Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
A quick timeline:
7/6/10, 4:10pm – I noticed that @andyvglnt
had also picked-up the story, Tweeting “Danny Dyer’s new flick take £205 in 1st weekend? @Diazzzz
and I took more than that for band t-shirts and cupcakes yesterday!” Banter ensues… we decide that more people would choose to support the women Dyer ‘jokes’ about cutting, than would want to see his film. I suggest finding a suitable charity and sending a link to their donate page, @andyvglnt
suggests a page on JustGiving.com
, so we could see “how much more generous people are than Dyer is successful.”
7/6/10, 6:30 – £210 had been made, surpassing the goal and outdoing ‘Pimp’s opening weekend take.
8/6/10, 9:25am – £420 had been raised for Solace Women’s Aid, via 47 separate donors, pitching in between £2 and £100 each.
£420 is hardly going to change the world…
In the scheme of things this sum is not a remarkable total. But there are a few key learning points here for people who want to make change in the world, and for organisations that want to be a part of it.
There is an important idea in Complexity Theory that describes how “patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions
.” The common metaphor is of a flock of birds – there are no ‘leaders’ per se, but there is clearly an aligning of independent efforts that have an effect greater than any of the individual parts – the flock. There have been countless examples of how technology has enabled social ‘flocking’ to occur. What was simply a few combined hours of @andyvglnt
and my time, became something far bigger than either our efforts or our means (we are both pretty poor right now) could have achieved. Which leads to the next point…
In the timelines above, what I failed to mention was that about 2 minutes after I sent the 1st Tweet, I got an important phone call from my sister, who I spent the next 45-minutes speaking with. When I got back to the computer, £95 had been raised. @andyvglnt
had been pushing it during that time, but more than 20 people had also independently chosen to re-share (‘ReTweet’) the initial message and about 10 had already chipped in money. Most people simply shared the link or made a comment. A smaller number of people made a donation. @andyvglnt
and I contributed a couple hours of our afternoon/evening. If you could calculate the total effort, it would likely be a significant sum (given the £420 involved), but was hardly more than a few passing clicks of the mouse, for hundreds of different people.
How communication is changing via technology
Technology was obviously a big enabler in this process, whether as the initial source of information and the distribution platform (Twitter), or as the channel through which funds were received (JustGiving). But what it did was not unique to technology – it amplified and sped-up the natural human urge to share things we find valuable, allowing them to reach far more people than would have ever been possible without it.
The importance of autonomy
and I started sending messages back-and-forth, neither of us could foresee what would happen next – but we went ahead, followed our instincts and, when those instincts happen to match up with those of several hundred others, £420 that would otherwise have stayed in individual bank accounts, made it to Solace Women’s Aid
. There was no ‘fundraising strategy’, there was no plan that extended more than about 5 minutes into the future, there was just effort, and the snowballing effect of effort that gets reflected and multiplied by others. Very few voluntary organisations I have worked with would be in a position to have enabled this to happen, as how many people in professional jobs – even if women’s rights was at the core of their work – would be able to a) pick-up on a trivial bit of knowledge like ‘Pimp
’s dismal opening weekend take, and b) spend the afternoon acting on it, dropping whatever else was on the go?
How I’ve chosen to tie this into my workday
When I talk about ‘human institutions’ (as anyone who has read this blog before knows I often do), I am talking (in part) about organisations that support the potential of those within and around them to grow, and how the benefits of individual personal development can mesh with the development of the institution. This sounds simple enough, but is actually very counter-intuitive to many of the ideas that underlie traditional management know-how.
, myself and a few hundred others did in the course of our afternoons/evenings yesterday demonstrated the microcosmic potential of what can happen when passion goes viral. It’s happening all over the place these days. Organisations that can tap into this kind of passion, are often most successful, regardless of their field.
As Dan Pink outlines in his RSA talk on motivation, how Aussie software company Atlassian (though I don’t often site corporate examples) recognises some element of this (at about 5min40sec): “Once a quarter, on a Thursday afternoon they say to their developers, ‘for the next 24 hours you can work on anything you want… all we ask is that you show the results to the company at the end of that 24 hours.’” The results have been the creation and development of a whole range of new software fixes and products that would never otherwise have emerged.
