Open Knowledge Summit: Maximising Work not Done

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend another 3 days with my wonderful work colleagues! As a dispersed organisation Open Knowledge are really taking the need for F2F meet-ups seriously, and so it was decided that time together in London would move us much further forward than a series of online chats.

Open Knowledge staff

Open Knowledge staff

While our previous summit of the year focused on personal development this time we were given the opportunity to think about the future of our organisation and contribute to areas including strategy and approaches to interaction with the community. Quite a lot of our focused discussions probably won’t be of too much interest here but I’d like to share some of the more general meat from the 3 days!


During the 3 days we covered two main training areas: Constructive feedback and Performance Management Processes. The key advice in the feedback session was that when giving feedback you should focus on the Situation (time, place, circumstances), the Behavour (what the person did) and the Impact (how it made me feel or the how I saw it effect others). Using this SBI approach allows us to be both honest and kind – so passing on a clear message with no beating about the bush! Giving feedback isn’t always easy as it involves competing values in honesty and kindness, but it is necessary and we should think of it as being a gift (receivers should be grateful but don’t have to chose to use it!). We should be aiming to give about five pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback (this aligned well with my own criticism sandwich approach) and the main aim is to reinforce good behavior and redirect bad ones. Feedback So to sum up feedback should focus on acts not attitude, be goal-orientated and directed to the future, be multidirectional, continual, timely and should support proper action. It all made positive sense though isn’t necessarily so easy to do in the real world. One thing I took away from the session is the need to be specific (talk about about real actions rather than just general things “you messed up”) – I intend to take more notes straight after things happen so that I have details of these specific behaviours. One activity that I really enjoyed here was looking at our own communication styles. The 4 styles on offer were driver, animated, amiable and analytical (A fuller explanation of the styles is given here – though animated is referred to as expressive). In a work environment when communicating I’d see myself as animated (talkative, friendly, enthusiastic, approachable, sometimes unclear in my line of thought, subjective in decision making, a tendency to be a little haphazard). The important thing to remember is that you might not always see eye-to-eye with people who communicate in a different way. The performance management training ran through the new processes we will be using internally and their timeline. There was then a call for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-based and Time- bound). All useful stuff – and a good effort to make our approaches more professional.

Agile Methodology

Alongside our staff development session we also slotted in some staff choice sessions. One of these (led by the truly wonderful Tryggvi Björgvinsson) took a look at agile methodology (a series of related methods and techniques normally used in the software development world) and how these could be used more generally in our working environment. The agile principles are well documented in the agile manifesto and when originally written were a radical change for those working in software development. In the software world a chosen methodology is usually driven by team values: the bigger the team the bigger the methodology and the more critical the project the more dense the methodology. Although not all agile principles could be applied in my working life (for example I often work alone or in teams primarily consisting of external people) there were some ideas that I already buy in to. So I’m a big believer in sharing work early and getting feedback at points along the way – this allows me to follow an interactive process with change going on throughout a project. I’m also keen on creating things that are ‘good enough’ and getting them out there – though I also like to support with significant documentation (this blog is a good example of that). To me it seams that agile is really a way of thinking, it’s about being reactive and open-minded, a great working method to aspire to. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 13.35.32 One concept I really like that agile supports is “the art of maximizing work not done”. There is a general suggestion that we write a list of all the things that could be done and and then chuck a whole lot of these (probably the ones that are time-consuming and have little impact) out – think about how much time you just saved yourself! It is about simplicity, decluttering and flexibility. It reminded me of George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing which I often refer to and try to follow – which argues for the use of simple plain English in order to be clear and inclusive. Of course simplicity isn’t always appropriate but there are many moments in our life when it makes sense for us to take a step back and focus on what really matters.

We just can't stop playing board games...

We just can’t stop playing board games… (thanks to Christian Villum for the photo)

The summit was a great opportunity to realign ourselves as an organisation and I think there was very much a feeling of ‘onwards and upwards’ from now on.