asking for ID in the surveillance age

a photo peering into a display case at a Mexican bakery in Houston. taped to the glass is a green speech bubble that reads, “PLEASE DO NOT LET CHILDREN TOUCH THE BREAD.” behind this very good sign are two shelves of pan dulce. the upper shelf contains flower-shaped girasoles. the lower shelf is full of horn-shaped cuernitos. neither of these are my favorite pan dulce. that would of course be a churro, empanada de piña, a pan de queso, all to-go please. i…i’ll eat some of them later!

The vast majority of us have internalized data collection as a fact of life. It feels natural, doesn’t it? I show my ID to get into a concert (those were the days!). The websites I browse collect huge amounts of data from me. Security cameras dot my periphery in most public spaces. I’m sure that my credit card data is floating around. But when I go to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread, nobody asks me for my ID. If I choose, I can pay cash, and nobody will even have to know how much bread I eat (it’s a lot ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

But my experience might be different if I can’t afford that bread. My experience accessing a food bank, for instance, might depend on where I live, what I look like, the vehicle that I use to travel there. It may depend on how many children I have, and how many children I look like I have. It would depend on how one or two gatekeepers of donated food felt about me.

If they believe me, I pass. If I don’t, I starve.

A food bank is the last place in the world to restrict access to food. It is an abuse of power to ask someone for ID, for even a piece of mail, to prove they deserve to receive food.

who might not want to show their ID?
First think about why asking for ID or a piece of mail might be an imposition to someone. Here are a few to get started:

  • People who are trans or non-binary. Their ID might not match their gender identity. It might list a name or photo that does not represent them.
  • People who live in the US outside the legal immigration system.
  • People who feel stigma or shame from having to use a food bank.
  • People who are afraid of identity theft.
  • Children who are seeking food for themselves or their family.
  • People who forgot their ID that day, or left it on the bus, or don’t have one.

Everyone on this list, and even people I didn’t describe, still deserve food! If this is someone’s first time at that food bank, a demand for ID may cause them to never come back. How can that person feed their family now? Where else should they turn? Fewer people accessing food banks can mislead a community about the true level of need in their area. It means more people will go hungry in a nation where there is plenty of food.

what’s good for the goose has nothing to do with the gander
Some people defend their decision to ask for identification or a piece of mail. They say something like, “I wouldn’t ask anyone anything that I wouldn’t be willing to give myself.” But their privilege is that they’re not the ones asking for food. They’re not in the same situation. In this case, they are the holders of power. They are the gatekeepers of food donated to help people in need.

A food bank policy, or a personal decision (or a hunch or feeling), to request ID means the person at the door is now a gatekeeper to food. It means they get to decide who can eat and who cannot. When we leave decisions up to humans, even when humans write the policies, we know they bring their own biases into their decision. If they don’t believe a person’s story, or believe that they have four kids at home, they have the power to ask that person to prove it. And what happens if they can’t? The cashier doesn’t ask me how many children are going to eat the bread I buy. I don’t have to bring a handful of birth certificates or medical records to buy the sheer volume of bread that I eat.

Access to food should not be subjective. The people who ask for ID should consider the real risks of requiring this information. Not the risks to themselves, but the risk that others perceive for themselves.

Some gatekeepers interpret an ID as an indicator of legitimacy. They might say ID is no problem for people with “nothing to hide.” But nothing worth hiding should prevent you from being able to eat. It’s easy to forget the amount of time it takes a person to get an ID. It’s easy to forget that every food bank’s rules are different. If you get them wrong you have to come back with the right documents. If it’s a two hour bus ride round trip from the food bank, it might take days to come back. It’s easy to forget that if I am worried about my safety, or my family’s safety, giving a stranger my ID is a risk. It’s easy to forget that if the gatekeeper doesn’t like me, or doesn’t trust me, thinks I’m an outsider, I am the one who suffers.

the good could be gooder
The programs my organization operates are all self-declare, no-proof programs. A self-declare program means people give us the information themselves. We still collect some data, but do not require personally-identifying information in order to receive food. A no-proof program means we don’t ask anyone to prove what they tell us.

