I’m never surprised to find that language in an organization is used quite differently from individual to individual and group to group. With so many unique cultures, perspectives and contexts it’s natural for some people to use the same word and mean different things, or have different words to describe the same thing. There can even be personal or cultural differences on the importance of language precision: how much grammar matters, how rigidly we hold onto definitions, how much we desire to name things, and so on.
An underlying principle in working together though is sharing language, understanding one another. Without a shared language we miscommunicate with one another, create unrealistic expectations, waste time and money, become frustrated, and sometimes even fail terrifically. We see this in our relationships, too. It hurts when we feel unheard or misunderstood, and that hurt can erode trust over time.
I believe the opposite is also true — through shared language and meaningful relationships we can repair trust and boost our collective hope for the future. With teams this can also manifest as more effective work and a better work life overall.
Pretty much everyone in our modern world needs technology to get their work done, including in the nonprofit space. As problem-solving technologists in this sector, we see a lot of requests for proposals (RFPs) from organisations looking for support with a technology project. The majority we see both fall short of addressing project needs and don’t tap into the power of sharing and collaborating. We want to dive into why that is and what we can do about it.
In the autumn of 2016, just before the US presidential election, Drew and I traveled to Standing Rock with a collective intention to lend a hand to the organizers in the pipeline resistance. What we brought was able bodies, willingness to work hard, and a few days of our time towards campsite chores. But what I took away was an entirely new perspective on what activism can look like. For me it was a paradigm shift.
I recently got back from Portland, OR where I had attended DazzleCon and I figured it was worth some sharing and reflection.
The story of Zebras
A brief history, as I understand it
It was almost two years ago that a couple women got together and wrote a critical analysis of the underlying issues with startup culture called Sex & Startups. It poked at toxic masculinity and exaltation of the dollar above everything else (all hail the ROI!) among other things. It’s juicy and it’s spot-on.
Our social justice oriented co-op is currently made up entirely of white contributors. We’re not alone in this; it’s no secret that technology companies often have this problem.
I’d been busily chugging along with work until a couple weeks back, when someone brought up a conversation about emoji skin tone usage in our contributor Slack channel. It prompted a much larger conversation about race, identity, and diversity. Needless to say, that then prompted me to write this post, publicly acknowledging the problem.
My intention here is to be transparent, honest, vulnerable, to admit that I’m not necessarily doing it right, that I may continue to not do it right as I learn and grow, and to open the space to many more voices.
My hope is to make Good Good Work a better place to work and to make myself a better person to work/be in relationship with.
You can track along with me (and Good Good Work) here. I’ll be writing updates on my/our progress as I/we begin to address this issue head-on. Read more
Last month was the 6 year anniversary of #OCCUPYWALLST, a political movement in the US that needs no introduction. September 17th, 2011 was a pivotal point in my life. It was the day I started down a road divergent from the status quo, the day I left the confused world of early 20’s “adulting” and joined The Movement. It brings hope of a world arranged in such a way that poverty is impossible and extractive ecocide is not the basis of economic activity.
It took me three years to begin to grasp a very important lesson that The Movement demanded I learn. Read more
For many of us, when we think about the kind of work we want to do and how we want to do it, it becomes hard to imagine a “job” that matches our ideals. I’ve been at this crossroads numerous times: keep doing the work you love but have no financial security…or get some financial security and do work that doesn’t serve your purpose. The latter usually forces you into a dysfunctional workplace with limited flexibility, rendering you unable to live a healthy life.
In my adult life I’ve done a lot of different things and nothing makes me happier than the work I currently do. I want to keep doing this work and always be looking for a way to take it to the next level, to push myself and generate power in my community. But the options that traditionally exist for owning your own labor are incredibly frustrating. Read more
We do a lot of work on other peoples’ websites. Often times people come to us to fix their websites because someone built them a bad website.
Let’s dig in to what we mean…
Defining bad and good
Bad and good are subjective and slippery. They’re different for different people/groups/purposes and depending on the needs being met by the website. Generally speaking though—and for our purposes—a goodwebsite:
meets all the technical requirements, AKA it functions as it’s supposed to
is easy to navigate and find information without being told where to go
has backups in place in case anything goes wrong
is accessed by secure login credentials
is made with clean, well-organized code and has no additional bells and whistles beyond what it needs (I’m looking at you, premium WP themes)
runs on up-to-date software on a secure server
can be used by most/all people, even those with legacy software (to an extent) and/or alternative accessibility needs
A bad website is one that doesn’t meet at least two of these requirements. If it fails to meet three or more of these requirements you can consider yourself ready for a strategic overhaul. Read more
As a designer, I love a good challenge. A recent favorite of mine was working for the DSA on a 3-day deadline.
