This week I got into a new rhythm with Thought Shrapnel, restoring it to something approaching its strapline – i.e. a stream of things going in and out of my brain. I’m pleased with the result, although it will evolve and change as I do.
This week featured a Bank Holiday in the UK, so it was a four-day working week. Team Belshaw spent Monday in Thrunton Woods, which we’ve never been to, despite only being 25 minutes away from where we live. Of course, we decided to do the red walking route, despite the fact that our two children were on their mountain bikes. Cue me and our son having to carry bikes up a very steep section, broken up with tree roots. Still, it was fun, and we went out for lunch afterwards.
Despite the four day working week, I managed to fit in the same number of hours of paid work as usual. I ended up doing four half-day for Outlandish, continuing to help them with productisation and in particular developing what they offer to help teams work more effectively. There’s only a couple of places left on their upcoming Sociocracy 101 workshop.
For my home co-op, We Are Open, I’ve been mainly focusing on business development, submitting three funding bids on Friday. We’ve got some things to work through internally as the co-op expands and grows. That can lead to difficult conversations, some of which we’ve been having this week.
Those connecting with me via video conference in the last few days would have seen something new behind me in my home office: a full-size dgital piano, and a tiny Korg NTS-1 synth. Inspired by Mentat (aka Oliver Quinlan) I decided that it’s been too long since I tried making my own music. 25 years, in fact.
The piano was my parents’ and was at our house while my two children had piano lessons. Given our eldest gave up a few years ago and our youngest decided she no longer wanted to play during lockdown, it’s been sitting in our dining room gathering dust. I noticed it has MIDI ports to the rear, so I’ve hooked it up to the Korg synth and experimenting with the noises I can make. And they are definitely ‘noises’ at the moment…
This weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’re pretty much middle-aged now, so celebrating it by going for a child-free long walk and having coffee and cake. Our children will be at my parents’. It’s a shame we can’t really go away, but on the plus side the pandemic has meant we’ve explored many more places locally than we have previously!
Talking of children, they were back to school this week, both starting new schools. They seem to be really enjoying it, especially being back among their friends rather than mainly connecting with them via Fortnite.
Next week I’ll be working a couple of days for Outlandish and getting started on a new piece of work for Greenpeace through We Are Open. Other than that, I’m still looking for a bit more work, so hit me up if you see anything Doug-shaped!
I’ve spent this week looking forward to this Bank Holiday weekend. I’m not employed as such, so there’s no particular reason I have to take Monday off, but not only do I want to, I feel like I should. After all, public holidays were fought for by previous generations.
I spent the majority of Sunday afternoon with my neighbours at a pot luck on the back lane behind our terrace of houses. Thankfully, the sun came out after the wind and rain earlier in the week!
On the work front, we had the final deliverable meeting for the work we’ve been doing for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. It’s a series of linked resources relating to charities taking their programmes online: a quality framework, benchmarking survey, and toolkit of resources.
For Outlandish, I’ve continued with the productisation work, thinking particularly about the product manager role in a co-operative, and about upcoming products and services around Sociocracy.
I had a chat with a couple of large tech companies this week about roles with them. One flat out told me I was over-qualified for the role I’d applied for, but it looks like we might get some consultancy through the co-op with them. The other is a work in progress.
I made the decision yesterday, after much deliberation, to delete my Patreon account. This means I’m no longer supporting a bunch of creators, and also means I’ve told the ~50 patrons of Thought Shrapnelthat I’m taking it in a slightly different direction.
Other than that, I’ve been playing quite a bit of FIFA 20, going for a run and on our exercise bike, and hanging out with the family. One thing that’s had quite a big impact on my life over recent days is workmen re-doing the road surface right next to my home office. The noise!
Next week will be a four-day working week due to the Bank Holiday. I’ve got a couple of days lined up for Outlandish, and then will be applying for a couple of pots of funding and doing some business development. Let me know if you see anything Doug-shaped!