The most common federal food assistance program asks us to collect the name and address of the person receiving food. It also asks them to affirm that their household income is below 400% of the federal poverty line. We ask them to name the number of people in their household. this helps represent the accurate number of people using these services. We are not allowed to verify this information. And why should we need to?

But we don’t even have to do it this way. The first rule of storing data is simple: you can’t turn over what you don’t collect. If you collect no personal information, no one can force you to give it to them. Nobody can steal it from you. The strongest decryption program can’t unlock what doesn’t exist.

Funders that restrict food to a specific population or territory are part of the problem. We need to remove these restrictions from all programs that perform a public service like food assistance.

We have to end the needless hoops we put up for people in need. It’s scary enough to go without food, to be in a situation where things are going so wrong you have nothing to eat. It’s scary to feel helpless, but it’s even worse to have an empty stomach too.

We in the non-profit world should be serving the public good, not creating more barriers for them.

the unbearable being of whiteness

Photo by jmz. An over-saturated photo of a family of ducks swimming in a small pond. The pond is surrounded by lush greenery, grasses, bushes, and small trees. “Show me a racist duck,” I say. There are none!

In an earlier post, I shared a resource I use by Tema Okun. People suspicious of phrases like “white supremacist culture,” will dismiss it immediately. But even for someone who believes we live in an anti-Black racist society, I struggle with it sometimes.

“Really??” I ask myself. “Being on time is… an aspect of white supremacy??” How can speaking with civility and being on time perpetuate white culture? The answer of course lies in who set those norms, who enforces them now, and who they exclude. A dominant culture integrated them into society for their sole benefit. “Professionalism” dictates what kind of hair is employable. It enforces in workers that the boss knows best and disagreements are not polite.

But these rules feel permanent to us because we’ve always lived them. Even as children, schools operate on a business schedule. Many principles of management came from running plantations in the most efficient way. Modern business carries these principles to this day, as metrics and productivity, always at the expense of the worker.

And large groups of people in the US have always felt separate from a society ruled by whites. For them, these edicts feel unnatural, arbitrary, and hard to adhere to. But these are unspoken norms that I have steeped in my entire life.

This leads to the isolation and suppression of people who don’t fit those norms. It excludes the neurodivergent. The queer. The fat. The loud. How do you live in a society that was born for the benefit only of straight white men? How do you survive with a one-size-fits-all government?

Many people in a white dominant culture are now growing aware of their own privilege. It’s still we the harmed who they ask for patience: “I’m still learning.” Excuses: “They haven’t spent enough time sitting with this.” Gradual progression: “I admit that I’m not very far on my journey.” But we are rarely afforded the same luxury of patience.

If I grew up speaking with an accent, I could be shunned or bullied at school. If I disagree with coworkers in the wrong way, I am punished and written up. I speak up less. I am fired or pressured to resign for making these mistakes.

So now we are in a curious space. Entrenched people in power, mostly white, are learning at a socially-acceptable pace. They are learning what it means to live in a society that has always been multicultural. They ask for patience while they learn that we are worth as much as they are. They seek credit for basic decency, or for hearing our concerns and not acting on them. Some invent new oppressions for themselves. Some force other people to adopt their culture while stealing liberally from others’.

It’s a lot.

For many people of color, approaching whiteness, “white passing,” is a hollow privilege. It mesmerizes us into thinking we belong. Often it means we have to put down our heritage, our language, “stinky” cuisines that are not yet Columbused.

As I interrogate what I am steeped in, I sense that our equals can’t learn this fast enough. Anti-racism is not necessary for them to survive in a world that feels comfortable. The work becomes a hobby, or worse, a lifestyle. And that’s not enough.

