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Weeknote 38/2020

Doug while writing this post

This week has been a rollercoaster, especially towards the end. Among other things, it’s featured:

  • Lockdown being announced in the North East of England (where I live)
  • Success in a bid application We Are Open Co-op submitted to Catalyst to support charities doing discovery work for the first time
  • Being shouted at for the first time in a while (they apologised, it’s cool)
  • Conversations about productisation at Outlandish going well
  • Progress on an updated version of the email-based course on openness
  • Wrapping up a 6-month contract with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team in a retrospective meeting
  • Taking delivery of a new tumble dryer
  • Sunny weather making me feel better about everything
  • Both of our children being off school (on different days) due to having a cold
  • Playing more Star Wars: Battlefront II than usual to blow off some steam (with Sean and Adam)
  • Shaving my hair off again, just because I felt like it

Sometimes I think back to life just over a decade ago when I was working full-time as a senior leader in schools, with a baby at home, and getting up at 4am to work on my thesis. I’m not sure I could do that now.

But then, I’ll probably think the same in another decade’s time about this pandemic. It’s certainly tough, but I’m also thankful that, fingers crossed, things haven’t yet affected our family and town as much as elsewhere.

Background anxiety and stress levels are high, and I feel like I’m on high alert all of the time. This must be having a long-term effect on our bodies —and I’m not just talking about the increased weight we’re putting on and the extra alcohol we’re consuming.


I’ve published three posts here this week:

I’ll probably add a couple more things to Thought Shrapnel before the newsletter goes out on Sunday morning, but here’s what I’ve added there so far this week:

I couldn’t be happier with my decision to end support via Patreon and switch to a ‘bitesize updates’ model, pulled together in a weekly email. It’s more enjoyable for me to do things this way, and the mailing list is growing again for the first time in a while!


Next week, after being concerned that I wouldn’t have enough work, I’ve got so much stuff to get on with! I’ve got the upcoming Tech4Good event to finish planning with Erica, a new Greenpeace contract to get started on with Laura, a team to put together for the Catalyst work, Sociocracy work at Outlandish, and internal projects to keep ticking over.

Remaining unmanaged, whatever name you give to it always seems to be feast or famine, but the great thing about being part of a co-op is that you can balance out the work between you a bit. Get in touch if we can help!


Selfie taken while writing this post, at home, using the Retroboy app.

Weeknote 36/2020

Trees and path at Thrunton Woods

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.

As a result of that focus, I only wrote a couple of posts here, which both happened to be framed as questions: What’s the purpose of Philosophy? and What do we mean by ‘the economy’? They’re part of my ongoing contribution to the #100DaysToOffload challenge, and I’ve been enjoying reading contributions by other writers. There’s an RSS feed if you choose your reading (rather than have it served up algorithmically by social networks) 😉

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!


Image shows path through trees at Thrunton Woods

Weeknote 35/2020

Road being resurfaced with lorry

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 Shrapnel that 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.

Weeknote 34/2020

This week has been another good week. Let’s start with last night’s wild camping in Northumberland National Park: it was windy.

My son and I, after walking a couple of hours from where we parked the car, and carrying everything in our backs, got soaked through by the rain and wind coming at us down the valley.

Mercifully, it stopped raining when we got to the place we’d decided to pitch, but the wind continued to howl. In the end, we we erected the tent behind a cow barn and then moved it into place carefully, being very careful not to become a human kite.

The wind howled all night, but we’d brought our headphones and each put on different variations of ‘sleep’ music to get some rest. I decided to sit in the entrance of our tent from 05:30 to watch the sun rise, which was pretty magical.

After some slightly disappointing tea and toast, we packed up the tent and walked back to the car. On the way, we stopped to have a look at a memorial to the servicemen killed in the planes that came down over the Cheviots during the Second World War.

I like mini-adventures, especially given we were back home by 10:00 on Saturday, giving us most of the weekend to spend with the rest of the family!

On the work front, it was again split between the work I’m doing with Outlandish, and that which I’m involved with as part of a team for the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. The latter is wrapping up now and looking great now that we’ve applied the official style guide.

