*And my 2018 travels are in a separate post here.
Alongside doing my Year End activity, last year I loved reflecting on my year through writing. I started last year’s post with a paragraph about the state of the world. The start of this year feels similarly concerning (that’s perhaps an understatement), but where last year felt like we were collectively still in shock or denial, somehow this year I sense a charge around me, like people are laying down their old tools and picking up new, more suitable ones — ready for what’s ahead. There is recognition that 2019 is full of unknown’s, that many of those in power are ill-equipped and incapable, and that we all need to do more, say more, care more, speak up more, commit more, connect more, resist more, love more, and use our power more. We will all have our own interpretation of these things and different ideas on how to go about them. I love the idea, found here, of people changing their mind (and hopefully actions etc) by way of heart.
It is these humane experiences that supersede ideology and closed-minded thinking and can cause someone to change their mind by way of their heart.
For me, there is the slow, quiet, care-full work of connecting to people, showing kindness, listening, empathising, trying to understand and bridge difference — alongside the fire-in-the-belly work of radical new alternatives, taking leaps, and some urgency. I’m grateful to people like Jennie Winhall, Mariana Mazzucato and Indy Johar in my personal spheres who remind me regularly that another way is possible and are quite relentless (in very different ways!) in their pursuit of it — innovation isn’t a dirty word for them. Participatory City is showing what might be possible (dive deep into the values and thinking that underpin it). And organisations like NEON, Nesta, and many others who are in their orbits that literally insist another world is possible.
I changed jobs, which I wrote about here. There was more I wanted to do but 3 years at Doteveryone was a good innings I think. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next year with new people joining, and a tighter team and focus. If you haven’t already, you should buy a ticket to their Responsible Technology Summit at the end of the month and read Rachel’s suggestions of what Mark Zuckerberg should do this year.
I found it hard leaving — shaking off relationships, identities, ambitions — and making the transition to something new. I was grateful for a week in between my two jobs, alone, in the wilds of the US. Even though I was newly terrified by the types of power (religious and political) that are controlling so much of the US right now, Lake Michigan and its weather and wilderness was stunning.
I started at the Big Lottery Fund on November 1st and I’m loving it.
One of the best (and surprising things for me) has been finding someone who I work with so well. Tom Steinberg has been brilliant. That’s not to say everyone else there isn’t also a pleasure to work with — so far I’ve found people supportive, interested and smart. It’s just in these first few months I’ve worked most closely with Tom, and it’s been so straightforward, productive and energising.
In my one day a week away from the Big Lottery Fund I’ve been doing several things.
The impacts of technology on society
I’m grateful to be able to continue some of the interests I developed at Doteveryone through being part of a consortia called Spark. This is made up of CAST, the Engine Room, Doteveryone, Nissa Ramsay and myself, and is funded by Comic Relief. We’ve been tasked with strengthening the social sector through digital (just a small task!), and amongst 5 programmes of work, I’m leading the foresight one. Films, other content and some events will be coming this year.
I’ve also continued the monthly breakfast events, Funders Learn Tech, supported by Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn through this programme. The idea behind these it to grow the ecosystem of funders investing in ‘tech for good’ and to build more understanding of the applications and implications of a digital society with this particular group.
The Point People
This year I’ve been part of a small Point People team continuing our work with Lankelly Chase and the Systems Changers programme. The focus in 2018 has been how to spread it, share it, open it up, pass it on, and basically understand how it can work in new contexts, and without us. The first two experiments in this are underway. We’ve been seeing how it can work in a new context (the Children’s Sector) in a partnership with the Children’s Society, and led by Immy Kaur. And then seeing how we can do a ‘train the trainer’ model by working with Lankelly Chase’s Place-based Associates to take aspects of the programme in to their own contexts — in Barrow, York and Essex. This has all been really hard, and we will be writing more about this over the next few months.
I’ve been working with Ella and the International Futures Forum on creating more accessible and shareable content about how to navigate complexity — building on themes from this book. We’ve not got very far with it this year and Graham is being very patient (thank you Graham!), but we recently partnered up with the inimitable Bogdana (thanks Russell) and we’ve now got some proper plans afoot.
We ran our first Wisdom Trail (thanks to the brilliant Sarah Douglas) and will do more in 2019. The idea (and what we tried in our initial prototype) is to split up in to groups of 7 — where possible made up of people from 7 decades — who each follow a walking route accompanied by a set of questions, that can be used to prompt conversations around different themes — sharing wisdom across decades and generations. We had a few people under 10 and someone in their 80’s, and all came together at the end for a big picnic. When we do it again, there will be some revisions, but ultimately how could this become a Park Run type platform, about wisdom, walking, connecting with one another and with nature?
