Weeknotes: citizen sector, metaphors, using data, small groups, OPEN2020

Via Francis Irving - small groups:
twitter screenshot

I'd like something like this, and now I'm wondering what the frame would be.
What about subject matter? Historical Small Groups are a mixture of the specific (model railways, building personal computers, writing fantasy fiction) and the eclectic (art, culture, philosophy, general self-improvement). In a sense, I do not think it matters, and the potential landscape is broad.

From a purely personal perspective, however, I do not (yet) have any one thing that takes priority over my other interests. Therefore, my selfish bias is to create something under some kind of umbrella niche that is not too specific.
Yes, that. Are the vaguely connected topics of interest I include in this blog something you might be interested in a Small Group about? Let me know.

Alastair Parvin's notes on a recent Audrey Tang interview are excellent.
One of the stubborn category errors we have repeatedly made in recent decades — especially in the US and Western Europe — is that we have tended to frame digital technology and the Web as an exclusively private sector phenomenon. Or worse a ‘Silicon Valley’ phenomenon. ‘Tech companies’, Facebook, Google, Amazon and so on. And so we subconsciously bundled digital tools and methods with the values and purposes we have seen them put to thus far (by capital).

But the web is not an exclusively private sector phenomenon, unless we let it be so. The web is no more a tool of capital than paper was. Paper is paper; you can inscribe it with any set of values and use it for any purpose. It just depends who controls it and how they use it.

... what COVID 19 has revealed is that in the UK and US especially, Government has spent so long believing that its job is to ‘get out of the way’ — so long thinking that its only strategic objective is to enable big business — that it is literally no longer capable of acting effectively to achieve strategic social aims, even when it needs to, because it has stripped-back and outsourced its own capacity.

... The UK Government couldn’t build the same kind of open PPE supply data dashboard Audrey describes, because despite the work of organisations like GDS, NHSX and small digital teams across government, it literally doesn’t have access to standardised supply chain data: or the open, shared digital registers with APIs. Companies do not have to share this kind of data into shared commons. In the UK, even the government’s own maps and postcode systems are privately owned. During the COVID crisis, the UK Gov has handed out £bns in private contracts without competitive tender and seems to have remarkably little to show for it.

.... Audrey also talks about the ‘social sector’ – citizens and non-profit organisations. In the UK we barely know how to even talk about these sectors, let alone invest in them or recruit them at the service of big civic goals or systems innovation challenges... So instead, we just end up with Amazon, Google, Capita, Deloittes etc.
This all lead to a Twitter discussion, also inspired by chatter at Open2020 where we tried to work out where the mutual sector fitted with civil society, non-profits, charities, co-ops of different kinds, etc. What do we - here in the UK - call all the stuff that isn't the private sector, and isn't the state? The "third sector" is both vague and unrelatable and frankly many people have never heard of it. Open2020 folks suggested "mutual sector". "Social sector" perhaps, or, better, "citizen sector," seem like big improvements over the vague names in mainstream use today.

Graham Mitchell in the CoTech forum:
For me the beauty of the co-operative model is its elegance, its subtlety, its ability to be appear both totally conventional and deeply radical at one and the same time. Through this it is possible to engage much more broadly, right across the spectrum of society, and bring people together on that journey, through the process of co-operation. Of course, co-operatives are not perfect, but they can be very powerful tools for social transformation...
Being able to align different attitudes behind an idea is very helpful.

Nonprofitaf has always provided great commentary (despite being named for one of the less interesting features of the sector it covers, ha ha). They have two great articles this week - the first asks Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?
From his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

....In nonprofit and philanthropy, the white moderate thrives. Foundations, it manifests in your white-moderate hoarding of assets, refusing to increase payout beyond the bare minimum even while the fires of injustice rage on. Your white-moderate reluctance to fund Black, Indigenous, and other communities-of-color-led organizations over decades has contributed to all these problems. Your white-moderate disdain of funding advocacy and systems change work has let the fires spread unchecked. Your white-moderate discomfort with saying words like “white supremacy” and “slavery” and “reparation,” insistence on order and bureaucracy through grant applications and budgets and deadlines, dismissal of solutions proposed by marginalized communities in favor of those proposed by educated white elites, gravitation toward long timelines at your convenience—these things make you part of the problem even as we look to you for help to solve problems.

