Favorited From the Archives: Ton’s Thoughts on Work Life Boundaries, Barriers and Attractors by Nancy White

A wonderful surprise to see a post in my feed reader discussing a posting I wrote 14 years ago. Nancy White is going through her old draft blogposts and dug this one up that has been in her drafts folder for all that time. The posting she refers to, Work Life Boundaries Barriers and Attractors, talks about things that help me create and stay in flow or obstruct my flow as a nomadic worker. Nancy draws a parallel with the past two years where those questions have become relevant for a wide new group of people. Indeed, I’ve revisited such questions myself during the pandemic.

The timing of her post is also a wonderful coincidence. Nancy and I have known eachother for a long time, despite her being on the US west coast and me in the Netherlands. We blogged about similar themes at a time that meant you’d automatically end up in conversation, and first met f2f in 2004. Since then we visited each others homes, had dinner with eachothers family and friends, and shared an increasing number of connections to other people. The wonderful coincidence here is that right as I found Nancy’s blogpost in my feedreader I had just ended a 1 hour conversation with Bev Trayner and Etienne Wenger, both close long time connections of Nancy. I talked to them about possible participation for my team in a training they regularly give, the format of which itself evolved from E’s and my very first birthday unconference that Bev attended. My 2008 blogpost that Nancy refers to discusses part of the outcomes of that unconference, as one of the sessions had been about the topic of organising one’s work effectively as a knowledge nomad.

I think that’s a wonderful way of things going full circle. Which all that time has been the title of Nancy’s blog.

Full Circle, connections for a changing world, online and off…

Nancy White

After a two year hiatus, Luis Suarez is blogging again. It was a pleasant surprise to see his voice resurface again in my feed reader in recent weeks. Just like it was two years ago when he resurfaced after a three year hiatus. Luis has been in my feed reader since when he started blogging in 2005 or thereabouts.

In his first new posting he describes the impact on himself and on our ways of working of the pandemic, as well as how he was very active in closed group spaces where people would ask him where to find more of his writings. His blog would be the logical answer, except he hadn’t written there in a good while. So back to the mothership it is. Home Sweet Home!

His last few postings are about the changing experiences one has on Twitter (I and II) and LinkedIn, and I can only echo his sentiment there (although in general I’ve always felt less enthusiastic about Twitter, seeing it as a step down both from IRC and Jaiku in terms of affordances.) Similar contemplations led me to unfollow everyone to clear out my LinkedIn timeline.

Looking forward to renewed distributed conversations on the open web with you, Luis! Blog on!

Matt Webb has been keeping UnOffice hours for a few years, a few timeslots in his week during which anyone can come by and talk to him. Several people in my network similarly have opened parts of their weekly schedule for others to be able to plan a conversation with them. Using a tool like Calendly, it saves the back and forth of finding a time. More importantly it is a clear signal you don’t have to ask if it’s ok to have a conversation. You can just go ahead and plan it if you want to talk to them.

I like that idea. A few times in the past I’ve mailed a selection of my own contacts to ask them for a conversation, just to catch up and hear what they are doing. It always leads to some new insights or connections, and sometimes it generates a next step. It’s a serendipity aid.

As an experiment I’ve created a schedule in which anyone can book a conversation on Wednesday afternoons (Central European Time). You can find the link to my Calendly schedule in the right hand side bar.


Screenshot van 4 mei-rede in de Nieuwe Kerk, de link gaat naar YouTube (ik plaats geen YT embeds vanwege tracking).

Indrukwekkende rede van Hans Goedkoop in de Nieuwe Kerk tijdens Dodenherdenking op 4 mei 2022.

Over je eigen zicht op goed en kwaad niet verliezen, ook als dat ongemakkelijk is. Ook als je in een concentratiekamp bent opgesloten.

Als het toen kon, kan het áltijd

zegt hij over hoe Abel Herzberg en anderen het gevoel voor beschaving in stand hielden in Bergen Belsen, en vergelijkt het met welk antwoord we geven op de Russische oorlog in Ukraïne.

