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Weeknote 08/2021

Dawn at Cresswell, northumberland

I am now, it would appear, the kind of person who lies in bed on a Saturday morning, laptop resting against raised knees, while the rest of the family get ready.

The announcement this week that the UK is slowly coming out of lockdown is welcome news, although I’m a bit apprehensive about the gap between the kids going back to school the week after next, and the time when my wife and I get vaccincated. The good news is that both my parents and sister have had their first dose.


This has been a busy week. At the moment, I only track the paid hours of work I do; this week there were 29.25 of those. Overall, I’d estimate that about 25% of my time is unremunerated (catch-up calls with contacts, sorting out my home office, etc.) so this was probably a 40-hour week.

That sounds pretty standard, until you factor in a pandemic, all of my work being on-screen, and the fact that I am pretty much incapable of working at anything less than 90% effort. I’ve also given up refined sugar for Lent, which has had a surprising impact on my energy levels.

I’m not complaining, as given the number of people out of work and/or struggling at the moment, it’s good to be able to provide for my family. But I would dearly love to get away somewhere other than the four walls of my home office. Despite being painted what I usually describe as ‘mental health green’ they feel like they’re closing in on me.


My work this week has been across the two Catalyst-funded projects in which I’m involved, some business development, and an ‘expert’ interview with a company wanting some input on an initiative they’ve got around digital. I had to sign an NDA around the latter.

The Catalyst project I’m project managing, Sector Challenge 9: Claiming Universal Credit remotely is coming together. The digital team we assembled put together is working on the four prototypes referenced in this overview slide deck:

  1. Visualisation of steps — service map showing overview of application process (including government departments and agencies). Vertical format for interactive navigation on mobile device.
  2. Check list — interactive check-box list of documents and other resources required to fill in UC form. Includes examples, and ‘ticks’ persist across browser sessions (on same device).
  3. In-context help — TBC in next week’s workshop session with charity partners, but Dan has already mocked-up the workflow for a chat bot that works via SMS.
  4. Real time support from a real-life professional — document comparing options for screensharing between claimant and adviser. Criteria to be co-created by project team.

We’ve got a meeting with representatives from the DWP’s Universal Credit team next week, and we’re presenting at the government’s internal service week show-and-tell event on Friday.

With the other Catalyst project, the one Laura is leading, we’re taking 10 charities through a definition process. This week was all about helping them create an architecture of participation for their charity project. Next week we’re onto service blueprints and thinking about how everything ties together.


Spring is definitely in the air, with daylight hours growing longer and the temperature rising. I always find mid-October to the end of February difficult, partly because of SAD (which I’ve learned to mitigate) but partly because of burnout. Having three weeks off at the end of last year really helped, so I’ve been able to sustain my energy levels pretty well, and am raring to go from March to September.

Next week, I’ll be continuing working on the Catalyst projects mentioned above. There’s another month left of mine, and two months of Laura’s, and then we’re back to client work, which we’re currently prioritising. Everyone always wants everything now


Image of dawn at Cresswell, Northumberland on Thursday morning. I woke at 04:30, couldn’t get back to sleep, so decided to go and watch the sunrise.

Weeknote 03/2021

Long shadow on the beach at Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Wherever in the world you happen to be, I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now that Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th President of the USA.

Here in the UK, we’ve still got the clown-car government that my fellow countrymen and women inexplicably voted in immediately before the pandemic. They’re doing about as well as can be expected given their glaring incompetence, which has been compounded by the economic self-harm of Brexit.

Closer to home, though, everything is going well. The Catalyst project I’m leading through Dynamic Skillset had its kick-off meeting, and we found out that our co-op was successful in another funding bid. Laura and I recorded the pilot for a new podcast which led to us presenting a proposal for a series of six episodes to fellow co-op members. That proposal was passed, so look out for the first ‘proper’ episode in the next few weeks, and then monthly afterwards.


This week has included my son’s birthday; another teenage year which makes me feel even older than I did turning 40 last month. Another thing that made me feel ancient was attending an online workshop facilitated and attended by people a decade (or more) younger than me. I had to leave half-way through as, although I’m sure everyone else was getting a lot out of it, the format didn’t work for me.

