Why Documentation is important

 

When we hired a remote worker for the White Water Writer’s project we committed to never having a spoken conversation.  It was a sensible move and it made the whole system better.

Because we had made that commitment we were forced to really think about plans before we made them, and to give instruction and training in a clear systematic way.   Processes were written, example emails were written, and I also made screencasts of the most difficult parts of the process.

Occasionally a clarification would be needed, but rarely. Our first worker followed the process for the core activities and pursued her own initiative on lots of others.

Here’s the interesting bit. Eventually that person left for a full time job and we recruited a different person, who is also excellent.

Bringing that second person up to speed took a grand total of 20 minutes of my time. Most of that was the finding out about her and the ways she liked to work. The rest ‘Here is the process we use, it has links to the screencasts, the logins are in this file.’

And because we had been quite so careful about documenting, and clarifying and putting instructions on blogs and wikis rather than emails and messages, the new VA was producing (excellent) work with a startlingly low level of support. (It obviously took longer than 20 minutes for her to go through the processes and documents, but not that long).

We should be clear – our remote workers have the authority to change the instructions, or do things differently, and that’s normally for a good reason.  The wiki instructions that have been rewritten by three people are definitely better than the ones I wrote originally.

Making that first decision has given us a great many benefits – and I’m hoping that there are more to come – we’ll be adding staff in the near future and I suspect they will welcome the clear processes that they are going to find.

 

 

Boom! Website

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As regular readers will know, I’ve been running the social enterprise eQuality Time for a bit over a year now.   I’ve updated you a few times since then, with successes, failures, and more successes (and more failures).
It has now got a website.

It took 18months to get to the point of having a website.  I talked about a lot of the reasons for this over in the article I did on branding.
If you pop over and have a look at equalitytime.co.uk, the first thing you should notice is that you’ve seen a lot of the content before.   I’ve used joereddington.com as a outlet for most of the project development within eQuality Time, and so the posts about, for example, developing the Supertitle intervention, will now redirect to their slightly-better-written versions on equalitytime.co.uk.
More surprisingly: all of the guest features on disability have moved over there.
This was one of the big reasons to wait and be careful about the move.  I started this blog in 2014 as a place for collecting my thoughts. Since then there have been hundreds of posts, interviews, guest features, projects, and hundreds of thousands of visits. It’s been astonishing.
However, joereddington.com has been starting to creak in terms of what it can be as it is.  It’s a little tricky to bring in high quality writers (we’ve been incredibly lucky with the ones we have) to what is obviously a personal blog and it’s fairly hard to mix substantial policy content with articles on re-editing films and a small bit of internet culture about a teapot.
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So the disability and equality content that was straining at the seems of joereddington.com will flow to equalitytime.co.uk from now on.  Hopefully this means that it will be able to grow both as a social enterprise that changes the world directly and as a platform for content that helps change the world more indirectly.
So what will be left behind?  My rants, my occasional posts on productivity, the stress graphs, most of the ‘held together with sticky tape’ posts and the assorted pickings of my brain.   Various bits of computer science like the teapot, the latex webapp, and the memory app are staying here as well.  I’m just in the process of documenting a home office build that I’m pretty sure is of interest only the most nerdy of my friends.
If you are a subscriber to email alerts currently, then you’ll get the equality time posts automatically (and new posts to joereddington.com). If you subscribe on equalitytime.co.uk you’ll be added to a new ‘equality time only’ list.
If you are subscribing by rss or g+ then there are new links to follow I’m afraid.
Thank you for everything so far.  I hope you’ll like the new site as much as you did the old.

 

 

Funding Success – Awards for all and Supertitle!

So I’ve the last few months I’ve been talking a little about the Supertitle project,  We introduced the concept, talked a little bit about the prototype and dealt with our first funding rejection.
As a bit of a change of fortunes.  This turned up in the post:
letter from Awards for All awarding funding to Supertitle
Awards for all have given eQuality Time £8,995 to pilot the project across London.  The grant covers equipment, training, publicity, and has ring-fenced budgets for all the little bits of overhead that an organisation runs into – things like insurance, accounting, and so on.
We’re a transparent organisation, so we can show you the original application form (with some parts, like director’s addresses redacted).  The intention is that we make as much of the process transparent as possible, so you might get some fairly boring posts coming up over the next few months.
This is a big boost for us, we’ve actually known about it for a few months but we’ve been waiting Award’s for All’s permission to announce.  We’ll be looking for schools for a full pilot soon, so do please get in contact if you are interested.
As you can see by the date of the letter – this post was going to go out months ago – indeed, I thought it had. It was only when I did the logo post and tried to refer back to this one that I realised it was missing… 

eQuality Time has a logo.