Delegates were about to pick the new leadership body, but were dealing with the unique challenge of needing to represent the true scope of diversity that exists within the democratic socialist left. Charles Lenchner – with People for Bernie – and his team wanted to create a booklet and worksheet to help delegates in the selection process. It would help see at a glance how diverse their choices were before casting their votes.
With the 3-day deadline, we needed to act fast. We had to be agile and adaptive.
The booklet Charles needed had to contain the list of candidates. Each profile would describe them, including a short bio, the region from which they were, their gender, race, and a few other stats that were easy to read for the regular voter with a quick scan.
The worksheet we created would allow to tally up the diversity categories’ totals.
With such a short deadline, the challenge was not only to deliver on time, but also to design alongside Charles and his team. While we created the actual document, they were putting all the information to be printed in the finished booklet together. For this very reason, we needed to work with live documents, so we worked in Google Docs. That’s how Charles and his team were able to update and edit everything as it was created. I watched their edits in real-time, while I fixed up the formatting and design.
Because Google docs’ styling tools are not as robust as in my software of choice – Adobe InDesign – formatting was a challenge. However, the limitations lent to a clean and very simple design, resulting in an easy-to-read document with clear organization. It wasn’t the most indulgent of designs, but what we lost in flashy graphics, we made up for with time. Thanks to the live documents, we had no back and forths of confusing revisions, so all we had to do was work.
With the magic of Google docs, we were able to create live/editable pie charts of the diversity data with customized style and colors. As the data was updated, transferring the new stats to the pie charts was as easy as, well… pie.
In the nick of time, we called it done. We exported the doc as a pdf and went to print. What a rush! Thanks to this time-constrained challenge, I got to enjoy adapting my process to our client’s specific needs. There are a lot of really great tools out there for us to use. Though I may be more comfortable with a cordless screwdriver, sometimes I need to use a hammer.
We have a design principle here at Good Good Work around taking things slow. Thoughtful design process and careful planning are an investment that yields better products that are often less costly and time-consuming. There are, however, times when you just need a website (and a logo) online in 5 days.
That’s where DSA Praxis was when they came to us, a big conference looming just a week away and no website or even a simple landing page at the ready. A big problem indeed. Read more
I want to talk to you about an event Nati and Rich of the Loomio Cooperative/Enspiral Network from New Zealand facilitated in Asheville North Carolina. If you put on events I think you’ll find some juicy ideas that will take your work to the next level… but first a story about a garden in Brooklyn. Read more
Today I had my first meeting with the Brooklyn Packers. Rode my bike to the Pfizer building in Brooklyn where I met the crew as they weighed and packaged coconut flakes. The hallways had an earthy food smell and the quite bustle of small businesses doing their thing. After saying hello I donned a pair of latex gloves and got to work tying off bags of coconut with the crew. We made small talk while our hands busied themselves with the rhythmic work.
It was a pleasure to work along side of these member-owners of the BK Packers Cooperative. They described this kind of work, coming together complete a single task, as swarming. It was wonderful to be working with my body while my mind was able to wonder. Our conversation flowed from the latest guilty pleasure on Netflix to the state of food justice in Brooklyn, to their plans for expanding into a retail space, and back around again to the work at hand.
Being part of the team and seeing my temporary co-workers do their work gave me quick insight into that work. The kind of hands on knowledge that hours of email or conversations would hardly be able to cover. After finishing with the coconut we cleaned up as boxes of peas were brought out of the fridge, ready for the next swarm. Calculations were made based on numbers scribbled on white boards, bags were counted, and portions were determined.
They were converting the bulk orders from local farms into small quantities that were destined for packages which would be delivered to their client’s customers later that week.
The BK Packers currently do most of their work for clients who sell pre-packaged boxes of fresh ingredients to customers. These food packages come with recipes and follow a menu which BK Packers collaborate with their clients to create. Once a menu is set BK Packers place orders with farms, then the numbers come in from their clients. How many packages were ordered by the consumers which then is measured against the food orders, if there are any gaps more food is procured. Then the packing happens and once the bulk food has been separated into packages those are delivered to curriers, or directly by the BK Packers.
Watching this process unfold my mind was racing around what gaps technology could fill. Being able to talk directly with the people doing the work really helps target the “pain points”.
After about 2 hours of working along side the BK Packers I took my leave, with notes and pictures, ready to begin the first draft of a Discovery document which aims to outline their current needs and how we might fulfill those needs.
With a bag full of goodies, including apples and orange cauliflower, I biked home under the warm Brooklyn sun.