Problems that motivate me

I have been very lucky in the months since I left mySociety, in that I have been in a position to take plenty of time to read, write and think deeply about what to do next with my life. Talking to my friends before I left I became aware of just how rare it is, as an adult, to be able to take more than 30 seconds to think about what’s next for your life and career. Aware of this good fortune, I set about the job with a certain diligence (and the occasional beach-side coconut).

One thing I wanted to get clear in my mind was which high-level problems I care about enough to want to put a lot of time into. This turns out to be a very interesting exercise — I encourage you all to write down a list of everything external that motivate you. This post is a summary of my own conclusions.

To construct this list I read all sorts of interesting things — including books of obituaries, trying to see what lives well-lived looked like. I read papers and books expressly to try to challenge and undermine my own beliefs in the seriousness or tractability of certain problems. Sometimes the research was quite hard going: it’s amazing how little evidence there is about some of the most talked about issues in our world.

Then I started to compile various lists and write various essays, like the one on power that I published a couple of days ago. But the key list, which I think will shape a lot of my focus in the year ahead, is this one:

  1. Helping people to escape poverty
  2. Helping people cope with the effects of rapid technological change
  3. Corruption by people in positions of power
  4. The lamentable state of the British news media
  5. Offshore tax evasion
  6. The weakening of the social safety net
  7. The technical and scientific ignorance of our ruling classes
  8. The lack of transparency in institutions that would serve us all better if they made the leap
  9. Britain’s terrible property situation
  10. Britain’s deeply flawed civil service
  11. The missed opportunity for law-making and policy-making to be done better, using digital tools and experimental methods
  12. The loneliness and indignity that many people face in old age, and how I might get my own generation to work on long term solutions
  13. The failure of progressives to develop and adopt policies that seize upon the empowering affordances of digital technologies
  14. Ways in which philanthropic and government grant giving and impact investing could be done better
  15. The scarcity of new social institutions that exist to ensure that we all benefit from the digital revolution as much as is possible

This list is not just a list of problems I care about. It’s also a list of areas where I could see myself making a contribution that is at least better than absolute zero. The sharp eyed will note that it’s missing huge issues like climate change, and that’s mainly because I’m not sure I have anything particular to bring to that struggle.

I am posting today because I would like to talk with other people who are thinking about, or already working in any of these areas. I have a few skills to offer, and I am blessed in that I am not having to rush into the first job that comes along. I am keen to talk with people who have been working on these issues for many years, as well as people who have just started. And I am aware that I’m tremendously ignorant about some of the issues on my list - I hope I can be a good pupil when it comes to those.

I am also posting this list as a precursor to various forthcoming blog posts I’ll be putting up, many of which touch on or directly dig into some of these issues.

So if any of these issues interest you, or if you know of interesting people working on these issues, do please get in touch.