For Outlandish, I led a ‘Theory of Change’ session for the new Products circle. We used Miro, including for the video conferencing aspect, which worked well! I’m hoping to stick around beyond my initial engagement with them to the end of September, and indeed have drafted OKRs taking me to Christmas.

Our children were at athletics camp for three days this week, which is unremarkable in and of itself. What made a huge difference is that it was the first time since March that my wife and I have been in together by ourselves during the day. It was nice to be able to have lunch together and do the crossword as we used to.

Next week, I’m going to be writing a couple of bids for funding from Catalyst and the Ford Foundation. It’s the final week of the Social Mobility Commission work, and I’ll be continuing with my productisation activities at Outlandish.

It’s also the children’s last week before they start school a week on Wednesday. Due to the three-tier system in Northumberland, they’re both starting new schools, so I may work slightly less so I’m around for them.


Image of our tent in Northumberland National Park.

Weeknote 33/2020

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.

Heraclitus

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.

Weeknote 32/2020

This week, and most of last week, I’ve been on holiday. Ideally, I like to have three weeks off in a row, as it’s only then that I find I can truly unwind. However, given I’m now (by choice) no longer employed, holidays have the double hit of both costing money and getting in the way of me making more. As the main earner in our family, the responsible thing to do is to only take much as I need.

Usually when we go to Devon, we stop off at a hotel to prevent it being a full day of driving. The pandemic, though, means that not only do we want to avoid hotels, but there’s less traffic on the roads, making our journey quicker. That means we got to my wife’s parents’ house by mid-afternoon.

We stayed in a place we’ve been before, a hand-built holiday cottage constructed by by friends of my in-laws. They bought a smallholding 25 years ago when they were about my age. They’ve turned it into such a welcoming and restful place that I was able to relax immediately.

We spent our time in Devon visiting family, going on walks, and generally relaxing. I had prepared for the trip by uninstalling or disabling every work-related app on my phone. The only screens we took for the kids were on their e-readers and MP3 players. For it to a be a qualitatively different experience to the last few months at home it was important not to just take the same screens with us.

On the way back from Devon, we stopped off for a couple of nights in Shropshire at a self-catering cottage we’d booked. It’s not a county I’ve spent much time in, so we visited Ironbridge, which is somewhere I only know about due to teaching it as part of the Industrial Revolution. While we were there we had our first meal out for months thanks to the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, dining on outside tables.

The accommodation we stayed at in Shropshire wasn’t the best. In fact, for only the second time ever, I left a negative review on Booking.com. I feel a bit bad for doing so, but the place wasn’t as clean as it should have been, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Also, the photos of the property managed to skilfully omit the huge power lines right overhead.

Since we’ve been back, we’ve inevitably been talking about what would happen if we bought a smallholding. Our circumstances are different, though. Unlike our hosts in Devon, we’ve got children, houses and land is no longer so cheap, and there’s the small matter of the pandemic. The sensible thing to do is to try and pay off our mortgage in the next decade or so…

Despite that disappointment, we did manage to have a good walk up The Wrekin, which I think technically qualifies as a mountain. There was an Iron Age hill fort on the site, but there’s not much evidence of that now. Still, the panoramic views were superb and our children will climb and jump off any and all rocks.

Next week, I’m back to work. I genuinely have not looked at my inbox or calendar since turning on my out-of-office before going away. So I guess my Monday morning is going to be spent wading through messages before getting started with anything more productive!


Photo of Ironbridge run through the Game Boy camera filter of the Retroboy Android app, reducing it to 59.39kb. The Roy Lichtenstein filter looked slightly better, but resulted in a filesize 2.5x larger!

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.

Weeknote 29/2020

I seem to have forgotten to write weeknotes over the past few weeks, which is odd as I’ve written them for years. I guess the change in routine has thrown me off-balance a little bit.

My last weeknote was 25/2020 which detailed my final working week at Moodle. Next week is actually my last contracted week, although I’ve done so much that it feels a lot longer than a month since I left. I’m certainly a lot happier.

