Way last August, I made what I still think was a brilliant proposal to the New Citizens Inc board of directors, who were in the middle of a difficult transition to a new board.
As far as I’m aware, historically, NCI has had most of its building done by the most senior people, and if there have been builds by others, they have usually been under very strict control. I know of one build that was a bit of an exception to that, Dizzi’s redoing Ginny’s park in Kuula. Perhaps there were others.
I proposed a different approach intended to harness the energy of our large membership and volunteer population. The idea was based on Scrum, an approach to products that we use in our company. The basic ideas in the proposal were these:
- The board sets out broad guidelines and objectives for the build project. For Kuula, I suggested objectives around citizen flow, space utilization, and educational content.
- The board appoints a volunteer “Project Owner” who is given full authority to meet the objectives, within some time and resources budget.
- The Project Owner recruits a team of volunteers to do the work.
- The team comes up with “Stories”, specific doable statements of work to be done, and commits to how many they think they can do in very short periods of time, called “Sprints”, of a week or two in duration.
- The team completes Stories, mostly build components in the Kuula case, and demonstrates them to the board and other stakeholders.
- Ideally, the entire build is done incrementally, so that what is done is good enough to install after every Sprint.
I had thought that upon reading this proposal, the board would immediately see that they could get things started in this style, which would show that good things would happen under their new management, would make solid improvements in NCI’s infrastructure, and would give the citizens a feeling of accomplishment and participation.
That’s not what happened. Regarding this proposal, the board sat on it until mid-October. They had important things to do, certainly, like sorting out the NCI budget, land, and responsibilities. But this proposal didn’t require a lot of board time: the whole point of Scrum, and of this proposal, was to allow empowered people in the organization to do good work independently. All they had to do was say yes. Heck, I’d have even drafted the objectives for them, if the ones in the original proposal weren’t good enough.
A Time-Honored Approach: Kill The Messenger
Instead, I heard almost nothing about the proposal. What I did hear, through a board spokesperson, was that the board had bigger fish to fry, despite that I was offering a way to get fish without personally frying them. I heard that my idea was naive, despite the fact that my company, and hundreds of others, are using this approach to improve their productivity in real world product development. Basically I got kicked around with little or no respect to me, my idea, or my will to do good.
At one point, I almost revealed my RL identity to the spokesperson, I wanted so badly to bolster my position by showing that I had some authority to talk about this process. (I never reveal my RL identity to anyone. I will say here, however, that I am owner in a small company and a Certified ScrumMaster, and have used the Scrum approach in RL. This isn’t a very risky revelation, as I think there are about 50,000 CSMs currently.)
I stopped myself from doing that, on the grounds that the idea should stand, it was clearly safe as they could stop the project any time they wanted to, and I am a well-known and trusted member of the NCI community. I realized that I wasn’t dealing with someone who was interested in the proposal, just someone who was resisting it. I assumed, and still do assume, that the spokesperson was speaking for the board in that regard: They didn’t want to do it. They wanted me to go away.
When The Going Gets Weird …
Over the time from August until now, things got pretty weird. Some serious questions were raised by a few citizens. The ideas were raised poorly, with a lot of what would have been shouting in RL, and a lot of rudeness on the part of the citizens. Rather than interpret this excitement as evidence of real concern, the board, through its spokespeople and its forum, resisted the ideas rather than engaging, made excuses rather than dealing with issues, and basically beat down what they perceived as a rebellion rather than dealing with the issues and the people with respect and dignity.
In a fit of well-intentioned stupidity, I tried to help the concerned individuals to express their ideas in ways that would make it easier for the board to deal with them. The results were less than good. The board still did not deal with the issues and individuals respectfully, instead sending or allowing its spokesperson to beat down the subject again. Worse yet, I got some paint splashed on me as these people were painted as harmful dissidents, instead of being embraced, reasoned with, and brought on board with what was happening.
This was very unpleasant for me, since I had been trying hard to make things better, and had written thousands of words on the forum, in notecard proposals, and in long chats with many people. Frankly, it hurt. For at least some of the transactions, I was sure that they were intended to hurt or insult me, and while they did not come directly from board members, I supposed that they did know what their representatives were doing.
I did keep trying to post reasonable things on the forum. By now, the spokesperson had cut off all contact with me, and I didn’t try to reestablish it, though perhaps I should have. I just concluded that the board wasn’t interested, since they had cut off contact. Maybe I should have gone to another board member, and in fact I did make a few small probes that way, but to no real avail.
Approval … or Was It?
Then, last week, one of the board members dropped a copy of my original proposal on me, with a note that the board had voted 100 percent of the members present to give me the project.
Good news, right? Not as I see it, and I found it necessary to decline the offer. I’m writing about that here, obviously. My reasons include:
- First of all, I’m beaten down, and I feel that I was intentionally beaten down. I brought a good idea to the board, and I tried to help them understand the underlying concerns on some issues that other people cared about, and I got back disrespect and a clear message to shut up.
- The point of the idea is for the board to learn a new way of doing projects. I already know how to do projects this way, and the only value to me in doing it would be if the board wanted to engage to learn something that would improve their ability to govern. Nothing in what I was given, a one-line vote, suggests that they are interested in the real idea, learning a new way to do projects.
- While I certainly could do the Project Owner job on this, and could probably round up some good recruits to work on it, that would prove very little other than that Janet and her pals have great skills. Maybe it would prove more, maybe the board would see that it was the process that worked as well as the people, but my main goal, to help NCI improve its way of working, looks not to be met.
If You Love Something, Set It Free
So here I am. I’ve had to turn down a project that I worked for and pushed for. The situation leading up to this point got politicized and vicious, and I have no assurance that it won’t continue to be that way. While I’m honored that the board voted some trust in me, my purpose of engaging them in understanding a better way to do things hasn’t been met or even approached. There still has been no question asking, no engagement on how this could work, what their role is, and so on.
I got what I asked for, months later, after getting the stuffings beaten out of me, and without the core of the idea, engagement, ever happening or being addressed.
It makes me sad. But that will be brief. I’m an insanely positive person and I will find joy in my work as Land Officer and Helper, and in my work on the land I share with my sister Valkyries.
Maybe someday someone in NCI will read this and get it. When they do, if they do,the idea will work, if they try it. They’ll need a coach and a good Project Owner. But mostly they’ll need the will to learn a better way. I hope that day comes.