Image shows road being resurfaced next to my house.
For me, there’s a sweet spot between working in a permanent role within an organisation, and working as a consultant on a short-term basis with many different organisations. Some call this ‘contracting’, but I prefer the term ‘remaining unmanaged’.
Venkatesh Rao riffed on this in a recent (subscriber-only) post:
In the gig economy, freedom is primarily freedom from being managed. It’s a freedom that can seem like a curse to those who either enjoy being managed, or are too inexperienced to have learned adequate self-management behaviors. But like it or not, this is the freedom you have in the gig economy, and there is an art to thriving under this freedom you must learn, or it turns into a burden.
He goes on to explain that the reason traditional organisations have people managers is to prevent failure. They exist to prevent employees:
Doing the wrong thing (misdirect effort)
Doing the thing wrong (make mistakes)
Cutting corners and do poor work out of laziness
Working too slowly, creating delays
Gaming incentives and work to minimal standards
Acting maliciously due to unresolved resentments
Acting unreliably due to personal life issues
Lying or cheating in reporting on work
Failing to resolve conflict with other employees
Becoming unable to work due to illness
Failing due to lack the right resources to succeed
Failing due to essential tools or systems failing
If you work outside a regular organisation, as I do as a member of a worker-owned co-op, then you have to learn how to self-manage. Interestingly, if you do this well enough, then you and your crack team can perform a better job than an entire traditional department.
The pandemic has shown what we already knew: it’s entirely possible to work from home and co-ordinate your activities with other talented, self-directed, emotionally mature people. Perhaps we no longer need managers?
Instead, what we need are process people; emotionally-intelligent, tech-savvy conveners of people across organisations. They can’t rely on hierarchy to get things done, so they have to navigate their networks, assembling and dismantling fluid teams.
To some extent, we’re already getting to this scenario in some sectors and for particular projects. For example, our co-op has helped form part of a couple of Catalyst digital teams, helping charities respond to the implications of COVID-19.
There are many things that won’t go back to the ‘normal’ after the pandemic. Hopefully there will be collective desire to self-manage a lot more, forming nimble teams to work with like-minded people on stuff we find valuable.
For the first time in many months, I can honestly say that was an enjoyable working week. I split my time between work for We Are Open Co-op and Outlandish.
For We Are Open I was working on an introductory email-based course around ‘open’, and then a survey, framework, and toolkit for social mobility organisations moving their programmes online.
With Outlandish, I’m continuing to help with a new push to productise their offerings. This has two strands: a community portal product, and products and services related to Sociocracy. I was pleased that my proposal to create a new top-level ‘Products’ circle with two sub-circles was passed this week!
A quotation shared in an article by Ryan Holiday this week really resonated with me. It’s from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, he of “you cannot step into the same river twice” fame.
Dogs bark at what they cannot understand.
The reason I paid particular attention to this, I think, is that it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that I don’t have to live what I’d call a ‘reproducible’ life. That is to say, people don’t have to be easily be able to follow in my footsteps.
I think it’s the educator in me who feels the need to constantly justify and explain myself. However, that’s becoming less of an issue due to a combination of moving away from the world of formal education, therapy sessions, and being very aware of turning 40 at the end of the year.
There are many people who don’t get what I do, or why I do it. Sometimes I don’t really understand either. What I don’t need to spend time doing is wasting my life interacting with random bad faith actors — i.e. the ‘dogs’ barking at things they don’t understand.
This week I continued to be on hiatus from Thought Shrapnel but wrote a few posts here:
Next week, I’ve got more of the same, which is good. I’m on the lookout for a couple of days of extra work at the moment from September onwards, so if you see anything Doug-shaped, please get in touch!
Image: photo of an oak tree that I encountered on a morning run this week, processed using the Roy Lichtenstein filter in Retroboy.
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.
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.
In May 2016 I helped set up a co-operative with friends and former Mozilla colleagues called We Are Open Co-op. Since that time, we’ve done some inspiring work with fantastic clients, learned a lot about the co-operative economy, and worked in solidarity with similar organisations.
