I read something a while ago about learning to live and act more in tune with the seasons* and it really resonated with me. Mainly the point about Winter being a time to recharge, reflect, consolidate, and Spring to be a time of action. And so it is for me, as I now spring into action with a new focus and a new company to do more, hopefully by doing less.
I set up The Good Ship around 3.5 years ago and it’s been a cool ride of working with excellent people and doing interesting things. Last year was the busiest and financially the best year so far. Now as someone with a small child, without a regular household income and no generational wealth to fall back on I’ll never complain about having work. But, when I finally had a chance to slow down, I felt that although I was doing “well”, I wasn’t doing one of my biggest drivers for going it alone in the first place.
One of the foundational principles of my work is to take an Open by Default approach, openly sharing outputs and learning so they can be used by others, contributing to the commons. This has led to things like The Organisational Resilience Guide developed with LBF being released on a Creative Commons licence, training resources being shared freely, templates being developed, and directories like this and this being curated.
More to the commons?
I’ve always considered The Good Ship to be part of the loose infrastructure of the social purpose sector, after all, my last real job was in national infrastructure and I see the huge importance of this role. Last year, as the work increased, I felt I was able to do less to contribute to the commons. I’ve always aimed for 20% of The Good Ship to be devoted to free help, and even though I nearly managed this again, it felt fragmented, and siloed. The free work was more individual, and therefore not contributing to the commons in a way I wanted. Anyone who knows me, knows I talk a lot about being intentional, and I felt that The Good Ship, and me, had lost some of that intention.
In some ways I consider myself a generalist. Yes most of my work is in digital or data, however I also intentionally do work across the breadth of organisations, as I think the only way to really help is to work with an understanding of how people and organisations function as a whole. Digital is not separate from data, is not separate from strategy, is not separate from impact, is not separate from…etc. I’ve come to the conclusion however that this means I sometimes need to be more intentional with how I determine my role and approach.
Data for… Action?
Coinciding with this reflection I’ve also been thinking about my approach to ideas. One especially is my approach to supporting organisations with Data. I’ve worked with Tom French informally for a number of years and over the last year we’ve collaboratively developed an approach to data work that feels right. I’ve grown increasingly adverse to terms like data for good, and have often seen organisations take a ‘data for the sake of data’ approach. For the past year we have been developing and testing a question centred approach in various forms which has shown to really unlock data thinking across organisations, democratising data, and leading to action.
And, after all the testing and development, we have now taken the decision to form a company to take this further. Why a new company you might ask? Well, for one thing I can tell you it is NOT because I love collecting government gateway logins!
For me a new company serves a few key purposes.
- The potential to collaboratively increase scale and impact
- The potential to have a longer lasting contribution to the commons
- Provides intention and focus
So we have launched Data for Action. You can read more about the company and our first major project with JRF here.
What about The Good Ship?
So what does this mean for The Good Ship? Well for one The Good Ship will be doing much less in the data space, and will be focusing more on digital and organisational design. This may include intentionally moving into more product development within civic tech. I think this is a really interesting time, where small companies can develop tech at rapid speed with lower development costs to really support the social purpose sector. If we really want Tech for Good, we can’t rely on big tech, with unethical processes and with the sector as at best a secondary focus, and at worst an ethics-washing function. We have to do more ourselves, and I see a role for me and The Good Ship in this. What exactly this role is, I’m still exploring.
On a practical level, if you currently work with me, not much will materially change at present. I’ll still be working on the whole organisation, I’ll still be Open by Default, I’ll still try to connect the dots, I’ll still be doing random experiments (maybe even more!), and i’ll still be thinking about tending to reefs.
*You could argue that living in the north east of england that there are only two seasons, wet & cold and wet & slightly warm (or big coat and little coat)