Nonprofits, we are equally guilty of white moderation. Our white-moderate fundraising philosophies and practices are centered entirely on making donors who are mostly white feel good about themselves. This prevents meaningful conversations about how white folks are benefitting from a racist system that has allowed them to build collective wealth through slavery and colonization, and their role in ending it. Without these conversations and the necessary actions that ensue, we nonprofits often become a fig leaf, a hobby for the rich, a self-reinforcing cycle of pity-and-heroism that prevents the actualization of true justice.
Those with privilege want to maintain it, so they will oppose change. However, a form of privilege we do not talk much about is Solutions Privilege, a phenomenon that includes people of privilege expecting solutions to be brought to them but being unable to even perceive solutions that challenge their privilege. They cannot even mentally register the solutions that are proposed, and that’s why they’re always like “Why don’t you propose solutions and stop whining?”

....However, there is a third force we have to contend with: Our individual personal conflicts of interest. We cannot confront power effectively without understanding that we are unconsciously motivated to NOT confront power.

18 months ago, I was invited to speak with two dozen foundation program officers about how inequitable philanthropy is, how inhospitable it has been for BIPOC-community-led organizations. I think there was one foundation board trustee there. The folks in the room were people I worked with and admire. “Communities of color are tired,” I said, “We’ve been saying these things again and again. You’ve been hearing these things again and again. Why will it take?”

The room went quiet for a few seconds. One program officer said, and I paraphrase, “Let’s admit it. Most of us have cushy jobs working for foundations. How can we rock the boat when we have well-paying jobs that we don’t want to lose?”

This was a refreshing moment of honestly that has stuck with me. All of us do this work because we believe in doing our part to create a just and equitable world. But let’s also be honest with ourselves, we also do this work because we have families to feed, rent to pay, futures to think about. All of us then have personal conflicts. If we push too much, if we cause too much trouble, we increase our chances of not being promoted, or getting demoted or fired. And besides the financial and career risks, there are potential costs to our reputations, our mental and emotional health, our sense of belonging to the “insider” group.

....We have to understand that people and institutions with privilege have all the formal the power, and formal power does not yield without being challenged. But to effectively challenge power, we must examine the personal conflicts we each have and wrestle with what we are each willing to give up to realize a world we know is possible.
Catherine Bracy on form:
For more than two years, TechEquity has been part of a coalition working to fix a gaping loophole in California’s tax code that allows corporations to avoid paying property taxes. This loophole has caused California’s school system and local governments to be massively underfunded for the last four decades, resulting in a steep decline in public education quality and social services that disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities. It also disadvantages new and forward-looking companies, like those in the tech industry, by giving a tax advantage to older corporations.

I thought that supporting the ballot initiative to close this loophole would be a no-brainer for the tech industry. ... But so far only one tech company, Postmates, has endorsed it.

... Last year Google, Apple and Facebook made high-profile announcements that they were making a collective $4.5B commitment to solving the Bay Area’s housing crisis. Reading the fine print, it was clear that the majority of the contributions came in the form of land that wasn’t zoned for housing production. Anyone who knows anything about housing in California knows how hard it is to build housing on land where it’s already legal, let alone to change the zoning code....  
But, as people are increasingly being pushed out of their homes and onto the streets, with homelessness disproportionately affecting Black people, these companies have made an active decision not to invest in the political and power-building work that is required to actually solve the housing crisis — even when doing so would cost significantly less than $4.5B. Stripe has made a $1M contribution to California YIMBY, a group advocating for more housing production, but it stands conspicuously alone in funding housing policy advocacy work.
Catherine gives some concrete suggestions for change too.

Vicki Boykis notes that surprisingly little attention has been paid to Uber's corporate espionage of ordinary citizens

Because if Uber is doing it, then all the other comapnies are likely doing it too.

And what this means is that, not only are our private communications not safe from the CIA, NSA, and advertisers, they’re also not safe from companies coming in to impersonate people we trust, if those people are tied to sketchy companies.

Ok, granted, all of this this is a little tinfoil-hat-y, even for me. But if Uber did it, where else is it happening, against the growing chaos of the backgrop that is misinformation, fake news, and corporate surveillance that is now our digital lives?

A reminder from Niels ten Oever and Mallory Knodel about their document about terminology, power and offensive language in the IETF - perhaps now is a time when this proposal is more acceptable, as it was not originally received well. The draft suggests moving away from master-slave, and blacklist-whitelist, as well as checking for gender neutral pronouns and reflecting on the use of metaphors. (Metaphors are something I've been struggling with lately - too much exposure to military language in the workplace, amongst other things, leaving me with unhelpful analogies I am now trying to shed.)

Separately, I spotted a script from Adam Mayer to rename github branches so you can stop using the term 'master' there too.