This week I worked three days due to a magnificent long weekend which mean I took Monday off, and then a debilitating migraine on Thursday which took me out of action completely. The long weekend saw my son and I head to the Lake District for a couple of nights camping in a valley which had no mobile phone signal. It was very refreshing.

In addition to the work I’m doing through We Are Open Co-op, I’ve started helping out Outlandish with some project management. They’re another co-op who are part of the CoTech network and I spent most of Wednesday in a sociocracy workshop with them. I can’t tell you how amazing it is spending all of your working life working in a non-hierarchical environment.

I deactivated my Twitter account this week, not because of the hack, but mainly because of reading 33 Myths of the System by Darren Allen, which made me see a few things for what they actually are. I’m continuing to use my Mastodon account and am thinking about switching back to social.coop (if they’ll have me!)

Next week is more of the same, and then the following week we’ll be heading off on holiday to visit family down in Devon. I’m really glad we had two spectacular foreign holidays (New England and Iceland) last year!


Header image of the valley in which we camped last weekend.

Weeknote 23/2020

Note: these weekly reflections of mine are by their nature introspective. Any small hardships I experience as a privileged middle-aged white man are nothing to those experienced every day by those whose skin just happens to be a different colour to mine.


Last week, I sent my resignation to Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO. This was mostly because, with a two-month notice period, I have done what I came to achieve: to take MoodleNet from zero to v1.0 beta.

This week has been… difficult. I have had to deal with one of the most challenging situations of my professional life.

I’ve tiptoed around this issue, but I’m actually very disappointed with the way Moodle has dealt with a tweet Martin sent out on Wednesday that could be construed has having racist overtones. People make mistakes, but you can judge people by their reactions as well as their actions.

He has since apologised and deleted the tweet, but has done so in a way that many people, including members of the MoodleNet team, don’t think goes far enough. It seems like the kind of apology that you make when you want the problem to go away.

I would not be so unprofessional as to repeat things I have seen on Telegram and statements made to me during internal meetings. But I am glad that I am leaving Moodle.

I am proud at what the MoodleNet team has achieved despite an extremely difficult working environment. I hope that they stick around, if they feel able, and I wish whoever becomes the next MoodleNet Product Manager the very best of luck.


I really enjoy innovation work, which is what MoodleNet has been for the majority of my tenure. It’s been a rollercoaster, for sure, but I have enjoyed:

  • Taking a couple of pages of rough notes given to me when I started, then doing deep desk research and interviewing the community to come up with a white paper, a vision for the project.
  • Hiring and working with Mayel de Borniol as Technical Architect. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with someone of his calibre over the last couple of years. As, of course, it has been with subsequent additions to the team.
  • Asking Outlandish, a fellow member of the CoTech network to run a design sprint leading to a prototype which we put in front of real educators.
  • Creating an MVP which successfuly tested MoodleNet’s value proposition.
  • Getting ready for a content sprint in preparation for the release of Moodle LMS 3.9 (which integrates with MoodleNet)

Perhaps I should write a retrospective of 2020 up to this point, just as I did for 2018 and 2019.

The past year has had me more in ‘manager’ role than ‘innovator’ role, which is another reason that I decided to wind down my role at Moodle. After all, just because other people tell you are good at something doesn’t meant you enjoy doing it.


So what’s next? We Are Open Co-op! Work is really ramping up, especially now we have a new impetus with Jen joining us last month. I’m leading things from our side with some help we’re providing for the Social Mobility Commission. The project finally cleared contract hurdles, so we should be able to get our teeth into it properly next week.

I’m also continuing to help my co-op colleagues with the work we’re doing with Greenpeace’s Planet 4 project. This week I’ve been mostly focusing on finishing off the recommendations on how the team can better prepare for the upcoming Day of Action around open source contribution.

On Thursday morning I spoke on behalf of the co-op at the University of East London‘s Mental Wealth Staff Development Day. My morning keynote slot was on Digital Literacies for a Post-COVID World and there is a backup here if the slides aren’t embedded below:


Next week is in flux, but I’ll be splitting it between winding down my MoodleNet work and ramping up my co-op work.


Header image of huge mural painted onto the newly-renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza next to the White House in Washington D.C.