Lastly, we’ve also agreed a new structure for the monthly Point People meetings that will hopefully see us make more of our plural perspectives and experiences so we can generate and share more collective insights. I created this slide deck as a suggestion for how we might do this, based on something we’ve been doing as a backbone for the tech for good intermediary meetsups — very simply sharing in advance what each organisation (or person in the Point People’s case) is working on, thinking about etc. This base level of data can them be useful for spotting and sensing emergent patterns.
And watch this space — in 2019 we plan to make a book and a Speakers Agency co-operative!
Training and development
I did a lot of more formal training this year. In January I completed my course to be an Organisation and Relationship Systems Coach. If you’re looking for one, there are much better ones out there than me (try Suncica, Adrian and Alice). I was never intending to become an active practitioner but instead wanted to draw on some of the language, tools and methodologies to use with groups of organisations (rather than couples or teams) – I could see its relevance to ecosystem design.
In February I went on NEON’s Movement Building course (thank you Doteveryone for supporting me to do this). It felt very similar in terms of content to the Systems Changers programme, but they are using it in different contexts — primarily with grassroots organisations — supporting them to build power together and see themselves as a wider ecosystem.
NEON’s Movement Builders programme is a 5 day intensive training for people working towards big systemic change. Half theory, half practical tools, this five day course puts you in a room with 30 organisers from across your city to learn how to build bigger, more sustainable and more effective movements.
I’d recommend it, if nothing else, you will meet lots of much younger (than me!) activists and learn a lot about privilege. It’s also worth looking at the other work NEON is doing, it’s super impressive, especially the Org Builders programme and the Spokesperson Network.
In December I started making my way through this work book — Me and White Supremacy — written by Layla Saad, it’s “part education, part activation…. a personal anti-racism tool for people holding white privilege to begin to examine and dismantle their complicity in the oppressive system of white supremacy.” I’d recommend doing it with a friend or group of peers.
Last month I attended a course called “Analytic-Network Coaching Advanced Coach Training.” Conceived of and delivered by Simon Western, his work is all about “Coaching leaders to act in ‘Good Faith’ to create the ‘Good Society.’” He draws together the analytic by bringing his training in psychoanalysis — working with the unconscious and non-rational dynamics at the individual, organisational and social levels, together with a networked approach, recognising how we now live in a digital society.
I was also attracted to his belief that coaches are not ethically neutral. Like the corporations that they work with, coaches have social as well as business responsibilities and should work from a clear ethical stance. A few of the models are below, but click through to his site for more, and he has a couple of good books too. What I particularly appreciated about the training (besides connecting with Simon’s very straightforward way of being) was the recognition in the content of how technology is changing society. That was missing for me in the ORSC training and in the Tavistock D10 Programme.
Roots, Relationships and Community
I still value friendships, relationships, my different pockets of community, and my wider networks, more than anything else, and give a lot of time, care and energy to this.
This year I started an informal dinner series with Brittany and Ellie. The intention was to bring together women working at the intersection of data, ethics, and civil society every 2 months for dinner. I’ve met a bunch of new people through this and been amazed at how each time we do one there are more new people in attendance, who do span these different worlds. A huge bonus of this has been getting to work with and know Brittany. She just got promoted too.
I’m part of an Action Learning Set that was initiated by Janet Hughes and I when we both worked together at Doteveryone. It was part of Doteveryone’s Digital Leaders programme when in its infancy and I started off as being the ‘facilitator.’ However, as time went on, I joined as a participant. I think who makes up the group is confidential, but I feel very lucky to be able to regularly tap in to the wisdom of a group of digital leaders working across the public and social sector.
I was grateful to connect with other parts of my international network on a few work trips — running an event in Amsterdam with Indy Johar, DarkMatter Labs and Waag Society on governance and regulation, which meant I got my yearly in person top up of people like Giulio and Millie. A trip to Istanbul for a SIX event and meeting new people, in new networks (the international human rights crew) in Toronto at RightsCon thanks to Alix Dunn.
I also get access to rich thinking and the debate of ideas at monthly Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose Fellow’s meetings. Each month someone externally comes in to present their work and then we discuss how it relates to public value and purpose, new economics, and mission-oriented innovation.
All the brilliant women who bring friendship, advice, support, laughs, inspiration, solace, refuge, nourishment and encouragement- thank you. For the 5th year running I got to spend a week early in the year with a group of brilliant women, planning for our years ahead, and most importantly lounging together, cooking, walking and talking. Thank you Sarah, Leonora, Ella, Camilla, Laura, Beatrice.
