integration

I’m working with Victoria College, a school in Jersey, at the moment. They’re new to digital strategy, so I’ve been sharing some models that can be useful when thinking in this regard.

1. The OODA loop

OODA loop (CC BY Patrick Edwin Moran)

Much more generally applicable than just to educational technology integration, and pioneered in the military, the OODA loop is useful when thinking about where to get started.

What I particularly like is that it starts with observation, and places great emphasis on context and feedback.

2. The SOLO taxonomy

SOLO taxonomy

SOLO stands for Structure of Observed Learning Outcome and focuses on five levels of understanding, from ‘pre-structural’ through to ‘extended abstract’. I reference this model in my book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, which is where the above diagram comes from.

The idea is that competence is scaffolded and goes from understanding some aspects, through to the relation between them, and finally, applying that knowledge to a new domain.

3. The SAMR model

SAMR model

Although I’ve seen some recent pushback, I still think that the SAMR model is a useful frame to use for educational technology integration. The idea is that we move beyond technology that merely substitutes for previous analogue examples.

What I like about this model is that it takes minimal explanation, and can serve as an aspirational goal for both individual educators, and whole establishments. This is another diagram from my book.

4. The TPACK framework

TPACK framework

TPACK stands for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. At its heart, it’s a Venn diagram, showing the overlap between technology, pedagogy, and content, but, again, I like the use of ‘context’ wrapping around the whole thing.

This framework is useful when explaining the importance of technology as an integrated part of a wider institutional/organisational strategy. The overlaps between each circle are also handy for identifying different streams of work.

5. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle

While I think we can agree that Kolb’s ‘learning styles’ theory was off-the-mark, his experiential learning cycle is definitely worth exploring further in terms of educational technology integration.

As with other models, there’s a balance between doing and reflection, but — and this is where there’s a clear link to the SOLO taxonomy — Kolb’s emphasises the importance of ‘abstract conceptualisation’.

6. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

ZPD

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a very simple approach to scaffolding learning. It sits between what the learner current cannot do and what they can do unaided. In other words, the ZPD is where maximal learning is happening.

Again, this is a simple approach which most educators should already know about. My father used to talk about it all the time when I was younger and he was doing his postgraduate studies! It’s useful for thinking about scaffolding staff/student digital skills.

7. The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own work, the product of the years of work that went into my doctoral thesis. It’s a synthesis of what came out of a meta-analysis of digital literacy approaches and frameworks.

There’s eight skillsets (the top row) and eight mindsets (bottom row). In my book and TEDx talk, I explain the importance of co-creating definitions of digital literacies, and placing emphasis on context. In terms of educational technology integration, I think the ‘mindsets’ are often skipped over.


I’m well aware that there are other approaches out there, and no doubt some I’ve never heard of. That being said, these are the models I currently find most helpful when working with clients. What have I missed?

Image by Paolo Carrolo

Beyond ‘low-hanging fruit’: why I’m no longer an Open Badges evangelist

TL;DR: Open Badges have hit a tipping point and no longer need my ‘evangelism’. This is to be celebrated. What’s needed now is the dynamic and differentiated use of the technology to effect real change. This is why I’m continuing my work with organisations as an Open Badges strategist and change-maker.

Low-hanging fruit

Almost exactly five years ago, I stumbled across a pilot being carried out as a collaboration between the nascent Mozilla Learning team and P2PU around Open Badges. It’s fair to say that this discovery, made while I was doing some research in my role for Jisc, altered the course of my professional life.

As an educator, I realised immediately the immense power that a web-native, decentralised, alternative accreditation system could have. I carried out more research, talking about Open Badges with anyone who would listen. This led to me being invited to judge the DML Competition that seed-funded the badges ecosystem and, ultimately, to being asked to work for Mozilla.

