Data for Action — principles refresh

Tom C W
3 min readDec 18, 2023
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In January 2023 Tom French and I got together to mull over the idea of a company framed around approaches we had been collaborating on. 3 months later Data For Action was born. Last week Tom French and I got together to have a bit of a review and reflect session.

We focused on a few simple questions.

What has gone well? What hasn’t gone well?
What is niggling at us?

It’s safe to say that things have gone better than we imagined, with lots of positives. But there were still a few things that were niggling us. What were they and what should we do about them?

Guided by Principles

We don’t really have a strategy in the traditional sense. What we do have though is a set of principles that are meant to guide how we operate. And so we spent time reflecting on whether we really were living those principles, and indeed whether those principles needed updating.

This process was really good, as it helped us work through and articulate some of the things that had been niggling at us, and helped us to purposefully decide a course of action.

One of the Principles I personally like the most and find extremely useful is ‘No Bullshit’.

For us this means the language we use, the relationships we hold and the work we do. Honesty, transparency and constructive challenge are at the heart of our approach.

We even changed the language in one of our other principles because, well, it sounded like bullshit. It also helps us to challenge ourselves as to whether the work we do means something, and if it doesn’t, well we don’t do it.

Learn and developing

One of our principles is Always learning, meaning we are always learning and developing what we do. When we got to testing ourselves on this, we determined that while we were learning, we weren’t really developing, at least not in ways we wanted to. We want to do more, contribute more to the commons, inspire and re-imagine.

To do this, we needed to ring fence time to do exactly this, develop. So we agreed that we would set time and resources aside for the next 12 months specifically for development, not project work. This will allow us to pursue ideas, develop tools and resources, and really invest in Data For Action in a broader sense.

We have committed to an ‘Open Backlog’, where we will be housing ideas such as projects, resources or tools. These will help us and others see what we are working on now, and what we hope to work on in the future, laying out simply the ideas and progress we make. The Open Backlog also acts as an invitation to others to collaborate with us on developing the ideas.

Sustainability

We added a new principle, about Sustainability. For us this means we will make decisions on where we spend money and who we work with based on ethics and we will always think about how best to sustain the work for the commons, even if that means giving it away.

So we reviewed for instance where we bank (Starling — open by default right). Is this as ethical as we can be at the moment? Maybe, but we’ll continue reviewing this.

The second part of the principle focuses on sustainability of tools and resources that we create. We always want work we do to be sustained beyond the life of any project, and so are always trying to connect and share. But we also recognise that sometimes for things to be sustained maybe they need to be given away in their entirety, and we’re comfortable with that.

Refreshed Principles

So we got to a set of refreshed principles that will continue to guide us, as our ‘Strategy’. And we’re excited for what comes next, as we work with intention in the open.

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Tom C W

Do Good, Be Awesome. Thoughts on startups, social change, awesome things, and possibly running.