There’s no ending here, that’s it.

choosing between two options in an inequitable world

An artificial ancient mammoth half submerged in the watery tar of La Brea (the the tar pits tar pits). Its sculpted cry of anguish is apparent even in suspended animation. Past the weirdly tranquil scene into the background are modern-day buildings, a streetlight, and a palm tree.
An artificial ancient mammoth half-submerged in the watery tar of La Brea (the the tar pits tar pits). Its sculpted cry of anguish is apparent even in suspended animation. Past the weirdly tranquil scene into the background are modern-day buildings, a streetlight, and a palm tree. It’s not too tortured a metaphor to say that I ask myself often what is the tar that we are stuck in today. I mean, it’s racism, misogyny, capitalism, ableism… and I could go on. At least there’s hope for whoever is standing nearby watching us. It’s octopus, right?

My organization brought on a handful of new partners during the first phase of the COVID-19 response. Our network grew by about 10% in a few short months. Many of these groups were the kind of partners who aren’t often represented in our network. Others, we were bringing on board before COVID halted our usual onboarding process. Then, facing the urgent need to get food to more people, we brought some of them in on a temporary emergency basis.

Now we are contemplating a gradual but eventual return to normal. My team has started talking about how to keep all these new partners within our network. But as is the case at most non-profits not named after a billionaire, resources are finite (they probably think resources are finite there, too). It’s during this pondering that a super-common question comes up. Someone has asked it at least a dozen times since I started here, and it’s always the same hypothetical. If we had two potential partners and could only choose one, which one should we choose?

the aforementioned unknowably different options
Say there are two food pantries. One is small, focused on meeting the needs of a specific cultural group or neighborhood. The other is large, serving five hundred to a thousand people in a single day. The smaller pantry serves 50, tops, each week. The larger food pantry has a few paid full-time staff, the smaller group is all-volunteer. The larger pantry is big, yes, but that also means their resource needs are much greater. The smaller one has few donors and fewer partners. The larger pantry knows someone on our board, who said they were eager to join our network. The smaller pantry doesn’t know anyone on our team. They completed our partner interest form, but they don’t have a truck and might need a delivery. And of course, we only have the resources to bring on one partner this year.

who would you want to partner with? why?
This question has vexed me for a long time, but I only recently realized why. The question, “who do you choose,” is difficult to answer because I already know the answer. I should choose the larger organization, right? The question feels uncertain to me because I want to choose the smaller organization. My professional instincts tell me I should be seeking the biggest bang for my buck. But I’m starting to think that the opposite is actually true.

why do we pit these organizations against each other?
If I had to choose between these two agencies, I should first want to choose both. Vu Le describes the alternative as the Non-Profit Hunger Games. In the ideal world, both food pantries have advantages, and I should want to bring them both in. In the long term, I should be working to expand my resources or find partnership opportunities for both food pantries.

rethinking what I know
But in this world with finite resources, I should invest mine in the smaller food pantry. I’d start by asking different questions. What do I know about the respective agencies’ impact? How much support do both agencies receive? Which organization is filling a niche in their community? Which organization dedicates itself to serving “all people equally”? Would a person receiving food at the smaller organization find what they need by going to the larger one? What about vice versa? What would my support do for each organization? What perspectives would they bring to our work? How might those perspectives be different from mine?

in an inequitable world, decisions based on equity may feel wrong
In a zero sum game, we always choose the larger organization. The one that feels like they have their shit together. The one who is already doing well. The one that fits our culture. But that means the same organizations always thrive, and the same ones always struggle. Organizations that have been around the longest almost always get the limited resources, because the resources are always limited.

Choose the smaller organizations first. Choose the new partners first. Think about how we’ve always done it, and ask what it would look like if we did something else.

We live in a society that is unjust to its core, one that has always favored the powerful. Sometimes we should strive to pick the bet that we’re conditioned to believe is the bad one.

implementing the advice process: first update

A meme featuring an “Ask the candidates”-style fact sheet between 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The questioner asks, “can cats have salami?” Elizabeth Warren’s photo says “cats should only eat cat food” while Bernie Sanders’ photo says “cats can have a little salami.” This is one of the many decisions that people have to face in their lives. If the advice process was more widely used, cats might be able to vote for president.