An idea from Dan Hon about what disciplines we might need alongside data science.

From Lee Vinsel, a summary of Jeffrey Funk's recent examination of hype in the tech sector, finding that today's startups are not doing as well as those of previous generations. 

Michael Veale has some good points about the UK government AI procurement guidelines. As ever procurement isn't cool but it is how stuff gets done. And how procurement guidelines get made isn't necessarily reassuring.

His paper on this uses a Discworld analogy to point out why we might want a bit more emphasis on when you don't want to be applying AI magic.

I went to a few CogX sessions, once I'd defeated their ticketing system and frustrating, privacy-eating conference platform (and I ended up watching things on YouTube as this was much less painful). A particular highlight was a super talk from Hannah Fry about all the things that data can't do - the "elephant in the room". I was slightly saddened in the discussion with Wendy Hall afterwards though, where a useful idea about software audit and checking was raised, and then rather diminished as everyone laughed about how such a role would be "not very sexy", not creative, and no one would want to do it. Of course - if we laugh at those who might take on auditor roles, dimissing them as not creative, we continue to valorise new things, and devalue maintenance and testing... which was the point being made in the first place.

The Good Law Project are crowdfunding for action around a big UK government PPE contract going to an apparently tiny company without any bidding process.

From Frederike Kaltheuner, a timeline (working document) of the UK’s tech response to COVID-19.

This seemed a useful thread from Stephen Reicher about the reality of human responses to government action.

David Allen Green's breakdown of the quarantine law (video) is interesting, not just because it shows you what the law is about, but also how these things are constructed. This one does not seem good - even though business groups have complained that it's very restrictive, all sorts of unlikely roles and circumstances are excluded.

Some of the work done around the UK in making PPE was written up - it's not entirely factually accurate, but a good overview of many projects.

Covid stuff in Wired via Lilian Edwards, who asks: how do we know if children are asymptomatic, presymptomatic or just paucisymptomatic? (She also helped me understand how frustrating the new 'bubble' guidance can be :)
The WHO on Tuesday attempted to correct the record—clarifying that the confusion was due to a muddling of scientific lingo. “Asymptomatic” has a general definition, of course: It means “presenting no symptoms of disease.” But scientists like Van Kerkhove also use the term in a narrower sense. She suggested she was referring to cases in which people spend the entire course of their illness symptom-free. That’s different from “presymptomatic” cases, in which people without symptoms test positive but later go on to show signs of illness.

...there’s yet another term for those mild cases: paucisymptomatic.
James Plunkett from Citizens Advice points out that people look for information about divorce on Sundays. Redundancy searches rise in recent weeks:

graph of recent Citizens Advice searches
via https://twitter.com/jamestplunkett/status/1271349682942468096

Small bits.

Apple won a legal fight with a small repair shop in Norway. The ability, let alone right, to repair items you've bought is still easily thwarted by commercial pressure like this.

The Maintainers have secured funding from Sloan! This is excellent news and will help support the community.

Teas on Twitter. There was a lot of this, and like so many memes I guess it will be forgotten soon enough, but these two comments stood out:
twitter screenshot

twitter screenshot

It was carers week. I'm not sure many people noticed.
twitter screenshot

The Food Foundation updated an earlier report to create Veg Facts In Brief [PDF]. We aren't eating enough vegetables. Only 21% of adults eat more than 3.5 portions of veg - this is half the Eatwell guidelines of 7 portions of fruit and veg a day.
With UK availability of veg heavily dependent on imports and a seasonal migrant horticultural workforce, the case for investing in the UK's efficient yet historically underfunded horticultural sector still stands.
● With financial institutions predicting a global recession, the need to ensure that veg is accessible and affordable remains as important as ever in the face of rising unemployment, shrinking disposable incomes, and widening health and dietary inequalities.
● With policymakers, farmers, and food businesses currently facing the challenging conundrum of how best to rebuild and adapt, the risks climate change and Brexit pose to UK vegetable supplies in the longer-term have not gone away.

In the six weeks that followed the start of lockdown in the UK, 5 million households experienced food insecurity, with 72% of parents receiving free school meal vouchers reporting that they were worried about getting enough veg.