The following day she went out and ordered some stationery in the name of Hadfield Manor Conference and Management Training Centre, reasoning that by the time it had been printed she’d know all that was necessary to know about running such places. 
Good Omens, pTerry, and Neil Gaiman.
 
This post talks about the process we went thought as a social enterprise when making decisions about our ‘brand’.
Last August I announced I was starting a charity. I’ve updated you a few times since then, with successes, failures, and more successes (and more failures).   What some of you might have found slightly strange is that all the information online about eQuality Time is on this very blog. We’ve yet to put out a flashy website, letter headings, or ‘branding’.
There’s a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly my own instinct, horned by years in academia, is that outfits that are flash and polished are also the ones that are shallow and profit-centred, rather than problem-centred. It’s an unhelpful mentality, but it’s taken a little while to shake.
The second is that branding is worth being careful about.  When White Water Writers first  appeared as an entity, we were slightly off-message with the branding – teachers and parents misinterpreted it as ‘fun semi-educational week off’ rather than the more accurate ‘extremely tough week that lets writers achieve, and grow, more than they, or you, expected of them’ – we’ve managed to correct that in various ways, but it was a worthwhile lesson in getting things right.
The third is that flashy things cost money, and we had more important things to spend the money on.  Equally importantly, making things work right takes time, and we had much  more important things to spend the time on.  If this was only going to be a one-year-all-the-good-we-could-do experiment, then we’d rather have thank you letters than unused business cards.
However, we’ve now reached a bit of a point of balance.  eQuality Time has brought in some funding, including some that is ring-fenced for producing leaflets and a website, so the money is there to be made use of.  More to the point, we’ve grown to the point were it I dare to hope that we’ll grow and be a much more long term entity – so it’s time to start punching our weight.
So we’ve engaged a designer, V, who we choose because a) he’s an excellent designer, and b) he’s got a strong knowledge of exactly the issues we want to work on.  We’ll talk about the process we went thought with the logo.
I sent V some concept notes for the logo – about the company we’d like to be, the image we’d like to give off, and the sort of things we were trying to achieve.
He sent back the following sketches…
Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.24.49Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.24.45Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.24.52
We’d have been happy with a couple of those, but I didn’t think any of them ‘popped’ – I had the idea of building in some sort of mechanical cog motif to reflect the technical/engineering focus we had.
He sent back some more concepts.
Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.24.06Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.24.09
I liked a couple of them – particularly the last one. I showed the full set to my trustees and found that everyone liked and disliked an entirely unhelpful network of opposites.  A suggestion of clockwork was made, I asked V for yet more concepts, while slightly worrying I was going to be featured on clientsfromhell.net/.
He sent back these.
Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.25.04 Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.25.10 Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.25.13
Which were all fabulous – we agreed largely unanimously on this one:
Screenshot 2015-07-13 15.25.04Which you can now see on the holding page for http://equalitytime.co.uk/, and shortly you’ll see it in a range of other places as well.  I’m really glad we went through this iteration process – while any of the others would have been ‘okay’, it’s something I’m (hopefully) going to be looking at a lot over the next few years.

Inclusive Technology Prize finalists!

 

Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.00.34

Kate and I are in there somewhere!

 

Bit of an announcement – AzuleJoe, has been chosen as one of the ten finalists for the Inclusive Prize (we’ve known for a little while, but the embargo has only just been lifted).
We’d reached the semi-finals a few months ago, I didn’t do a post on it at the time for a few reasons – I didn’t feel it was interesting enough for the readers, and it was a relatively self-centred thing.  More to the point, I was still getting my head around the business aspects of the prize and hadn’t got a far as a clear vision about how everything fitted together.
Kate and Joe holding a tablet in front of an 'inclusive technology Prize' sign

This is us showing off something that I haven’t even mentioned on the blog yet… *blush*

I have now reached that point and we have a clear view on how we can keep our development open source, ensure that it’s free at the point of delivery, and user-focused, while still presenting strong business outcomes.  More on that in a future post.
As a sidebar – we were slightly unusual in avoiding publicity at this stage – because of my position as a blogger I was getting a few press releases from (to be fair, media departments that worked with) other competitors about their work and how the’d reached the semi-final – although to be fair, everyone who sent a press release also made it to the final…     
A lot of the other semi-finalists do have extremely strong ideas and I intend to be featuring some of them on this blog in the near future. I’m going to start with my favourites of the ones that didn’t make it to the semi-final so that there is no suggestion of competitive scheduling 🙂
The final is slightly different. For a start, it’s one of ten, rather than one of 25, and for another thing, finalists are given £10,000 and, equally importantly, lots of help and guidance in the following eight months to develop to a full prototype.  This money is desperately needed to help develop both AzuleJoe’s technologies and CommuniKate’s reach.  The development day Kate and I went to yesterday was fun and interesting – we chatted to Justin Tomlinson the new minister for disability, and we worked with lots of cool and interesting people to really nail down some of the ways to move forward.
It’s also the biggest grant that eQuality Time has ever received.  This means excellent things for eQuality Time.  Not only is it definitely going to be in operation come April 2016 (which, as you’ll remember, is almost twice as long as we expected it to be running when we started), but it’s got budget, and guidance and a clear vision going forward.
As always, there best part was meeting the very cool people there… This is me getting the opinion of Open Bionics on a 3d printing project that is completely separate to either of our projects but that should be part of the blog sometime soon…
Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.01.27
…and us having a really good chat about going forward with handy experts from Leonard Cheshire Disability (I know it looks like we were the only people having fun, I think that is just a trick of the photo, I’m assuming everybody else was having fun too… )
Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.03.09

