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Tag: Laura Hilliger

Looking back, looking forward

I was surprised to see my name pop up in Stephen Downes’ latest post which summarises some of his hopes for the year to come. Given that he also references two other people for whom I have a lot of respect, I thought perhaps I could do something similar.

Looking back

Unlike Stephen, however, I am going to look back first. This has been an incredible year. We’ve rolled out vaccines, in the western world at least, in a way that might give us a way out of the pandemic. We’ve also started to address the climate crisis; it’s no longer a thing that people can deny. Now we just need to work on vaccine and climate justice.

On the work front, we’ve rebuilt the co-op this year with Laura and I being the engine room. Anne, Laura’s neice has come onboard as an intern and provided a burst of energy, and John quit his job so that he can spend more time with us. Given that this time last year I didn’t think WAO was going to exist for much longer (given the drama of late 2020) this is a huge achievement.

There more detail in my weeknote review of 2021, but one thing I will say is that I miss travelling. We’ve managed to go to a few places as a family, but it’s nothing like going to completely new places and experiencing different cultures. While I won’t be flying anywhere, I would like to get to visit somewhere other than Brexit Britain by train, boat, or car in 2022.

Team Belshaw have succeeded despite all of the odds this year. Hannah, my wife, switched careers in the middle of a pandemic and started a new job in the same week as her mother passed away. Both of our children are flourishing both academically and sportingly. Teenagers will be teenagers with our eldest, but I’d rather have battles over devices than over anything more serious…

Looking forward

‘Hope’ is a funny word. It’s the kind of thing you ascribe to things outside of your control, I guess. Given that I try and focus on things within my control, it’s not a word I use often.

So, instead of talking about hope, these are the things in my control this coming year which I intend to change:

  • Family — moving house is a priority this year, not only for the usual reasons (size, rooms, location) but leaving our current terraced house would mean we could get a dog and a charging point for an electric vehicle. We’ll miss our neighbours, though.
  • Work — I’m looking to inject more creativity and rest into my work in 2022. This last year I worked between 20 and 25 hours most weeks. This year, I’m looking to experiment with upping that to more like 30 hours, but taking April, August, and December off. I need to talk it through with others, but I feel like this will fit in with the rhythms of my kids’ major school holidays better and allow me to work in 12-week chunks.
  • Health and wellbeing — I want to help our family be as healthy as possible. We’re being cautious with Covid, but we also recognise that school is the major transmission vector for us. Personally, I’m reasonably fit at the moment but I’d like to shed at least half a stone in weight, and ideally a full stone. One way to do that is to start swimming again. I probably also need to start meditating, but not sure whether using an app for that is the best approach. I’ve heard that it can be pretty brutal once you get a couple of steps down the path…
  • Hobbies — I’m considering taking up piano lessons. It’s a long time (32 years!) since I did Grade 4 and, to be honest, I’m not looking to do anything other than play for fun. I’m also looking forward to spending even less time on social media and more time being creative with the various Korg synths I bought during lockdown. I’m also going to do more wild camping next year. It was really fun, especially the September series.
  • Personal development — I spent a week last year taking a course on climate leadership. I’d like to do another one, not necessarily on the same subject, this year. I enjoy learning things via platforms such as Futurelearn, but there something about the experience of being with other learners as part of a cohort that I find useful.

I can’t control when the pandemic will end or any of the political decisions that may help or hinder that. By the time we get to this time next year, however, I can live in a different house, be fitter, be doing interesting work and tinkering with cool side projects / hobbies, and learning new stuff.

The above doesn’t sound like too much of a stretch but, of course, we’re living during a pandemic when everything seems mentally and physically harder than it needs to do. It’s like a ‘Covid tax’ on doing anything other than sitting in a chair consuming content. But that is no way to live a life, and I for one intend to never stay still for too long.

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

Weeknote 30/2020

I’ve written quite a bit this week as part of my #100DaysToOffload challenge:

Over and above what’s detailed in these posts, I’ve been splitting my time between working on projects for We Are Open and Outlandish this week. For the former, my ‘home’ co-op in the CoTech network, I’ve been mainly focusing on work for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. We’re working with Erica Neve and Pedram Parasmand on three contracts, helping charities who are rapidly undergoing digital transformation. We had a really successful retrospective on Friday with UpRising, who we’ve been helping in more depth.

With Outlandish, I’m helping with some productisation of similar projects they’ve worked on for a range of clients. I find this really interesting as it’s simultaneously about meeting user needs and about organisational development. I’m also advising around ways in which they can develop the workshops they offer.

I’m fortunate to work with organisations which are so emotionally intelligent, and which go out of their way to be so. One of the reasons for working with Outlandish is to give them some short-term help with project management while they’re a bit stretched. But another reason is to learn from their processes and procedures; although they’ve only been a co-op for as long as us (four years), they’ve been together and honing things for a decade.

When I was at Jisc, one thing that always impressed me was their internal knowledgebase. They used PBworks for that, while Outlandish uses a WordPress installation with a theme called KnowAll. I’ve been wanting to experiment with wiki.js and so this week Laura Hilliger and I set up an instance at wiki.weareopen.coop and copied over existing pages from our GitHub wiki. I’ve set user permissions so that only logged-in members can edit the wiki, and indeed see any pages that are ‘internal’ only.

We finally got sign-off from Greenpeace for one of the best things I think I’ve written for a while: HOWTO: Create an Architecture of Participation for your Open Source project. As Stephen Downes mentioned when mentioning it in OLDaily it’s perhaps applicable to wider contexts than just open source projects.

Other than that, I’ve just been reviewing a document Laura put together for some work we’re doing with Red Hat, doing a small amount of work for our ongoing work with Greenpeace, and contributing to a ‘playback’ of some recent work we did for Catalyst.

Next week, I’m tying up work for We Are Open on Monday, and for Outlandish on Tuesday, before turning everything off and going on a family holiday for 10 days. As my therapist said in our meeting on Friday, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, there’s no guarantee that I will actually relax during my holiday just because I’m away from home. So I’m actively trying to cut myself some slack. I deliberately went for a slow run this morning and I even had an afternoon nap yesterday. Small steps.


Header image is a selfie I took on a family walk in the Northumbrian hills last Sunday. Inspired by Low-tech magazine’s solar powered website, I loosely followed this guide to create the ‘stippled’ effect. This reduced the size of an 8.6MB image to a mere 36.6KB.

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