The South East London dinner crew is still going and I love being local to people. When you don’t have kids, you don’t make the same relationships in the neighbourhood and this group represent some of that to me. I can literally pop over for a cup of coffee and that kind of proximity is comforting and important. Thank you Anab, Amanda, Fiona,Celia, Andrea, Laura, Annette, Cate, Rachel, Laura.
The Girls on Tour group (Rowan, Anna, Catherine, Alice, Carrina, Anna R, Helen) still do dinner every few months and some of us did actually go on tour again this year to Hastings (with some mini golf thrown in). This is a group of women who work most closely to the kind of work I do, and who are all in leadership positions that I really appreciate learning from.
There’s the secret Excellent Women Slack group that amazes me with its level of activity, frank discussions, humour, support and sage advice. It was lovely to meet some of them for the first time offline at our Christmas dinner.
And then there is the moon. Each month on the full moon we still gather for food, ritual and ceremony. There are 30 of us in the “Sisterhood and the Moon” group now and every time we meet I am reminded of the power of feminist energy, the power of nature, the power of the unknown, and of magic. I also hugely love the improvisation, playfulness and lightness through which we explore this stuff. For the second year running we had the treat of Sarah coming over from LA for a long weekend retreat at the Quadrangle. She’s the author of the Many Moons Workbook, and now does two excellent podcasts as well.
This year I have been volunteering with Lewisham Refugee and Migrant network, supporting a Syrian family to settle in the area. I spend two half days a month with different members of the family, helping with really practical things like topping up phone credit, writing emails, sorting out WiFi, reading and generally being there to do whatever they need. Nothing else I have done this last year has brought so much perspective to my privilege. There are lots of schemes like this, and it’s not just the practical help, it’s how you do it — the warmth and the reassurance make a huge difference. The family I spend time with said they feel like I have their backs. This is something a lot of refugee and migrant families need — so please, sign up!
Lastly, 2018 saw me lay down some new roots, and with a new “family” — Tom, Aimee (and their new baby Mo) and I have brought a small chapel on the Cowal Peninsula in Scotland. It’s something that we’ve talked about for a long time and I can’t quite believe it’s happening. But the tiny, wee dot in amongst the woodland below, is our new place. The Cowal Peninsula is a really undiscovered part of Scotland, 1.5 hrs from Glasgow, and somewhere we can now retreat to (along with family and friends).
So for 2019?
Alongside my actual job (which has plenty going on!), and my ongoing Point People commitments, I am going to spend 2019 doing the following.
With Sam Roddick and Deborah Szebeko, I’ll be trying out some experiments around the collective. If I hadn’t had Norovirus the last few days we would have launched the site today, but here’s a little snippet.
“We are an experimental studio who want to explore ways of strengthening society’s ability to access and draw on the collective unconscious, and bring it in to our collective awareness. We believe that this collective consciousness — found within all living things — contains a wisdom that we need now more than ever.”
It relates to some of the things I wrote about in this post too — beyond human-centred design,to?
My Fellowship at the Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose will become more rooted in some actual research. I’m working with Rainer to develop a research proposal looking at social infrastructure,the ethical implications of AI and the design of collective intelligence in place. I’m also going to do a bit of teaching on their MPA.
This year I was lucky enough to meet Alex Evans, who wrote the Myth Gap (read it, if you haven’t!), and who’s about to launch a new initiative called “Collective Psychology.” I’ll write a separate post to coincide with his launch, but it’s cleverly bringing together politics and psychology, making the links between our multiple external crises (economic, social, environmental and political) and the multiple psychological crises we face. I’m going to be on the Advisory Board and believe this is a really new and interesting perspective that Alex is bringing in to the world.
I’m also joining the Advisory Group for The Public Square, a new initiative from DemSoc and MySociety — and I expect the start of some proper Discovery work in to what a better publicly owned social infrastructure could look like.
Lastly, this year, Sam Roddick and I are hoping to start some awards “Rebel with a Cause” in memory of Anita Roddick and Roanne Dods, and inspired by MIT’s Disobedience Awards. Here are some initial slides, laying out our plans and inviting others to get involved.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal “ — Martin Luther King
There are some brilliant reflections in this Twitter stream by Saima.
And I love these “Elevating Resolutions for the New Year Inspired by Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds” from Brainpicker’s Maria Popova.
But I have to end with these two, Florrie and Rosa, my nieces, who bring lots of joy (and the norovirus) into my life — how lucky am I? ❤