Weeknotes 2021
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Weeknotes 2021

Weeknotes 2021 — week 32

This week’s notes make for sobering reading…

Sometimes it feels like we’re trudging along the Road, feet shuffling through a thick layer of ash, towards the ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The crushing black vacuum of the universe, leaning in towards us. The end.

But perhaps I’m being melodramatic.

Grocery shopping in 2030

After all, the Prime Minister described the latest IPCC report as “sobering reading”, which feels another appropriate response to a crisis. And a bloke at a barbeque told me he couldn’t give up meat because he loves the taste so much. And you can’t argue with that. But hopefully he won’t have to. In just eight years, he’ll probably even be able to cook his burgers on the embers of his dreams.

So to this week’s notes. Although of course, if we lived on the Road, there would be no lists of things to be done. Each day would be providential to itself. So, every ash cloud and all that…

But until the apocalypse, I’ll keep plugging away at my To Do list. Here’s a few things I’ve been up to over the past couple of weeks.

R,D & D

Work continues on developing a new performance management process. Our pilot of OKRs seems to be going relatively well so far, bar the odd technical hitch with our prototype dashboards built in Excel. But sometimes I wonder if we should just be measuring vibes?

We have also now moved to the stage of designing what the Board-level reporting looks like too. The user research we conducted several weeks ago — interviewing key stakeholders asynchronously using VideoAsk — has been immensely helpful in shaping the final product. We’ve been able to convert the feedback into product requirements and feature specifications, including creating value statements using the format “As a [X role], I want to [know Y], so that [I can achieve Z]”. I’m hoping this will result in a performance measurement and reporting system that better meets different stakeholders' needs from the very beginning, without too much iteration further down the line. Because as you know, we ain’t got much time left!

Impact!

As part of our progression to being even more data-informed, I stumbled across this model for organisational data maturity that I thought was worth sharing. It came from a presentation by Franky Stephenson, who has set up an excellent business intelligence function at Antony Nolan. You can find out more about it here. But the model has helped me realise that, despite our best efforts, we still have a way to go before we have a fully-mature business intelligence function. A road to travel, you might say.

Franky also introduced me to Alteryx, which is a self-service data science tool. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the tool was incredibly helpful during the heights of the pandemic, when we needed to clean and crunch data very quickly to inform how much emergency funding was required and where. This week I met with their incredibly helpful support team, to learn more about how to read data from PDF files. Which felt like a significant step forwards in our ambition to reduce manual data entry processes, though given the inconsistent state of Companies House data, doesn’t eliminate them completely.

I also met with the team at Impact Information Co, to discuss future feature developments for the dashboards they’ve built for us. These dashboards provide monthly credit and debit card transaction data for every postcode in the country, enabling us to better understand the local economies we work in and how they change over time. It’s also a good example of how to use private data for public good, and is currently also being put to good effect by Social Investment Business in their study tracking how coastal towns are recovering from the pandemic. Margate seems to be bouncing back stronger than Alan Partridge.

What I’ve learnt

I recently attended an excellent internal training session on diversity, equity and inclusion. It referred to Bobbie Haro’s cycle of socialisation model, which is a useful way of thinking about how oppressive and discriminatory systems emerge, and how privileged groups lack the incentives to change the system. We were of course thinking about our role as a funder, and the power and privilege that comes with having a lot of money to allocate to others. In this context it was about how we can use our position to address issues of racial inequity and injustice, rather than accentuate them. But I think the model is also useful for understanding our response to the climate and nature crisis.

I’m always surprised by the number of people who are ‘aware’ of climate change but still can’t bring themselves to change their personal habits, like flying or driving less, or giving up beef and dairy. I know it’s not all about personal habits and consumption, but sometimes it feels like, to paraphrase Slavoj Zizek, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine not having a steak. But I guess when the day comes that you can fry a steak on the pavement, it’ll be a win-win. Though there may be a whiff of other fried flesh in the air too.

But finally, to end on a more optimistic and happier note, I’m pleased to have been appointed as Chair of Cliftonville Cultural Centre. The organization was formed after a group of local residents successfully campaigned to save an old synagogue from falling into the hands of private developers. With the asset saved, we now have a big renovation project on our hands, with a view to opening it up to the local community, which is amongst the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. I’m really keen to use my skills and experience to help them transform this asset into a place that benefits everyone, so watch this space for further updates (and if you know of any similar projects we can take inspiration from, please ping suggestions over!). The plan is to formally open the doors by 2025, which will give us a good few years before Margate is under water 🌊😉

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Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

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Social researcher and writer. Putting theory into practice, to make the world a better place.