En hij geeft een waarschuwing, waarin hij Hannah Ahrendt, en ook de woorden van Herzberg zelf over het Eichmann proces, in slechts enkele woorden weer helder actualiseert naar vandaag. Tegen schuilen achter bestaande systematiek om te verklaren dat je weinig kunt doen.

De banaliteit van het kwaad: nazisme heb je er niet voor nodig.

I enjoyed having conversations with Doug Belshaw this morning as we walked around Amersfoort. Tonight I’m going through his presentation on Open Badges for the Dutch national libraries conference this week, which was why he was in town and which provided the opportunity to meet up.

I wonder how I could connect the convictions my company has about our work with open badges, and how such badges can play a role in promoting the skills connected to those convictions to our team and new hires, as well as our wider network. Meet-ups, unconferences, that we already organise may turn into a bit more, by acknowledging the knowledge and skills transfer taking place with a badge perhaps, by issuing them from our company. As recognition for things we deem important. I also associate it with my train of thought on framing our convictions and principles in terms of SDGs. Lots to chew on, besides badges, like co-ops, as well.

I notice a strong and persistent reluctance with Dutch civil servants to use the word citizen. Apparantly because the Dutch word ‘burger’ carries overtones of ‘kleinburgerlijk’, petty bourgeois, of bourgeoisie, and of the general disdain university students voice for ‘burgers’ (with ‘burger’ being bandied about as an insult amongst them, which gained national usage through the 1990’s Jiskefet satirical tv program). Many civil servants said to me they think the word citizen is ‘old fashioned’.

I find this not only an oddity, but also detrimental to public governance and potentially dangerous.
Not using the word citizen obscures how in the relationship to government citizens have basic human rights, specific constitutional rights, and some duties. A citizen has autonomy and a certain power vis-a-vis the government.
Not using the word citizen, easily obscures that power and those rights to civil servants.

I hear civil servants talk about

  • ‘customers’, usually in the context of providing public service
  • ‘clients’, often in the context of the social domain, reminiscent of how therapists talk
  • ‘inhabitants’, usually a hand-wavy acknowledgement that other people are involved, but in an abstracted, passive or even statistical way,
  • ‘users’, usually carried over from an IT related context
  • or worst case ‘residents’ as if you’re institutionalised.

In all these cases it creates either a distance to people or implies power assymmetries. It makes it easier to dehumanise people. The consequence is the creation of policies about people, but not with those people, because people are never perceived to be on equal footing. Policy gets done over people’s heads, done to them. Participatory processes are then easily reduced to a ritual, a checkbox to mark, something that is a pain and a drag without which your policy process would be so much more efficient. Clients, users and inhabitants are never equal to those who determine policies, whereas citizens would have to be met eye to eye. Acknowledging people as citizens would require curiosity about their needs, motives and actual experiences when developing policy.

Every civil servant I’ve worked with cares about good governance and public service, and individually they wouldn’t treat people as passive objects on which their policies operate, but collectively in their work context they do abstract people out of the equation. And their own choice of words contributes to that, makes it more likely to happen, I think.

In conversations with our public sector clients I always talk about citizens with emphasis. I often also introduce myself as citizen (not as consultant e.g.).

In our projects we always emphasize the need for civil servants to go outside, to check their data and documents against the reality outside, and as often as possible create conversations with real people, with citizens.

With the drive towards ‘data driven’ work, this is ever more essential. Data must be presumed to always describe only a sliver of reality, and to always do so badly on top of that. There is always a check against reality necessary when you want to start relying on data in policy decisions. Visit the places and the people represented in the data, do you recognise them? Do you have a sufficiently nuanced, detailed and rich view on an issue before making a decision? Do people’s stories validate the data, is their meaning incorporated?
Acknowledging people as citizens is also essential to being able to see and use government data publication as a policy instrument, meant to provide agency to people in the context of societal issues and as equal partners in addressing these issues.

Hight time for the public sector to use the word citizen routinely and meaningfully again.