Oncoming Storm

“I wonder if it’s like this for mountain climbers, he thought. You climb bigger and bigger mountains and you know that one day one of them is going to be just that bit too steep. But you go on doing it, because it’s so-o good when you breathe the air up there. And you know you’ll die falling.”
 _ARB0888sm
The next seven weeks are going to be exceptionally busy for me and the people working with me on the White Water Writers Project.  We’re doing a number of things bigger and better than we’ve ever tried before.
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Long time readers might remember that we launched White Water Writers over a year ago.   One of the quirks of the school calendar is that schools tend to want things to happen at the same time – which means that over the next seven weeks we’ll produce (we think) thirteen novels. Over 100 schoolchildren will hold in their hands a book they have written. Some of the students will be from gifted and talented groups, some of them will be in SEN provision, some others groups will be vulnerable in a variety of ways.  It includes anyone we think we can make a difference with.
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Between now and mid-July we’ll run almost as many camps as we have in the previous five years combined.  In the process we’ll train up 25 student volunteers who will be able to come back and run their own camps next year (if, of course, they want to) – this year we had to turn away school after school because we hadn’t yet developed the capacity.
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Of course, because we tend to push in a whole range of directions at once we are pushing the boundaries further than we have before. We’re working with primary schools for the first time.  Because of the bank holiday we’re also testing squashing the five day process into four days.  Several of the people leading camps this year cut their teeth under me on previous books and I’m really looking forward to see what changes they bring.
Some things are going to go wrong, that’s a given, but we’re working as hard as we can to make sure that we have the support mechanisms in place.  One of the things that is surprisingly difficult for me to come to terms with is that there is a ‘we’.
Right now there is a guy rewriting the training manual for us so that it’s written for people who think like humans (rather than by me, who thinks like a robot). While I’m up to my nose in a brainstorming session next Tuesday, one of our team is going to be entertaining one of our wonderful funders.  Yesterday another of our team put on a superb training session that included visits from previous volunteers and a talk from experts in dealing with some of the special situations that people might find themselves in.
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I’ve got a stack of wonderful volunteers and supportive teachers who are involved because they believe that holding your own book in your hands is a feeling that every child deserves.

I really think this might be the summer that really puts the White Water Writers project on the map.

Of course… my life wouldn’t be simple enough to give me just one thing to think about.  Slap bang in the middle of this period is Alan Turing’s 102nd birthday – I’ll be hoping to break last year’s record of £532 raised and you’ll see a few posts about that cropping up in the near future.
In a sense, this is a bit of a warning post – over the next little while these two projects are going to dominate my life and this blog.  I may just have to spend August asleep.

Fail post: missed deadlines

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This is a post mostly for myself, I expect it to be of very little interest for the casual reader of the site. I’ve put it up because, well, my name is above the door and I think the site should reflect a full version of me rather than an edited one.

I’ve a certain amount of success in the last few years. The Flowers for Turing project raised a lot of money for charityCommuniKate was released as the first open licensed AAC page set,  I managed to attract Government Minsters to come and interview on this site.  I’ve been very eager to use this blog to tell you all about my successful bits.

The problem is, of course, that this is a misrepresentation – I fail a lot. I’d like to start sharing some of those fails.

What I think about when I think about failure

When I was first workshopping this post – most of the failures I could think of where in my personal life: friends I’ve lost touch with; People who I wanted to connect with but couldn’t; stupid things said in the heat of the moment.

However, those aren’t particularly quantifiable and make for poor posts even if privacy wasn’t an issue.

The failures I can tell you about

There are still lots of things I can tell you about freely. For example I’m applying to funds to run a variety of projects via eQuality Time. Most funders haven’t got back to me at the time of writing, but there are a lot of applications that didn’t even reach submission.

This is the list of funds that could have funded eQuality Time projects but that I missed the deadline on, or committed to but found that I didn’t have all the policies in place that were needed, or that fell off that stack because I managed my time badly.