Since January 2018, and particularly during the last six months, I had taken a bit of a back seat in the co-op, focusing on my work at Moodle. However, the time has come for me to refocus my efforts to help continue building an organisation that I not only co-own but see as part of my life’s work.
It’s been an amazing journey over the last couple of years to take MoodleNet from an idea to reality. We did so with a small, part-time team who have gone above and beyond to achieve the vision of a federated, resource-centric social network for educators.
The future is bright for MoodleNet and I’ll be continuing in my role as Product Manager, ensuring the project has the necessary team and budget to make the required impact. I think it’s going to make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of educators.
I’m sure it’s not necessary to note, but shall do anyway, that this decision was purely mine and not forced on me by anyone at Moodle. Over time, I’ve come to realise that my interests and talents are in the area of early-stage innovation.
So, from January 2020, I’ll be cutting back to three days for Moodle, meaning I’ve got more headspace for consultancy work. I’m excited to broaden my horizons again, getting involved in some of the really interesting projects that my co-op colleagues have picked up during the last few months, and working with new clients!
If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them below. And if you’d like to work with the co-op, you might want to email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This week has been one of adjustments, for a couple of reasons.
First, my wife is back doing supply teaching, meaning that I have to be more flexible in my working arrangements so that I can drop off and pick up my daughter from school.
Second, two new people joined the MoodleNet team this week, so we’ve take the opportunity to shake things up a bit. Other than me, everyone else on the team will soon be doing 2.5 days per week. So we’ve agreed to have team meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, doing the bulk of our work together between those times.
This week, however, I was already committed to a co-op day on Wednesday with my We Are Open colleagues. It was enjoyable, even though we were talking about hard things like money. We’ve put a call out for people and organisations to fund Badge Wiki, which you can read about on our blog. Thanks to those who have already stepped up!
Other than that, I’ve helped ship MoodleNet v0.9.3 which is looking good, said goodbye to Alex Castaño, hello to Karen Kleinbauerů and James Laver (our new backend developers), done some planning for future releases, and produced a report for the rest of the Moodle Management team.
After a three month hiatus due to playing the magnificent Red Dead Redemption 2 together, Dai Barnes and I have finally got around to recording another episode of the TIDE podcast. Of course, it didn’t quite go to plan and Dai was called away to deal with a pupil (he lives and works at a boarding school) about halfway through the recording.
I’ve been doing plenty of other stuff as well, including writing for Thought Shrapnel every day (are you supporting that yet?), going geocaching with Scouts, taking my daughter to her first swimming gala, booking a family holiday to Iceland in December to see the northern lights, getting better at FIFA 19 Seasons, finishing Jamie Bartlett’s excellent book The People vs Tech, having my last Moodle coaching session (all of the Management team have had them), and trying to fit in daily exercise.
Next week, it’s half-term, and as I hinted at above I’m moving my non-Moodle from Wednesday to Friday. That means I’ve got a glorious Bank Holiday weekend with the in-laws, before spending Tuesday to Thursday planning with the rest of the Moodle Product Managers. I’m not sure whether that sounds intense or pretty chilled.
The Open Badges community has been crying out for a while now for a knowledge repository. You know, somewhere where people can go and find out about how other similar organisations have implemented badge systems, read interesting academic articles and whitepapers, and just discover what’s possible with the Open Badges specification.
That’s why I’m delighted that We Are Open Co-op, with the support of Participate, are building out Badge Wiki. This will be a community-powered project, meaning that it will only be as good as people make it. We’re providing the technical infrastructure and opportunities to pitch in, but we need people to write content, curate resources, and suggest updates!
Tomorrow is the first Badge Wiki ‘barn raising’ session, which we’re running in conjunction with the Open Recognition Alliance. Those who come along don’t need any previous experience with wikis. Nor do they need much knowledge about badges. All you need is a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get involved.