I first learned about the advice process less than a year ago. I like the advice process for many reasons. The biggest is that it pushes back on the dominant-culture notion that there’s only one solution to a given problem. In truth, there can be many solutions to a problem. The best solution is more likely to come from a person closest to the problem at hand. It very rarely comes from that person’s boss, or their boss’ boss.

Since then, I wrote a guide for how to use it at a medium-sized non-profit organization. About seven months ago, I launched it in a committee on which I was the chair. This is a quick update on my experience using the advice process to make better decisions at work.

How I implemented it
I lead a large team, but I decided not to launch this process with my employees. Even though I introduced the advice process to my boss, and she supported the goals of this work. The advice process works by design in an ecosystem of distributed self-management. My non-profit is still a hierarchy, with a CEO and a typical decision-making structure. Decisions go up the chain, then they go back down the chain. I didn’t want my first experiment using the advice process to lead to a situation where I have to veto a decision. Instead, I chose to test the advice process in a committee I’m on. Every member of the committee represents a department or team. We are all considered equals, and experts in our fields. It was easier to justify the advice process in a setting where no one held power over another. The committee still operated in a hierarchy, though. The Chief Operating Officer sat on the committee, and could overrule any decision any of us made.

Ranking problems
When we started, we had a lot of issues on the table that were languishing without a decision. I created a very simple ranking scheme that anyone with five fingers can do. I asked each committee member to rank every issue using 1-5 fingers for these two questions:

  1. what is your personal interest or energy in solving this problem?
  2. how necessary is it for us to solve this problem soon?

These two questions helped us get a sense of urgency around each issue we faced. It also allowed us to land some easy wins once we got started.

Blocking a decision
I added to the advice process the ability to “block” a decision. The guidance acknowledges that my organization operated as a hierarchy (for now). In an ideal advice process scenario, the person with the power to veto is someone we would have consulted. With that in mind, we ask that before anyone in power vetoes an idea, they consider the following:

  • does the decision make things worse?
  • are you blocking the decision because you don’t love it? are you blocking the decision because you think your solution is better?

This part of the process has worked well for us, so far. Decisions made through the advice process are often well-reasoned. We know it’s okay if they are not perfect.

Questions of Impact
Another issue we ran into on this committee was the question around impact. Because we are a service non-profit, our recipients are the ones most affected by what we decide. We don’t have an advisory board, and our decisions are much too small to consult a group every time we need to make one. Instead, we say the impact falls most on the team affected by the proposed change. That team’s representative becomes the person who gets to make the decision. It’s also their responsibility to share their decision once it’s made.

What I’ve learned so far
Before the advice process, decision-making was haphazard at best. Someone would ask a question, and then we would talk about it for a while before tabling it for the next meeting. Someone would offer to do research, but that never paid off into real decisions. Using this process, we resolved six issues in five months. These issues had plagued us for at least a year. Once we started making decisions, we realized the decision-maker needed to share. I created a decision-making share-out document to archive our decisions.

Sometimes, many teams are the “most impacted” by a decision. Sometimes nobody was more impacted than anyone else. In these cases, the advice process says that anyone who wants to make the decision, can. Sometimes everyone is busy, but the issue is too important to delay. In those cases, we had to assign the issue to someone.

What I am still exploring
Some of the decision-makers reported difficulty getting started. This is still an unfamiliar practice for most of us. It’s not easy getting used to being the sole decision-maker. While individual consults are easier to schedule, it’s still nice to sit around a table and brainstorm with your colleagues. And as I mentioned above, we need to get clear about who we should include in the advice process. Often decisions can cascade outside a team in ways we don’t predict. But the advice process, like all tools, is not perfect.