I've been following the progress of Bellevie since I helped support some of their cohort at Zinc.   Their latest update - with all the attendant ups and downs of any startup, especially one which is trying to improve social care - has a lovely bit about performance management for teams:
Confirmation Practices are an alternative approach to understanding and managing performance. Confirmation Practices do this by putting an emphasis on:
  •     Fostering responsibility over ‘holding to account’.
  •     Favouring shared sense-making over judging.
  •     Using operational descriptions of ‘what good looks like’ over metrics as the anchor point for understanding performance.
  •     Generating fellowship over followership.
Easier Inc created Confirmation Practices to help people and organisations develop more effective and more human(e) ways of working. We first saw them in action during our partnership with Wellbeing Teams and realised how empowering and more effective than traditional performance management it was. Statements define a roles, and individuals meet with a buddy fortnightly who supports them to take responsibility for how they are doing, and agree actions to take forward. 
This seems a really useful approach.

Thanks Russell Davies for the idea of the thermocline of truth - as discussed here:
One of the questions that will need to be asked of TfL is the timeline that led up to the decision to delay. We will tackle the validity of that decision shortly, but its timing – and suddenness – suggests that they may have been some element of the ‘thermocline of truth’ in play. This is something to which large rail projects – most notably GTR’s new timetable rollout – have repeatedly shown they are susceptible to. It is the principle that bad news tends to accrue at a lower management level, because no one wants to be the person who moves a project risk marker from ‘yellow’ to ‘red’ on a RAG chart. As a result, pessimism and a belief that the project will overrun ‘bubbles up’ to a certain decision-making level but never beyond, as if hitting the thermal layer that exists in the ocean. Eventually, the issues reach critical mass and force their way through, leaving senior management wonder why everything ‘suddenly’ went wrong, when in fact the signs that the project was troubled existed at a lower level for some time.
It is not new news that giving people data does not magically address power inequalities or corruption or dodgy behaviour:

twitter screenshot

This 2016 Reboot article by Panthea Lee had a helpful concept in it (HT Giulio Quaggiotto):
They wondered: Why are we collecting real-time data, when we can’t implement real-time programs? 
... Reboot has seen this dynamic in ethnographies we’ve done, studying both development donors and implementers. In practice, we’ve found that the problem of the counter-bureaucracy results in two types of data.

We call the first type of data Downstream Data, or management data. It’s the patient survey data that helps a health clinic administrator understand that her staff have been overcharging patients for medicines. It’s the SMS-based birth registration system that helps the government understand where schools need to be built. It’s the sensors that help farmers know how much water they need to sustain their crops. In short, Downstream Data is useful for adaptive management and can help programs generate impact.

Upstream Data, or reporting data, is mostly for high-level decisionmakers and oversight bodies. It is useful for institutional accountability, strategic planning, and stakeholder coordination—which are all important.

But the fixation on Upstream Data, as represented by the counter-bureaucracy, does tend to conflate countability with impact. When we look closely at how decisionmakers at the highest levels use upstream data, there seems to be a widespread assumption that there’s a correlation between the number of indicators and the magnitude of “development happening.” The more we can measure, this assumption goes, the more impact we’ve had.

As Natsios points out, the opposite is true: “The development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable.”

...  The other challenge with Upstream Data is that it’s designed for people who are not close to the issues. To be quickly parsed and understood, data needs to be aggregated, processed, and “success-storied” and meet these audiences’ needs. It is slotted into inflexible indicators, suited to reporting templates, and gathered on donor timelines. In short, Upstream Data has a lot of the context stripped away. So it often doesn’t reflect the dynamic interplay between work on the ground and the data that’s needed to make sense of what’s happening.

But, unfortunately, it’s usually Upstream Data that is the highest priority. It serves the goals of those who have the most power, and it’s connected directly to funding streams. Downstream Data serves beneficiaries who generally wield less power, and the structures for collection are less well-defined.

Vinay Gupta can be hard going - and I wish he'd produce shorter summaries - but as ever has some interesting points in his latest article about human rights and the state of the world.
We need a trans-ideological consensus to allow people with incompatible world models to tolerate each other well enough to work together to combat climate change and preserve and expand our rights as human beings. 
... The elites live highly leveraged lives, personally, politically, and economically because over-all, in the good times, risk is good. The more risks you take, the faster you climb the ladder. Power is the ability to suppress downside risks: when something goes wrong, you know you will be protected....They’ve concentrated so much personal risk into their positions that if the system as a whole has to be cooled and basic needs reprioritized, their entire house of cards will come down.

