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What are ‘internet-era ways of working’?

Tom Loosemore, formerly of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) and Co-op Digital has founded a new organisation that advises governments large public organisations.

That organisation, Public.digital, has defined ‘internet era ways of working’ which, as you’d expect, are fascinating:

  1. Design for user needs, not organisational convenience
  2. Test your riskiest assumptions with actual users
  3. The unit of delivery is the empowered, multidisciplinary team
  4. Do the hard work to make things simple
  5. Staying secure means building for resilience
  6. Recognise the duty of care you have to users, and to the data you hold about them
  7. Start small and optimise for iteration. Iterate, increment and repeat
  8. Make things open; it makes things better
  9. Fund product teams, not projects
  10. Display a bias towards small pieces of technology, loosely joined
  11. Treat data as infrastructure
  12. Digital is not just the online channel

There’s a wealth of information underneath each of these, but I feel like just these top-level points should be put on a good-looking poster in (home) offices everywhere!

The only things I’d add from work smaller, but similar work I’ve done around this are:

  • Make your teams and organisation as diverse as possible
  • Ensure that your data is legible by both humans and machines

But I’m nitpicking. This is great stuff.

Source: Public.digital

Is UBI ‘hush money’?

Over the last few years, I’ve been quietly optimistic about Universal Basic Income, or ‘UBI’. It’s an approach that seems to have broad support across the political spectrum, although obviously for different reasons.

A basic income, also called basic income guarantee, universal basic income (UBI), basic living stipend (BLS), or universal demogrant, is a type of program in which citizens (or permanent residents) of a country may receive a regular sum of money from a source such as the government. A pure or unconditional basic income has no means test, but unlike Social Security in the United States it is distributed automatically to all citizens without a requirement to notify changes in the citizen’s financial status. Basic income can be implemented nationally, regionally or locally. (Wikipedia)

Someone who’s thinking I hugely respect, Douglas Rushkoff, thinks that UBI is a ‘scam’:

The policy was once thought of as a way of taking extreme poverty off the table. In this new incarnation, however, it merely serves as a way to keep the wealthiest people (and their loyal vassals, the software developers) entrenched at the very top of the economic operating system. Because of course, the cash doled out to citizens by the government will inevitably flow to them.

Think of it: The government prints more money or perhaps — god forbid — it taxes some corporate profits, then it showers the cash down on the people so they can continue to spend. As a result, more and more capital accumulates at the top. And with that capital comes more power to dictate the terms governing human existence.

I have to agree with Rushkoff when he talks about UBI leading to more passivity and consumption rather than action and ownership:

Meanwhile, UBI also obviates the need for people to consider true alternatives to living lives as passive consumers. Solutions like platform cooperatives, alternative currencies, favor banks, or employee-owned businesses, which actually threaten the status quo under which extractive monopolies have thrived, will seem unnecessary. Why bother signing up for the revolution if our bellies are full? Or just full enough?

Under the guise of compassion, UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers. Once the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us, all we can do with every consumptive act is deliver more power to people who can finally, without any exaggeration, be called our corporate overlords.

Rushkoff calls UBI ‘hush money’, a method for keeping the masses quiet while those at the top become ever more wealthy. Unfortunately, we live in the world of the purist, where no action is good enough or pure enough in its intent. I agree with Rushkoff that we need more worker ownership of organisations, but I appreciate Noam Chomsky’s view of change: you don’t ignore an incremental improvement in people’s lives, just because you’re hoping for a much bigger one round the corner.

Source: Douglas Rushkoff

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"One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves." (Martin Buber)

Identity is a pattern in time

When I was an undergraduate at Sheffield University, one of my Philosophy modules (quite appropriately) blew my mind. Entitled Mind, Brain and Personal Identity, it’s still being taught there, almost 20 years later.

One of the reasons for studying Philosophy is that it challenges your assumptions about the world as well as the ‘cultural programming’ of how you happened to be brought up. This particular module challenged my beliefs around a person being a single, contiguous being from birth to death.

That’s why I found this article by Esko Kilpi about workplace culture and identity particularly interesting:

There are two distinctly different approaches to understanding the individual and the social. Mainstream thinking sees the social as a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is separate from the individuals. “I” and “we” are separate things and can be understood separately.

Although he doesn’t mention it, Kilpi is actually invoking the African philosophy of Ubuntu here.

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “I am because we are,” and also “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Instead of seeing the individual as “silent and private” and social interaction as “vocal and more public”, individuals are “thoroughly social”:

In this way of thinking, we leave behind the western notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other. From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing. We form our groups and our followerships and they form us at the same time, all the time.

This is why I believe in open licensing, open source, and working as openly as possible. It maximises social relationships, and helps foster individual development within those groups.

Source: Esko Kilpi

An app to close down your workday effectively

In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he talks about the importance of closing down your working day properly, so you can enjoy leisure time. Ovidiu Cherecheș, a developer, has built an web application called Jobs Done! to help with that:

This app is built on Cal Newport’s shutdown ritual concept from his book Deep Work.

The need for a shutdown ritual comes from the following (oversimplified) reasoning:

  1. Deep focus is invaluable for producing great work
  2. We can only sustain deep focus for a limited amount of hours per day
  3. To be able to focus deeply consistently our mind requires rest (ie. complete disconnect from work) between working sessions

It makes sense to me. So here’s how this app works:

You decide it’s time to call it a day.

You are guided through a set of (customizable) steps meant to relieve your mind from work-related thoughts. This often involves formalizing thoughts into tasks and creating a plan for tomorrow. Each step can have one more external links attached.

Then you say a “set phrase” out loud. This step is personal so choose a set phrase you resonate with. Verbalizing your set phrase “provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”

Finally, you’re presented an array of (customizable) pastime activities you could do to disconnect.

I think this is one of those things you use to get into the habit, and then you probably don’t need after that. Worth trying!

Source: Web app / Code

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

(Susan Ertz)

CUNY Commons in a Box OpenLab

Earlier this year, at the Open Education Global conference in Delft, I went to a session where members of staff from CUNY talked about ‘Commons in a Box’. The latest version, now referred to as ‘CBOX OpenLab’ has just been released:

CBOX OpenLab provides a powerful and flexible open alternative to costly proprietary educational platforms, allowing individual faculty members, departments, and entire institutions to easily set up an online community space designed for open learning.

Its name brings together two important ideas: openness and collaboration. Unlike closed online teaching systems, CBOX OpenLab allows members to share their work openly with one another and the world. Like a lab, it provides a space where students, faculty, and staff can work together, experiment, and innovate.

It’s effectively a WordPress plugin which transforms a vanilla install of the content management system into something that allows for collaboration in an academic context. I’m looking forward to having a play!

I had to click through several link-strewn pages to get to the meat of it, so let me just share that here, for the sake of clarity.

Sources: Announcement / Showcase / WordPress plugin

"Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity."

(Jean de La Bruyère)

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