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The Doteveryone definition of done: how we make complex ideas travel

Rachel Coldicutt
Image of Doteveryone pin badges shared with delegates at Responsible Tech 2019. Credit: Paul Clarke.

We’ve published our definition of done

Doteveryone is the responsible technology think tank. Our work makes it easier for governments, businesses and civil society to make technology better for more people, more of the time. Sharing ideas is an important part of this, so I’ve been documenting how we work when we’re at our best, to make it easier to repeat.

I tweeted that I was writing up our internal standards and tests and got a surprising amount of interest, so thought I’d share the finished manual. It’s called Finding the “So What?”: How to get to the Doteveryone Definition of Done and covers everything from structuring projects, how to behave like a detective (not a design thinker), how to write a recommendation, and how to know when a recommendation is “done”. It also includes our style guide and standard report structure. Read it, let us know what you think in the comments below, and please do credit us if you use it in your own work.

Why do we work like this at Doteveryone?

Most of the people we try to help make better decisions are not technical specialists or sociologists; they are busy people with jobs to do, a list of overwhelming problems to solve, and too many emails to read. And for better or worse, they (and we) live in the time of tl;dr, when the ideas that travel are glanceable, tweetable slogans that fit on the side of a bus.

Our work needs to be understandable and memorable for people who don’t have technical knowledge, but who do have short attention spans

All of Doteveryone’s work touches on complex and specialist subjects. Convention says that complex and specialist subjects are best written about in complex and specialist ways. But this assumes decision makers have time and expertise to spare.

In 2019, Doteveryone’s work needs to be understandable and memorable for people who don’t have the technical knowledge, but who do have short attention spans and never-ending reading lists. Our words and ideas need to have integrity out of context and make sense in a tweet, on a sticker or to someone being briefed as they walk to a meeting. Our recommendations should feel at home in other people’s speeches, in other organisations’ brand values, or on t-shirts and placards. One of our jobs is to make complex ideas travel easily.

A good idea does no good if no one knows about it

Spending time on the tl;dr is hard work. Our research is thorough, critical and wide-ranging; sometimes it creates more questions than answers. But a good idea does no good if no one knows about it, so we also do the hard work to make our findings and recommendations shareable.

Of course, we haven’t quite cracked it yet; some of our aims remain aspirational (as far as I know, no one has yet stood in Parliament Square with a placard, campaigning for an Office of Responsible Technology), but at a time when there is so much information, and so much of it uncertain, it’s essential to keep refining the craft of drafting clear and well-researched recommendations, so that good ideas can continue to have the chance to take flight.

Read the Doteveryone definition of done manual and let us know what you think.

Thanks

There’s not space for acknowledgments in the manual because it’s a living, working document, but some particular credit is due to:

  • The whole Doteveryone team has shaped how we share our thinking — especially our Policy Director, Catherine Miller, who is exceptionally good at getting to the point.
  • Our Founder, Martha Lane Fox, has been a tough customer and a source of inspiration. Martha asks the best questions, and all of Doteveryone’s work has had to live up to, and be somehow true to, her original intent.
  • Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar from Girldreamer for giving us the confidence to be ourselves.
  • Most of what I describe in the manual started out as writing for the web — learnt from books by Jared Spool and Jakob Nielsen in the late 1990s. This crossed with Russell Davies’ wise counsel to remove every extra word in every document, especially “key”.
  • Alex Mecklenburg, our Digital Leaders consultant, for helping Doteveryone express our values and giving us the starting point for our definition of done.
  • And to Elizabeth Ayers for her phenomenal post on Radiating Intent which appeared like a gift when I started writing this up. Read it now.


The Doteveryone definition of done: how we make complex ideas travel was originally published in Doteveryone on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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