The Tuning Fork
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The Tuning Fork

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5 Decentralised Organising Tips For A New COVID-19 Volunteer Project

Engaging volunteers; learning loops; decision-making; care; celebration

Today I had a call with Manu Alzuru from Fight Pandemics, a brand new volunteer project enabling peer-to-peer mutual aid in response to COVID-19. I gave him 30 minutes of rapid-fire advice, some of the “top tips” for a new self-organising network like this. You can watch the video here or keep reading for the ultra-condensed version of the top 5 tips.

Thanks Manu for learning out loud with us 😻

1. Don’t expect 100% engagement.

“Participation inequality” is to be expected, e.g. Jakob Nielsen found the general “1–9–90” pattern, meaning 1% of online community members are highly engaged, 9% are occasional contributors and 90% are passive.

Eventually it may be useful to define these engagement thresholds explicitly. E.g. you must contribute X amount before you earn voting rights in important decisions.

2. Hold tight learning loops.

During emergent, highly dynamic, disruptive, energetic times, focus on small learning loops. Set a weekly rhythm. Start the week by choosing what experiments you are going to run, and end the week with a reflective conversation, looking at what we did and more importantly: how we’re working.

Focus on choosing 1 small organising improvement to try each week. (E.g. let’s see what happens when we adopt a new decision making protocol for a week.)

Collective intelligence emerges from regular reflection: put your energy into understanding the recent past (data) rather than predicting the future (speculation).

See retromat.org for more guidance on how to run these meetings.

3. Formalise the advice process.

Advice process = “anyone can take any decision, after they first seek advice from people who will be affected & people with expertise.” This method often arises spontaneously in a group, but formalising and naming the process can help to clarify the shared understanding that this is how we work around here.

See the Reinventing Organisations Wiki for more guidance on this decision-making method.

4. Look after each other.

Extraordinary chaotic times like these put people under huge emotional & mental strain. You can design organising structures that help people to feel cared for.

For example, we’re prototyping the “digital campfire” over at The Stoa. This i how it works: gather 10–100 people for a Zoom call, start with 20 minutes of framing, then split into breakout groups of 2–3 people for 20 minutes of intimate conversation (e.g. “tell us about a time you felt really well cared for…”), then come back to the whole group for 20 minutes of report-backs from the breakouts. Instant good vibes and connection! Increases trust and psychological safety, which leads to greater engagement and more effective learning.

5. Make space for celebration.

Celebrating progress is a great way to connect and bond and let go of past tensions. For example, at Enspiral we have a #thanks channel on Slack, where we appreciate each other’s contributions. Or have a proper launch party when you deliver a new product (champagne over Zoom?).

That’s it for now! Check the video for more details.

If you’re looking for more guidance:

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