I’m not going to turn this post into a blow-by-blow account of the last few years. This is a time for looking forward. That’s why I’m happy to say that, as of today, I no longer consider myself merely an Open Badges evangelist, but an Open Badges strategist. I’m interested in working with people and organisations who are looking to implement Open Badges in new and interesting ways.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a few examples:

  • Building badge-based ‘playlists’ for learning (with an emphasis on diversity and co-creation)
  • Developing new extensions and ways of using the standard in informal learning contexts
  • Scaffolding participation and activism through badges that ‘nudge’ positive behaviours in individuals and groups

One way of looking at this is to use Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, which I cite in my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

SAMR model

There’s some interesting preliminary work I do with clients around ‘Augmentation’ but, as quickly as I’m able, I try to get them to think about the top two tiers of the pyramid.

If you’re an organisation looking for mere ‘Substitution’, then Open Badges ecosystem is now developed enough for you to do this by yourself. It’s never been easier to use one of the many badge issuing platforms to simply digitise your existing credentials. There’s documentation around how to get started all over the web, including the Open Badges 101 course that Bryan Mathers and I have curated during our time working with City & Guilds.

I’d challenge organisations and, in particular, universities, to go beyond what they’ve been able to do for the last few hundred years, and think about how to do true 21st-century credentialing. This is a situation where forward-thinking businesses, charities, non-profits, and institutions are in a strong position to drive not only organisational change, but societal change. The nature of hiring and onboarding, for example, can be entirely changed and revolutionised through a fresh look at how we demonstrate knowledge, skills, and behaviours to others.

Over the next few months, I’m looking to build on my doctoral thesis and the work I’ve done over the last few years, to help clients identify, develop, and credential digital skills. If you think I may be able to help you, then please do get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Image CC BY Ian Carroll

The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


Introduction

“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.


1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”


2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.


3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.


4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster


Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Developing my offer: what I’m planning for the next few months

Time horizons are funny things. For example, I don’t know about you, but I like to plan a few months ahead. However, there’s a couple of times of year when this feels more difficult. The most obvious of these is Christmas; in December I still find it hard to make plans for January of the next year!

Another of these times is thinking about beyond the ‘summer holidays’ This is partly because I’ve been conditioned all my life to think in terms of the academic year. This year, we’re planning to go away as a family for a good chunk of the summer, but as a consultant I obviously need to think about business continuity and paid work that I’m going to be coming back to afterwards.

Hence this post! I like to think out loud and show my work.

Since setting up by myself, as well as shorter-term work for other clients, I’ve had a steady stream of work with City & Guilds. That’s tapered off from initially working on a full-time basis with them, down to two days at the moment. It’s been great and, as all good teachers do, I’ve greatly enjoyed making myself progressively redundant. So from the end of August I’ll be working with City & Guilds on a per-project basis.

This, of course, means I’m looking for ways to make myself useful to other organisations. I’ve got a few things scheduled but, right now, lots more availability from September onwards than I’ve had previously. Given that so far all of my consultancy work has been ‘inbound’ (i.e. people and organisations have approached me, instead of me approaching them) I’m thinking about ways of packaging up what I do in ways that make immediate sense to people.

One such way that I’ve highlighted before is an approach developed by Bryan Mathers and the good people at wapisasa: the Thinkathon.

Ordinarily, Thinkathons last from 10am until about 4pm, with a break for lunch. The facilitators will have done some preparation beforehand, then on the day they meet with three or four people from the organisation who has requested the Thinkathon. Afterwards, the facilitators package up what was captured during the day into actionable next steps.

The great thing about Thinkathons is that they’re simultaneously ‘off-the-shelf’ (i.e. they’re a fixed price, you know the format of the day, and there’s an output) and bespoke (i.e. what we discuss and sort out is entirely dependent on your organisation and context). They’re also a great way to provide value in a ‘bounded’ way. The Thinkathon by itself could be all that’s needed, or it lead to further work. It’s up to the organisation.

Rocket (CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers)As I’ve mentioned before, we’re currently revving-up weareopen.coop, a co-operative consortium of limited companies including mine and those controlled by John Bevan, Laura Hilliger, and Bryan Mathers. The deal is that anything we do individually goes through our respective businesses, but anything we do that requires more than one of us goes through the co-op. That means Thinkathons are something you should approach the co-op about: thinkathons@nullweareopen.coop.