Weeknote 22/2020

I think everyone finally had enough this week. Look at what’s happening in the UK. Look at what’s happening in the USA. There’s nothing ‘united’ about either country right now. It’s all kicking off.

Even closer to home too, in our working lives, I’ve seen people, including myself, less willing to put up with, for want of a better term, crap, from outdated people and processes. It’s time to do better, and be better.


This week has been busy. Very busy. The kind of busy where you start work at 08:00, stagger out of your home office for a 15-minute lunchbreak, and finish at 16:00, an empty husk of a man who has seemingly been at work for a month instead of a day. Then, with your eyes completely fried, you wonder what to do until bedtime.

It’s amazing to me to think that this was actually a four-day week and that we spent the second Bank Holiday of May on the beach and eating fish & chips.


MoodleNet will reach v1.0 beta next week. We’re running a Content Sprint to get resources into the Moodle HQ-run instance in time for the launch of Moodle LMS 3.9. Why? Well, because it features integration with MoodleNet, and we want to ensure there’s stuff there.

Of course, the digital commons will grow as more people use MoodleNet, on HQ-run, and other federated instances. Once we’ve got the content on a stable version of the HQ production server, we’ll switch out attention to finally starting federation testing.

Although the report is coming in very late, it’s been good to have a preview of the report from the security review we commissioned. That shows that MoodleNet is actually already more secure than many other federated social networks. That’s down to the talented team it’s been my privilege to put together over the past couple of years.


Over an above my Moodle work, there’s been loads of We Are Open co-op work to do. It’s getting to the stage where I could pretty much work through the co-op full-time, which is amazing. Just last year the opposite was true.

There’s been much wrangling over the project initiation documents for two related pieces of work we’re doing with/for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. That should be resolved so that we can start work properly next week with the 10 charities we’ll be supporting through digital transformation.

Over and above that, for the work we’re doing with Greenpeace Planet 4 team, I’ve been reviewing best practice in terms of onboarding new contributors. It’s actually very eye-opening seeing how volunteers start contributing to some open source projects because of the way they’re welcomed, and some, well… despite that.


Due to all of that busyness, I didn’t write anything for Thought Shrapnel this week other than my link roundup, which I entitled Saturday shruggings. There’s been plenty of stuff rattling around my head, especially since deciding to lie on the front lawn re-reading Montaigne’s Essays but nothing has yet coagulated in my brain into something coherent.

I might as well share here five particular sections that have got me thinking, as it could be a while before I get to any form of synthesis:

We are never ‘at home’: we are always outside ourselves. fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future; they rob us of feelings and concern for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be — even when we ourselves shall be no more.

Michel de Montaigne (‘Our emotions get carried away beyond us’)

Those who strive to account for a man’s deeds are never more bewildered than when they try to knit them into one whole and to show them under one light, since they commonly contradict each other in so odd a fashion that it seems impossible that they should all come out of the same shop.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On the inconstancy of our actions’)

I have an open manner, readily striking up acquaintance and being trusted from the first encounter. Simpleness and unsullied truth are always opportune and acceptable in any period whatsoever… All I want to gain from doing anything is the fact of having done it.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On the useful and the honourable)

I have my own laws and law-court to pass judgement on me and I appeal to them rather than elsewhere. I restrain my actions according to the standards of others, but I enlarge them according to my own. no one but you knows whether you are base and cruel, or loyal and dedicated. Others never see you: they surmise about you from uncertain conjectures; they do not see your nature so much as your artifice. So do not cling to their sentence: cling to your own.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On repenting’)

But thought I do not have all that great a mind. I do have one which is correspondingly open, one which orders me to dare to publish its weaknesses.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On high rank as a disadvantage’)

I’ve also been reflecting on Acts chapters two and four, which actually form the basis of Christian communism. It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus was anti-capitalist and anti-establishment.


So next week is a big week in many ways. Lots of decisions to make and things to do. When all this is over, I wonder if I qualify (financially, morally, otherwise) for a sabbatical?


Photo taken at Beadnell last Monday. The beach was virtually empty.

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