It’s only four items, but these are the ones that all got started, investigated, and invested in. It’s also about one a month since I started. And it means I missed out on one in three so far.

 

Funder Website Deadline
Fiadopt https://www.f6s.com/fiware-fiadopt#/apply 31st January
The Oak Foundation http://www.oakfnd.org/
Creative English Innovation Fund http://ce.faithaction.net/innovate/ 22nd September
Deptford challenge trust http://www.londoncf.org.uk/downloads/DCT%20Small%20Grant%20Guidelines%202015.pdf 20th Feb
SERGO Particularly bad because I was invited March

Charity Update

Note, this post was drafted a month ago, since then we’ve had some responses on funding, I wanted to keep this draft as it was written because I think it puts across the ‘waiting’ feeling that I was feeling at the time. More up-to-date posts to follow.

So a few months ago I wrote this post – announcing that I was putting together a charity. I’ve been quiet on that front, largely because relatively little impressive stuff has happened. Still it’s time to give a bit of an update.

I’m getting a excellent introduction into how business law works, and more to the point, I’m getting a pretty good introduction as to why companies don’t generally work in the way you would expect.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 18.17.01

It’s hard to say how it’s going right now. We filled in all manner of paperwork, we’ve opened bank accounts, registered domain names and all of the overhead that is needed.  We’ve also got a name: eQuality Time, that was suggested by one of my trustees (the process resulted in a range of good names that are clearly going to be saved for things in the future).

Most importantly, we’ve applied for eight distinct lots of funding for a variety of projects. Some of which already exist on my project pages, and others are more ambitious ones that need some solid seed funding behind them before we can release them (if I’m low on blog posts over the next few months I’ll put out some posts describing what I want to do).

I have limited experience with this sort of funding. Since 2009 TooManyCooks probably picked up one in three of the funds it applied for and now we’ve got official organisation bank accounts, trustees, and articles, so we are more of a ‘safe’ bet for funders. On the other hand TooManyCooks was a proven commodity and I was only applying for funds that I was very certain we’d do well in. More to the point, since 2010 there have been fewer and fewer funds and more and more need for them. It’s really unclear if there will be room in the wide world for an organisation like ours.

None of the funds available will get back to us for at least a few months, and there are five or so more than we are eligible for before then. So we are in a strange place: plugging away at changing the world but we’ve got no idea how well we are doing at all.

In other news: I’ve been prototyping an intervention with a school in North London – I should be reporting back about that in detail shortly. I’ve also been working on a range of other cool developments for the TooManyCooks methodology and beavering away at the details for some other interventions like beefing up this into a solid resource and investigating some other ways of getting though things.

So while I do feel like I’ve rolled the dice… I do have to keep hustling until I know a little bit more about how it’s going.  I’m just a little worried at the moment that I underestimated the timescales involved; That a even a year on savings isn’t enough time to get something sustainable happening.

 

I’m starting a charity…

So in case you are wondering – I’m starting a charity….  In fact, it turns out that it already exists as of this week when we sent off the paperwork.

My contract with Royal Holloway finishes at the end of this month and about six months ago I decided that it was time to throw my energy into doing social projects full time.  For some years I’ve been updating this file on my laptop:

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 19.49.53…and I decided that if I didn’t do something about the list soon then I was going to find myself retiring without having done any of them.  So at the end of August (co-incidentally the anniversary of this blog) I’ll be halting a day job that concerns itself with enabling formal specification of programing languages (apologies if the link made anyone’s eye’s bleed) and working on things that I think will make the world a better place.

This is going to include more work on White Water Writers, a few more estoric experiments with it’s parent experiment TooManyCooks, some more fundraising work like The Flowers for Turing Project,  activist scholarship like the Domesday Dataset, and a range of other projects both large and small (like Project Grin, which is Tiny But Fun).   To pay the occasional bill I’m going to be taking the odd bit of freelance work, and we’ll see how sustainable that is.   If I start getting funding to do things then I’ll ride it as long as it’s sustainable, otherwise I can happily live on savings for a year of doing things that I think make the world better.

This is what I look like when I'm deciding to start a charity...

This is what I look like when I’m deciding to start a charity…

I’m going to talk a little bit more about the details of the charity in a future post (such as the name)-  we’ve done a few innovative things with the structure so that it’s a little bit more accessible and open, but I’m going to leave that until we’ve got all the official documents back.  I’d like to think that as I write up funding bids I’ll put them on the blog (like I did with this rejected Wellcome Trust bid) so that people can see what I’m up to and maybe offer feedback (or for that matter, do the relevant project themselves, that would be awesome).

The other reason for this post is that as I’m coming to the end of my contract I’ve got rather a lot to do. There’s a big pile of work and handover stuff for the project, and there’s general removal stuff. Plus I have to work out how to successfully move the 418 teapot to my house.