For the avoidance of doubt, the things you’re likely to hire me individually for as Dynamic Skillset are things relating to education, technology, and productivity. For example:

  • Digital skills/literacies keynotes, workshops, and curriculum development
  • Open Badges keynotes, workshops, and system design
  • Productivity and workflow analysis, coaching, and report-writing
  • Critical Friend services
  • Analysis (desk research and in-person) around use of technology in learning and training contexts.
  • Desk research, synthesis, and report-writing relating to anything I tend to talk about here or elsewhere.

In terms of weareopen.coop, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ to some extent as our first planning meeting is next week). However, as our name indicates, we’re interested in all elements of openness, including Open Badges, but also helping organisations work more openly and transparently.

The Essential Elements of Digital LiteraciesThere’s plenty of other things I want to start offering as well as the above. One of these is a short email-based course based on my ebook The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. This would be a paid addition to the ebook, which (in line with my ‘OpenBeta’ approach) will decrease in price next month to ‘pay what you want’. Do let me know if you’d be willing to be a guinea pig for that. I’d like to do some testing before it goes live for everyone.

Another thing I’d like to offer is the kind of five-day sprint as outlined in the recent book from Google Ventures entitled Sprint: how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. This would be an a large undertaking for an organisation, but likely to be hugely valuable. I’d be willing to do this at a 50% for my first one, in return for detailed feedback.

And finally (although I’ve got plenty more ideas in my notebook) I’m wondering if it might be worthwhile to build an extremely lightweight badging platform. I’ve had this idea with the codename ‘Self-Badger’ which would provide a much-needed antidote to some of the unimaginative approaches to Open Badges I’ve seen recently. I’ll may need some funding for that, however…

In terms of upcoming speaking engagements, I was supposed to be in South Africa this week speaking about badges and blockchain at the Groningen Declaration conference. However, having withdrawn from the BadgeChain group I felt that my presence there would have been somewhat disingenuous. Instead, I’m planning to use my Badge Summit keynote next month in Aurora, Colorado to ask some hard questions about all of this.

So, if you think I can help you and your organisation, get in touch! I respond to emails sent to hello@nulldynamicskillset.com within 24 hours, and I have a discounted rate for charities, non-profits, and educational institutions.

Images CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers (originally developed for the Community Alignment model)


Doug is a very creative, motivated and talented individual, who inspires others around him to think from different angles and to challenge constructively. — Patrick Bellis (Deputy Director, Jisc group customer services)

Always quick with a witty riposte—usually in animated gif form—or willing to dive into a philosophical conversation, Doug excels at his work. — Carla Casilli (Consultant & former Mozilla colleague)

Doug’s deep expertise in digital technologies for learning, productivity, change and teamwork together with his ability to coach and challenge, has really helped us develop as an education organisation. — Sarah Horrocks (Director, London CLC)

Weak signals

Classic economic theory states that the market can solve pretty much everything through a process of signalling:

In the job market, potential employees seek to sell their services to employers for some wage, or price. Generally, employers are willing to pay higher wages to employ better workers. While the individual may know his or her own level of ability, the hiring firm is not (usually) able to observe such an intangible trait—thus there is an asymmetry of information between the two parties. Education credentials can be used as a signal to the firm, indicating a certain level of ability that the individual may possess; thereby narrowing the informational gap. This is beneficial to both parties as long as the signal indicates a desirable attribute—a signal such as a criminal record may not be so desirable.

Indeed.

As a consultant, I add value by providing knowledge and skills to an organisation for exactly the amount of time they need me. I’m a surgical knife hired to do difficult, precise jobs. Sometimes, of course, clients know they need something but aren’t sure what that is. I can help in those cases as well, saving them the time and money of ‘going round the houses’ or choosing the shiniest option.

