JRF week 9

Ella Fitzsimmons
5 min readDec 13, 2020

I’m bad at good habits — other than American standards of dental care — so I almost skipped this week’s weeknotes. I got a Christmas tree, though, so the winter solstice is saved.

But here we are. I discovered a new, useful term this week: “hope labour”. According to the article I read, it’s about the sort of work that you do in the hope of exposure, and perhaps even an interesting job at the end. The article’s from 2013, so misses out on the ways that centralising platforms undermine the promises of hope labor. Though quotes like this show the sort of abstraction I find funny about a lot of academic research about internetty social phenomena:

The web is a meritocracy — a dizzying talent show anyone can enter. If you are good and if you work hard — really, really hard — your stuff will be found … you’ll look back at the days you did write for free, and realize they were your digital-age apprenticeship — for which you were compensated after all. (2011, para. 7, 8)

That…is not true.

And certainly wasn’t the case for everyone in and around 2011 either.

I remember refusing to write for free during the last big recession in 2009–2010. The only people I knew who did had rich parents or partners, or jobs that didn’t leave them totally exhausted at the end of their shifts.

A gentle reminder, dear readers, that meritocracy is not only a dystopian concept (Young: the father, not the embarrassment of a son), but also a myth (Appiah) and a trap (Markovits). Having the headspace to write for fun, or in the semi-worky-not-worky-ways of weeknotes is a privilege. It reminds me of how Audre Lorde describes the class differences between writing poetry and writing novels, I suppose. These are far from novels, but still.

I still like the phrase “hope labour”, if only because it reminds me of “hope chests”.

There’s a phrase in Swedish, förspilld kvinnokraft, which translates roughly to “women’s wasted labour”. All the sorts of things women are meant to do to make themselves attractive to men and families. Like elaborate, precise cooking or embroidering initials on a household worth of handkerchiefs. The sorts of things that went into hope chests.

Anyway, I was doing some hope labour at work this week. I think that’s sort of what pitches and business cases are. With any luck, it won’t be förspilld kvinnokraft!

Practical things

I was off sick for part of Monday. But then I was really ruthless about my calendar for most of the week. Really satisfying.

Look: I don’t believe in pulling yourself up your bootstraps. I don’t believe in meritocracy. I don’t believe in unpaid internships. Or that the upper lip needs to remain stiff at all times.

I do, however, have pretty rightwing views about calendar management and inboxes.

God helps those who help themselves with those two. Hard won knowledge, that.

Anyway, in my hoarded time, I’ve been digging through what I think we need to prototype, why, and in what order for the JRF website next year. Talking it through with colleagues in policy and getting some of the backstory of the current website. Definitely something I’ll come back to in early 2021.

The user centred design team finished off a sprint about JRF’s “framing service”. I’d scoped it pretty tightly, and around a pretty risky assumption. Super exciting to see them pivot in the middle, begin working out the best ways to work with colleagues in other parts of the organisation, speaking to real users. All the good stuff. They’ll be blogging about it (I *think* they know this?!? If not: Hi Jude, Camille and Holly and James and Laure and Paul — looking forward to your blog post), so no major spoilers here.

Daniel and Natasha have been focused on interviews for the associate product manager. And the Strat Comms teams have both published work about new parts of the housing trust *and* a report about destitution in the UK. TL;DR good teams and work going on, borked economy. Read all about it (and admire the GIFs) here:

Because I listened to too much Kenny Rogers as a child, the lyrics

“You gotta know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run”,

pop into my head at entirely non-heroic and undramatic times.

Like when asked to respond to a resourcing spreadsheet that a colleague had put together.

Politically, I don’t believe in hierarchies, and professionally, I don’t think they’re productive. But when you’re working in a more traditional organisation, it’s surprisingly tricky to not get swept away and want to prove that you, too, are a good and competent member of your tier. Saying “I don’t know, I’ll ask someone who is technically junior to me” feels ever so slightly rebellious. A bigger statement than it should be.

Anyway, I did that this week and it came up golden. Basically, Holly and Ryan know more about what the teams need from the rest of the organisation than I do. I then *also* get to be smug about servant-leadership, while actually doing very little beyond sending an email saying that ‘the delivery managers will get back to me on Thursday, and I’ll do what they say.’

I’ll let you guess which part of hold em/fold em/walk away or run that constitutes.

You should also just watch the music video to The Gambler, because it’s a masterpiece of low production values and high pretentions.

Fun things

I wish I didn’t like this as much as I did, but I’m a sucker for a manifesto.

Speaking of which, it’s always funny to realise that things that are really familiar to you are really…not…to other people.

I enjoyed this, about a week ago.

It’s a Swedish holiday today: Lucia. I enjoyed this photo about it, from the 60s.

Don’t sing at people who don’t want to be sung to, even if it’s the right time of year to do it.