So I’ve started a new job, remotely. I’m taking over as head of service design and transformation for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation while Sarah Mace is on maternity leave. Last year, I couldn’t write much because a lot of my work was under NDA. Figured I’d do some thinking out loud in this gig instead. I think I’ll eventually add it to my nice, new website (design, unsurprisingly, by Mark), but for now, I’ll use Medium.

Tiny wrap-up last week

Have mainly been freelancing this summer, after breaking my ankle severely as I left my job at Projects by IF. Have loved working with the good folks at UP Accelerator, and am glad that’s going to continue. (Sorry, Steve, I owe you an email.) The other week I wrapped up a short piece of work for Kate Simmons’s lovely Citizen Advice Lab team — good to see how they’re working on democratising and distributing innovation through their local offices. Sad that I didn’t get to catch up with the great Citizens Advice people, as well as Comuzi, in person. There’s something about ending projects remotely that makes them feel tentatively paused, rather than finished. Odd.

New job reckons

A lot of the first few weeks of starting any new job is asking “what” and “why”. Have been doing a lot of that. JRF started their transformation work in a different way than most of the programmes I’ve worked on. I’m used to seeing a prototype/redesigned service first, and then let’s see what happens. They’ve started with processes and ways of working. It’s an interesting experiment. (And I mean that genuinely — feels like it’s too soon to call whether, or how, it’s more or less effective.)

Had some brilliant meetings with new colleagues, which is really heartening. Clearly a lovely group of people who care a lot about their work. And an extreme generosity with their time and thoughts. Much appreciated.

Starting a new job during the pandemic is weird for lots of reasons, but especially because it’s hard to know how people are feeling. How do you show people you care about their well-being when you don’t know them, and aren’t meeting them in person? There’s always the risk that the people who say they’re fine…aren’t. That feels extra acute at the moment. Trying, though.

Trying to figure out things like budgets and resourcing and management meetings, without wailing “I’m a creative, what am I doing here!!!” in the middle of them when I don’t understand immediately. I have, in fact, asked for these things. And they’re useful. Like Fatima, I have retrained.

(Also, a lot of the people I saw tweeting about it would have approved that ad. Just saying.)

Things I’m thinking about

One of the things I’ve seen my male colleagues/network do is take time to think when they’ve started new jobs, rather than try to help and fix things. This has led to them being able to establish themselves as “strategic” while I zap around like a blue-arsed fly. So in this job, I’m looking after my time more aggressively.

(Is “strategic” just a reflection of privilege and confidence? DISCUSS.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about folk theories and formal narratives about digital transformation projects, and how none of the ones I’ve seen seem to work the way people say, or believe, they do. It always makes me think of the map-territory relation issue in semantics. Not just because of obvious issues with documentation and self-promotion, but also because of the need to flatten and simplify to create anything that anyone who wasn’t there can find interesting or useful. The violence of the letter is everywhere, I suppose. (And yes, I think it’s relevant that what tales of transformation make me think of is Derrida’s deconstruction of Triste Tropiques. There’s a lot of vaguely colonial expansionism in the language and representation — though perhaps that’s inevitable given the wider cultural context of the UK and the US.)

Remember reading Bateson when I was at GDS, in search of useful approaches and things to think with. Also because I’d just read quite a good novel about his affair with Margaret Mead. (Euphoria, by Lily King. It loses focus by the end. 6/10, but I’m a hard marker.) I still feel like cybernetics is a useful way of thinking about what you can and can’t control and influence.

Anyway.

Spoke to the good people at Sigma about training for the JRF lot, and enjoyed being part of a working group with Anna Fielding and co at Cohere about getting people to care about data. It’s kind of sad to see a lot of the same questions being rehashed, but good to see ongoing attempts at making sense of things. I worry, as always, that tech ethics and tech for good gets too far removed from the lived reality of people who make software, though.

Trying to make these unfiltered and unstructured, so leaving it here for now.

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