In 2016, I’m going have more availability from September onwards. Get in touch if you need a doctor (of education) in the house to help untangle, think through, or generally assist with things related to education, technology, or productivity. I’m good at being a critical friend and like to take a holistic view of educational technology & not just toolsets, but mindsets and skillsets, too.

I’m interested in one-off speaking engagements and workshops but I’d really like to get my teeth into a medium-term project that allows me to get alongside people in an organisation and effect tangible change. That might involve Open Badges or digital skills/literacies, but it equally could be around productivity and workflow.

Excitingly, a bunch of us (friends / ex-Mozillians) have set up a co-operative, through which we can work together to assist your organisation. We’re great at helping with both the ‘known unknowns’ and the ‘unknown unknowns’ – which we often discover while running thinkathons.

Let’s have a chat. The first 30-minute conversation is free, and I’ve/we’ve got reduced rates for charities, non-profits, and educational institutions.

3 reasons you need a critical friend

chat

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my adult life, it’s that you can be considered a good conversationalist merely by being a good listener. That’s the thing: people want to be heard, to tell their story, to let what’s inside them out.

That’s great, but there’s at least one stage further than that: being good at asking questions. Socrates was great at it. This ‘Socratic approach’ not only stimulates debate, but thought and reflection. Knowing someone who can challenge you in a thoughtful, kind, and meaningful way is a hugely valuable resource on which to draw.

I’ve been prompted into writing about this as I’ve recently taken on what is now my fifth client for whom I am a ‘critical friend’. In none of these cases have I sought out this work, but instead have been approached by each client as someone who they think can help them. This could be a short term thing or, more often, is longer-term, and organised in a more ad-hoc, semi-structured way.

Thinking through what kind of things I talk about with my clients, there’s three broad areas where I’ve been able to help.

1. Motivation and encouragement

We’ve all been there: we know what we need to do in our professional lives, but we just can’t seem to traction. I’ve worked with those who would describe themselves as self-starters, yet have found value in helping me give shape to their plans.

Working with Doug is both a real pleasure and a kick up the backside! (Zoe Ross)

Doug is a very creative, motivated and talented individual, who inspires others around him to think from different angles and to challenge constructively. (Patrick Bellis)

2. Insight and analysis

Sometimes what you need is a person you trust to provide some objectivity on particular problems or struggles you’re having. These could be monumental professional struggles, or they could be #firstworldproblems. Either way, through discussion a way forward usually develops – either at the time, or reflecting on the conversation, by email.

Working with Doug has been one of the highlights of my career. His insights make anything I’m working on better. (Laura Hilliger)

The thing that Doug provided for me, above all, was insight. Through his incisive questioning and our subsequent discussions, Doug was able to help me to discover for myself, the very best way forward for my business and for me personally. He’s incredibly easy to work with and a thoroughly nice guy to boot. I’d highly recommend using his strengths to get the best out of yours. (Greg Perry)

3. Connection and inspiration

It’s easy to think that you’re slaving away, ploughing your own lonely furrow. In fact, there’s many people around the world with similar hopes and dreams as you. Learning from and/or connecting with them can be exciting, liberating, and confirm that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Doug as a consultant, trainer, coach and all round wise and inspiring critical friend. (Sarah Horrocks)

As a freelancer, I am often alone with my own work. Being able to spend time talking things through with Doug was not only practical, but a catalyst for developing my ideas to help others. (Eylan Ezekiel)

Next steps

As I mentioned above, this is the first time I’ve offered this as a discrete (and discreet, if necessary!) service. I’m keen to help people, spending time to aid them in realising their hopes and dreams.

If you think I can help you, please do get in touch. The first 30 minutes we spend together is free, and I can tailor follow-up sessions to suit you, your time, and your budget. I reply to every email within 24 hours.

Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Note: some of the above quotations are taken from clients, and some from others who have been kind enough to recommend me on LinkedIn.

Thanks to Eylan Ezekiel for feedback on this post, and John Johnston for drastically reducing the filesize of the gif!

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