Visibility of the work and its possibilities.

The cover of Correspondences by Tim Ingold.

A super short blog, mostly to organise my own thoughts, having read a few others’ this weekend from the brilliant Lingjing and Sam about ‘visibility.’

One of the things that has brought me most unhappiness in the last year or so has been the tension between wanting to do what feels important for the work, versus my preference to be at the edge of things and more under the radar. Anyone that’s known me since before I was a ‘funder’ will know that I never did public speaking, I was highly connected in a vast network, but more underground — in fact someone described me as a human glowworm. I only started writing publicly, and more often, when I worked at Doteveryone and that was because the dominant currency in a thinktank is the written word.

And then when I went to run the Digital Fund at The National Lottery Community Fund I started writing Weeknotes on week one of my job for two reasons. Firstly, it’s good practice, so I wanted to walk the talk. If we were going to require our grantees to work in a particular way then I felt like we should do the same. Second, I wanted to work in the open because there was (is) so much about the funding world that’s opaque.

After 3 or so years of writing Weeknotes, though less regularly at the moment, this is what I now think.

This is what I say time and time again. There has been so much value in sharing what we’re working on, what we’re learning or thinking about so openly. It’s created community and interest around the work. It’s given the work more validation internally to be able to show the interest in it externally and I can’t tell you how helpful this is when you’re trying to do new or different things.

It’s a way of giving the work oxygen in contexts where people might be trying to dismiss it or shut it down.

It’s a practice that is often a counter-balance to how things have previously been done. It’s demonstrating more appropriate ways of working in the 21st Century. Most of all it fosters transparency, a culture of learning openly, surfaces the potential and intelligences in an ecosystem and makes visible any opportunities for collaboration. And I think it can be an act of generosity — especially if there’s some vulnerability in pressing the ‘publish’ button.

On a personal level it can also encourage reflexive practice. I now think and reflect through tapping away on a keyboard, and miss it when I don’t.

An obvious one perhaps, but if you don’t get much feedback from your own organisation about the work you are doing then writing publicly about the work is a great way to get feedback from elsewhere. Sometimes this can be useful critique, or people offering to build on it or link it up with someone or something else. Other times it can just be encouragement. To experience enthusiasm about your work from time to time is incredibly important!

Last year, for the first time ever, I had the unpleasant experience of being accused by someone of copying someone else’s work. Having things published openly means I can trace back to things if I need to — I can show where and when an idea may have been seeded, who’s work I’ve been informed or inspired by. People get familiar with who you are, what you care about — they can follow your trains of thought, your intentions — and somehow this consistency over time is also a way of making your integrity visible.

Who’d have thought that writing publicly is a way to feel that a community has your back. We are not living in kind times and linked to the above, when people see what you are trying to do, they can get behind you and get behind the work. This obviously can also attract the exact opposite to — the more you say, the more visible you become and the more exposed you are to people’s judgements and assumptions. I think this kind of exposure is only possible for a period of time before you need to retreat again. It’s why it can be helpful to work as a ‘peloton’ — to find people to pass the baton onto for a while whilst you need to recover.

Any of us that feel able to take risk, to use our voice and our platforms, should do so. It’s not a time for timidness. Of course sometimes it’s about getting out of the way too, or supporting others to use their voice or platforms. Either way, there is *so much* to speak out about and to stand up for.

I’m not sure it’s helpful to frame any of this as being about visibility of the self? Maybe that is how some people want to think about it, but for me it really is about making the work, the context around the work, the relationships that make up the work, the possibilities that exist beyond the work, all visible. It’s not about building a personal brand, or an organisational one for that matter. It’s about giving life to what you are doing so that it can live way beyond who you are, creating the conditions for discovery, or in Tim Ingold’s words, it’s a way of “calling forth.”

Deputy Director at National Lottery Community Fund, Co-founder of the Point People, Policy Fellow IIPP, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.