Welcome to Common Knowledge’s weeknotes for 7—18 October 2019.
What are Weeknotes?
Weeknotes is the practice of publishing a blog, explaining what you’ve been up, generally on a weekly basis. They can come from individuals or groups.
Weeknotes emerged in 2009 at BERG, a London based design consultancy. Writing about their pre-history Matt Webb notes this practice has a longer history on the internet and an even longer one offline. He brings up the idea of Lab notebooks. We could also maybe add the idea of a Commonplace book.
What we got up to
Moving into Space4
After working between Newspeak House and our sofas, we moved in Space4 for a few days a week.
Space4 is a cooperatively run co-working space in Finsbury Park. They’ve just secured a ten year lease with Islington Council for a beautiful new office.
The space itself is filled with interesting people working for all sorts of social change. If you want somewhere to work out of, then look them up.
Special shout out to Good Praxis for letting us in their room to workshop and for having a good dog.
Vision, Mission and Values
We’ve spent most of the last fortnight getting our house in order. We need to ensure it is clear to ourselves and to others what we do, what we offer and what our intentions are.
To this end we got together out our vision, mission and values last week, which you can see on GitHub.
They define our organisational DNA and explain to the world what we do and who we are. They are also important for internal use. On Loomio, deploying a block to prevent a decision going ahead is generally done when you feel that the proposed course of action is against the mission, vision or values of the group. Having the mission, vision and values written down really helps people to make this call and articulate why they’ve made it.
The process of coming up with these was quite challenging. We felt it is clear to us internally what we are doing, but expressing that in clear and concise copy is hard. Fortunately we’d had a few previous attempts at defining them, so drew on this.
The key is patience and taking breaks. For example, coming up with a concise mission statement “Working directly with grassroots activists, we design digital tools that make radical change possible” took about 100 separate variations of that single sentence before we were happy. Here are a 78 of them. We ran fast variants (using the duplicate command in Notion) until two of us managed to get to roughly the same thing.
By contrast, we talked about the vision of “a world of abundance, free from oppression” a lot without coming to a conclusion. It felt too broad. But then, after sleeping on it, we felt that it actually captured something pretty well, so kept it as is, only adding on a sentence as to the contribution we could make.
Objectives and Key Results for Q4
We use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to plan our work over a period of time. We’ve found them useful in helping us focus.
Last week we assessed those we did in Q3 (July, August and September) and set some new ones for Q4 (October, November and December). We also performed a quick SWOT analysis to help us generate them. We did this last quarter and it worked out well, letting us know what we were really worried about.
Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust
We’d applied for the last round of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust but sadly didn’t get accepted this time around.
We got some positive feedback which we will take on board and hope we might be able to work with them in future.
Responsible Tech Strategy
We want to demonstrate in our work how technology can be made in a democratic and responsible way that serves social movements. But we are a small organisation. So we need to work out how best to encourage others to do so too. What we can bring to this is an understanding of how organising works and how digital tools can assist it.
We’ve been working up our organising strategy and theory of change within the tech industry for 2020. It’s not really finished cooking, but the broad outlines are we need to work to build power:
Within — for tech workers within the existing industry, to put a break on irresponsible tech. Tech Workers Coalition are an example of this.
Alongside — bringing tech workers to work alongside social movements, mutually reenforcing one another’s organisational power and capacity. Our recent workshop Making Technology Work For Your Campaigns was our first formal go at this.
Beyond — build a cooperatively owned tech industry beyond its existing structures, something that the organisation CoTech is seeking in part to do.
More to follow as this becomes clearer to us.
NESTA 21st Century Common Sense
It was refreshing to see such a strong focus on real world experiments and, most importantly, on people rather than data. There were so many interesting projects shared throughout the day, but we particularly liked Maesy Angelina from Pulse Lab Jakarta’s take on how they combine data science and ethnographic research.
Interview with Autark
Gemma was interviewed by Autark.
Autark builds tools that empower agency and large-scale coordination, so we always have a great deal to talk about.
Here is a bit of what Gemma says:
The key part of any self-organised groups is having a shared vision but also a very clear protocol. Everything needs to be well-documented and explicit. It’s also important to note that while it’s explicit, it’s not fixed. Everything is open to change, proposals can be adjusted. It enables a way more fluid collaboration — everything is on the table and nothing is hidden. In general, I think it’s very important to spend time thinking about organisational rules and principles. I really like this way of working — you don’t define the rules before you do the thing, but instead you try it out, then document it and adjust this as you go
This week we will be working on a few consultancy projects and a couple of grant applications with upcoming deadlines.
What we really want to do this week, however, is get back to the work we put down in March on our core Catalyst platform.
Since October last year we’ve been working on a tool called Movement that helps people get involved in grassroots activism when they aren’t sure where to start. We prototyped it in Hackney. This week we intent to pick up where we left off and process any learnings we haven’t managed to fully capture.
What we're reading
Technology is playing an important role in protests in Catalonia. There is interesting use of an Android app using a mesh network to attract people to sites of protest, based on Retroshare. Wired and The Guardian have good pieces.
We-Guild is a mutual aid support network that lets self-employed people get sick pay. It works by people in a web of trust pledging to help others in the event of someone getting ill. It will also illustrate the web of people who’ve helped you and you’ve helped.
You never regret a good commit message and this is a great commit message.
This post by Catherine D’Ignazio is a good reminder of the power of inclusion, exclusion and representation when working with data.
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