Why we shouldn’t underestimate the value of creative operations in nonprofits: great program design is nothing if you can’t operate in the spirit of your mission.

I used to think that my interest in things like accounting, human resources, team learning, and collaboration infrastructure was a detriment to my leadership; I thought it was taking away from my writing and strategy work — I look back and realise I was wrong.

One of the most surprising things I found when setting up and running a non-profit was the importance of operational creativity: sure, any decent organisation should have a leadership of ideas people. But what about a leadership which is also very strong in operations. That is, translating all those ideas into action.

Think of it…


When new technologies emerge, hype often surrounds them. This hype can make it hard to know what they truly make possible, what they could be useful for and what their impacts— both positive of harmful — could be.

Below are a set of questions that we should ask frequently when we hear about ‘breakthroughs’ in tech. I am keen to hear people’s thoughts on these, especially other questions they think are helpful.

Feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

Questions to ask ourselves frequently

  1. Who benefits from the world believing that this technical breakthrough is real?
  2. How far off are we before…

To decide what technology we want in our systems and structures, we need clear-eyed conversations about what is possible. Here, I look at how inconsistent — and unrealistic — our ideas of ‘what is possible’ can be, who benefits from overblown assumptions of ‘groundbreaking’ tech, the challenges this brings and what we can do about it.

Hype and how it shapes debate

Sometime last year, a colleague working at a foundation funding LBGTQI+ issues was panicked. A news report said that machine vision AI could determine a person’s sexuality. What would this mean for the marginalised groups she supported around the world? What could be done?


A while back, I published an exploratory post about the gaps in process and approaches to ethical decision-making in technical production. Fast forward, and I’ve had the good fortune of working with several companies to stress test ideas and have sharpened offerings with the guidance of ethicists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers, human resources experts and many others.

I’m a big believer in people. I think we’ve been overly focused on finding technical solutions to problems caused by techno-solutionism. It is people and process that will allow for maximising benefit while mitigating harm. I am excited to say that the more…


When the pieces continue to multiply and don’t fit together. Giphy

The digital world is disorienting. It permeates every aspect of our lives, but few of us understand how it works. Worse yet, few of us know where to begin if we want to make it work for us. We are discouraged from asking questions when something feels icky or confusing. If you don’t get it, you’re the problem. The technology is magic, and so are the people that build it. Because — in a slight tweak to Clarke’s third law — any technology sufficiently distanced from our own conceptual understanding is indistinguishable from magic.

What would it take to build…


Image by Louis du Mont via Flickr

Faster is Different

‘Faster is different’. Zeynep Tufecki made this point in 2011, to push back on commentators claiming that the digitisation of the public sphere wasn’t materially different. It was ‘only’ accelerating existing dynamics.

As the rate of change in technology dramatically accelerates, we see a corollary acceleration in the speed with which teams are forced to make choices of huge ethical consequence. Faster is different. Inventing at speed requires different ways of assessing and designing for ethics. And while the majority of critique about how technology and innovation are causing harm has come from academia, new organisational forms like think and…

Alix

Intentional technology @ Computer Says Maybe, co-founder @engnroom

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