I can definitely see how people get set in their ways as they get older. When you’re younger and you’re not quite sure what you like or how things work, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and just try things. As you get older, with a bit less energy but many more responsibilities, it’s always easier to lean towards things you know have worked well before. Note to self: I need to fight against that tendency, at least some of the time.


Being back on Twitter is mostly great, although it means less time for blogging. I haven’t published anything here, and on Thought Shrapnel this week I’ve only managed to put out two link posts:

Another website-related thing I did do this week, though, was to create a new thesis page and redirect a couple of legacy domains to it. One of those domains was neverendingthesis.com, which used a version of MediaWiki which I don’t think I ever really upgraded. It finally fell over just shy of its millionth visit, which is incredible really.

I’ve also removed my ebook about digital literacies from Gumroad and made it freely-downloadable from the thesis page. Self-publishing works: in addition to the ~£800 I made pre-v1.0, I also made $3,587.46 in sales via Gumroad over the last few years!


Next week is mainly Catalyst work, although I’m trying to keep my hand in with Outlandish and do some business development for the co-op. I’m just thankful that I’m able to find decent-paying, meaningful work during a pandemic and keep my family relatively happy.


Photo taken on Thursday morning during a run on the beach at Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Weeknote 02/2021

I know this isn’t exactly an original thought, but time seems to be acting weirdly at the moment. Everything is a bit discombobulating, but I guess everyone’s in the same boat. We’ll figure it out.

Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Meanwhile, I’m spending time working on interesting stuff with awesome people, and doing things which make me smile. Like what, you say? Well, walking in the winter sun with my family, playing PS4, reading, and listening to Kylie’s fabulous latest album, Disco. Good music is good music, people.


It’s been our daughter’s 10th birthday this week, which, if you can remember back that far, is a Big Deal. Double digits! She’s awesome and I’m very glad that she’s growing into a confident young woman who knows her own mind.

This week has also seen our son starting the process of choosing his GCSE option subjects, which takes me back to when I chose mine 26 years ago. It’s so important to choose things that interest you. For example, I did Media Studies and not only really enjoyed it — I made a plasticine stop-motion version of Match of the Day — but also got an ‘A’ and learned things that have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

One thing that’s different with his options, even in the decade since I left teaching, is the EBacc. However, long story short, I asked around and it’s basically meaningless. Doing well in subjects they’re interested in is much more important for teenagers than some kind of combination that pleases traditionalists.


While we’re on the subject of education, I’ve been tweeting a bit about the (monetary) value of Higher Education. While no-one needs to listen or read my opinions on the subject, I do have four university qualifications and have worked in the sector. However, as I said here in a write-up of a Twitter thread, I’m a bit disillusioned with the view that universities have a right to exist and everyone should just get with the programme.

Since leaving working in formal education, I’ve been working on product-related things, which live or die by ensuring user acceptance/delight. I know there’s a pandemic on, but Higher Education really needs to be dramatically shaken up. The UK government doesn’t help, of course, by creating a pseudo-market. We’ll see some institutions either merge or go to the wall, I expect.


Over at Thought Shrapnel, I published the following… (🔗 = link posts)


Work-wise this week, I’ve been:

  • Kicking off the Catalyst-funded project I’m project managing which is a collaboration between Dynamic Skillset and Bay Digital. We’re helping three civil society organisations with a ‘sector challenge’ to help remove barriers to remote claiming of Universal Credit. We’ve had to swap out one of the organisations at the last minute for various reasons, but the one that can’t be a core part will still be involved for user research.
  • Hanging out with my We Are Open colleagues. We spent a half day doing some strategy work, which Laura wrote up here.
  • Scaling back my work with Outlandish. I’ve realised I haven’t got time to get really involved in everything I was doing from August to December with them, so I’m going to have a chat next week about my continued work with them.

I also participated in a paid knowledge-sharing session which was very professionally-organised. I gave some insights into a particular area of my expertise, which was facilitated by an agency who connected me with an organisation by phone. They asked me a series of questions, appreciated my insights, and the money should be in my account soon. Colour me impressed!


Next week, I’m sinking my teeth even further into the Catalyst project, and starting some business development for We Are Open. That may or may not involve doing the pilot episode of a new podcast! I’m excited.

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