My suggestion goes a step further…
While a dedicated day-per-quarter has been a successful model for supporting innovation at Atlassian, passion isn’t always something that can be scheduled, and may be sparked by, or may come to influence, a range of other time sensitive outside factors that don’t happen to fall on the given Thursday. In other words, within this model, these are still ‘lost’ opportunities. What would happen if a more flexible approach was taken, giving staff a certain amount of flexible time – maybe it’s a day a quarter, maybe it’s more, maybe it’s less – but that, when the conditions were right, people could feel empowered to run with an idea, while it’s ‘still warm’? The logistics of this would prove challenging for most organisations, depending on individual workloads, but my personal, evidence-free hunch, especially in the voluntary sector, is that most staff would recognise during especially busy periods, where their efforts were most needed.
I will leave it to all of you to pick-apart the detail of this, but believe that it could provide a possible way for those of us who spend our days working for social change, to tap into some of the emergent social forces at play all around us, that we often don’t pick-up on in the course of a busy day at the office…
In the mean time, if you haven’t and are able, please chip-in or help share the #DannyDyerDonate page
and help Solace Women’s Aid make a difference in the lives of the women who have been victims of the domestic violence normalised by Danny Dyer’s ‘jokes’.
Thursday, April 29th, 2010
This morning, I was glad to see that NAVCA – one of the English voluntary sector’s national representative bodies – had declared on their homepage that “to help us explain the work of our members and the difference they make, NAVCA is changing the language we use,” abandoning a handful of specific terms that mean very little to anyone who doesn’t work in a national voluntary sector umbrella body, or specific parts of government.
A simple, but important message
This is a declaration that likely received little interest from most who have come across it – who cares if NAVCA is no longer referring to ‘Local Infrastructure Organisations’ (sometimes woefully abbreviated to ‘LIOs’), or ‘the third sector’? (Please let me know if you think I need to write a ‘what’s so wrong with jargon?’ prequel post…).
It is unlikely to be an announcement that receives a lot of attention, but is an important one, nonetheless.
We’ve known the problem exists for some time now…
For years, staff in (mostly) large voluntary organisations, have regularly discussed the problems of ‘jargon’ in the sector; namely how it tends to confuse and exclude, more often than it actually allows us to articulate an idea more clearly and succinctly than we could with more regular language. It seems to come up at nearly every conference and workshop involving national and larger local and regional organisations, and within countless internal organising meetings at these same organisations, yet, if anything, both the quantity and frequency of the use of jargon, seems to be ever-increasing.
Why is this? If there is recognition of the problem (namely, that the people we are trying to reach and support are unlikely to know what we are talking about), than why don’t the organisations that perpetuate its usage, just stop using it?
NAVCA are starting to do just that. There are still countless bits and pieces of meaningless English (beyond the handful that NAVCA have found are ‘no longer fit-for-purpose’), that seem to find themselves scattered throughout the sector’s internal and external reports, press releases and promotional materials, but this is still an important first step.
A little more action…
Until now, many of the largest membership organisations in the sector, have ‘talked-the-talk’ about the evils of complex ‘in-crowd’ language in a sector that is meant to be all about people, but have often continued to accentuate the problems and divisions raised by continuing to use phrases and acronyms like ‘hard-to-reach groups,’ ‘CENs’, ‘regional infrastructure consortia’ and ‘BAMER’ without explanation.
Having found myself uttering these terms myself during my time in larger organisations, I can understand how perpetuating the language becomes subconscious. As a former colleague told me, who asked a friend to proof-read a document for its readability and was encouraged to change several phrases in it, “I thought everybody knew what that meant! I don’t even realise when I’m using jargon anymore!”
And though it was a significant realisation for this colleague, many of the people we worked with, and many of those who worked in other organisations like ours, were unlikely to have ever even questioned the terms and phrases that so many people find so utterly baffling.
So NAVCA’s move is a very much welcome one, to say the least; it is the first time (I have been aware) that an organisation of that size has taken concrete steps towards making their work more universally accessible, and though there is still much work to do to make many large voluntary organisations more welcoming to a wider range of people, this shows us that if there is a will, there is indeed a way to make change happen.
Ask your mates…
My colleague’s example is one I have often shared with people in organisations who struggle with recognising when they are in fact using jargon. The test is usually a simple one: get a few people in your life who know as little as possible about the work you do, but that you can trust to give you honest feedback, to proofread public documents before you make them public. Though not a silver-bullet, people who exist outside of our immediate circles can be much better sounding-boards for this kind of feedback, than those embroiled in the same language we become so used to in our day jobs.
Jargon is one of a range of ways that institutions become ‘less human’, and thus less-accessible to people not used to dealing with them. Changing the ways we speak and write can be an important step in changing the kinds of people our services, events and campaigns can reach and involve. Congratulations to NAVCA for sticking their collective neck-out and taking a stand against the overuse of jargon which so often separates people and institutions that exist to serve them.