.... You can look, situation by situation, rule by rule, law by law, and ask “am I harming these the children?” If the answer is yes, you don’t do that. The kids are profoundly collateral damage in the power struggles of the adults, and we’re using them like hostages all the time. But a cease fire could be arranged.
Phil Gyford notes that it's already post-apocalytic for some people. Whoa.
... via Jason Kottke, is this article by Julian Brave NoiseCat, a Native American, which includes:

An Indian named Cowboy once told a lecture hall full of Frenchmen that us Natives are a postapocalyptic people. … Although I had never heard it articulated the way Cowboy expressed it, I already knew that we are a postapocalyptic people.

I feel stupid for having previously thought of “the apocalypse” as only an imagined, possible, future event, after which we maybe live a grim The Road-like existence. But I would think that, because I’m a white, 21st-century, Briton – if we’ve ever suffered from an apocalypse (the Black Death?) we’ve long since recovered. I don’t feel post-apocalyptic about the Plague.

Obviously, I’m aware that other peoples have suffered and even been wiped out entirely but I don’t think I’d ever linked the word “apocalypse” and thus “post-apocalyptic” to things like the wiping out of aboriginal peoples, or the Holocaust. I had a very narrow definition. And once I do that I can imagine that the early 21st century – which for me is, relatively, fine (yes, despite all this) and therefore pre-apocalyptic – can, at the same time, be a post-apocalyptic world for those like Cowboy, Julian Brave NoiseCat, their people and others. A society can contain post-apocalyptic dystopias for some, while for others it’s just fine.

Alex Steffen shares this visualisation, in case we'd forgotten about climate:

via https://twitter.com/AlexSteffen/status/1271137513923440645

Some bits of good news:

The last half of the week was OPEN 2020, in an online version (following a series of online events over recent weeks). It managed to retain much of the feel of a community with some shared interests but a wide range of projects, coming together to learn and share. The introductory framing slide was:

Open2020 framing slide
Simon Grant mentioned the importance of some sort of close social support, in whatever form this might take, as individuals cannot thrive alone. This perhaps is not family, any more, for many of us (in this particular location and time). Is "crew" (from Richard Bartlett's microsolidarity work) a better way of thinking about it? (And is this a form of Small Group?)
Francesca Pick talked about how the urgency at the start of the pandemic has shifted now to more listening, sensing, relfecting. The pandemic push online may be having a secondary effect of pushing things to be more participatory, with online collaboration, and the potential to become almost more intimate than face to face workshops.

OPEN2020 was excellent, very participatory and engaging, but I found some of the sessions on tools a little tech-centric and niche, losing sight of the ways people can, for instance, connect different communities more effectively and efficiently than fancy tooling systems. I wasn't the only participant talking about how we need community coordination and that this care labour should be better acknowledged, even in this participatory group. The fixation on tools and technical solutions can lead to a proliferation of tools, confusion (mentioned by several participants as part of tech tool overload), and supports certain mindsets(genders?) potentially at the risk of alienating others.

It was also good to see I wasn't the only participant who felt that swarms and similar loose structures all too often don't get stuff done - that it's easy to get bogged down in disorder, or to expend too much energy on process at the cost of the work at heart. That's been a frustration for me at previous meetings of this community.

Esther Foreman from the Social Change Agency talked about finance in the mutual space, amongst other things. The SCA do interesting work themselves, as a consultancy supporting organisations to build their own movements, and catalysing new movements where there are gaps, as well as the fiscal sponsorship/hosting offered via OpenCollective (and mentioned before in this blog). An example of a recent new movement is Young Trustees, changing the demographic of charity governance. Some attendees looked into SCA and were disappointed that it's a privately held company with limited transparency (and no particularly evident social purpose or asset lock or whatever). Esther mentioned how the rise in digital campaigning has "polluted the well of democracy", and has been working to restore trust more recently. The list of SCA-fiscally-sponsored projects is quite impressive now, with a lot of UK pandemic response initiatives benefitting from the SCA's offer.

Renata Ballesteros cited Virginia Held's Ethics of Care[PDF], as a way to replace our recent 'ethics of justice' which appears to be focussed on competition.

The whole event ran on new tools operated collectively by the Online Meeting Cooperative, which was a brave experiment, which mostly worked out OK.
Co-operatively run cloud services have been of interest to me for a while and it was good to catch up with the latest - meet.coop is a collaboration between webarchitects.co.uk, femProcomuns.coop, CommonsCloud.coop and collective.tools. People also mentioned cobox.cloud.

meet.coop members

The other highlight for me was Albert Tucker, who talked about real projects doing things like coffee production, and the forces around there money comes from and how that affects getting stuff done more mutually. More practical case studies like this would be good next time.

Old but sadly accurate:

twitter screenshot