I am still very impressed with the advice process. I am still thinking about ways to build the process into a formal hierarchy. I am also curious to see if the process continues when I move on from leading the committee. We’ll see how it goes!

centering people when collecting information

A white lighthouse with a red roof sits against a deep blue sky with streaks of clouds. Like the lighthouse, data collectors sometimes serve as beacons or warnings… eh, I just liked this picture of a lighthouse.

I have a stable job that pays me well. I live in a nice apartment with my husband. We can afford to buy the things we need. My job pays me to provide social services to others, but it’s not likely that I will ever need those services myself. And yet, I am responsible for collecting data from this group of people.

Government and non-profit organizations operate in a racist and classist world. Our culture supports the idea that people in need deserve some punishment for that need. This shows up as needlessly bureaucratic forms, means testing, and othering practices. It also shows up in how we collect information. The questions we ask are often invasive and embarrassing. Many people see it as the price someone must pay to get that service. But we don’t have to do it that way.

People who need help should be able to design for themselves how they want to receive that help. In our world, that almost never happens! So we collect information. Sometimes we collect it because we’re used to collecting it. Sometimes it’s because a funder asks for it.

I ask questions because I want to use the answers to design better programs. I ask myself questions like these:

  1. What information would be useful to share with the person needing help?
  2. What information do I need to do my program well?
  3. What information could I use to plan for the future, or improve the program?
  4. What information do my funders want? What requests of theirs could I push back or negotiate on?

Information I can share
I start with the information that would be valuable to the person receiving services. They might like to know how their A1C levels have changed or improved over time. If they shared their ZIP code, I could make referrals closer to their home. You can also ask people what they would like to learn or know if they take part in data collection.

Information I need now
This category information is different than what a funder might want. The beneficiary of this information should be me and my program staff. I ask, what do I need to keep my program running? I want to know how many people I’m serving. If I know the usual time that people come in for services, I can make sure I have enough staff to support them. I try to work around requests for more invasive data. What would we do with their name and address? If we collect it, ICE could subpoena that information from us. That’s a reality that no one in data collection should ignore. 

Information for the future
This is information I can use to grow or improve my program. Take my earlier example about schedules. If I knew what hours we could be open, I could serve people with busier schedules. This would take me into parts of the community who don’t already come in to see us.

Information for funders
Many funders want to see improvement over time. We scratch our heads for good metrics, then come up with measurements that are hard to collect. I inherited a grant that claimed a weekly class on diabetes could lower patients’ A1C levels in six weeks. This isn’t realistic. It puts needless pressure on the program team and participants. In reality, most funders wouldn’t expect that if we didn’t claim we could do it. We could instead check the program’s impact by measuring patients’ satisfaction. We could test if they’ve learned more about their condition over time. 

I try to do a lot of hard thinking about why to ask a question before I ask it. What will I use the answers for? What answers am I prepared or not prepared to receive? How could I get a more useful answer by asking this in a different way?. How could I learn this without putting it on a survey? What questions could I ask later, when I’m ready to use the information? We questioners hold immense power over people who need our services.

race and ethnicity questions

A flock of birds flies above the camera on a backdrop of a sunny blue sky with scattered clouds. Trees and a building fill the view in silhouette. Nobody is asking the birds where they are from. It doesn’t matter!

I’ve filled out a lot of questionnaires in my life. The question I hate the most is the one asking me my race or ethnicity. Nobody standardizes these questions. Sometimes I have to choose one; sometimes I can “check all that apply.” Sometimes questions about race and ethnicity combine into one question. Sometimes, if I check “Hispanic,” they grey out all the other options. If the questioner is trying to be thoughtful, they will give me a blank field where I can type whatever I want. Every one of these questions asks me to explain what group someone else has assigned me to. 

If people believed in equality, why would this question matter? Everyone should be “treated the same.” If people believed in equity, they would use this information to right the wrongs of racism. They would try to repair the need for us to ask this question at all. Some places only ask this question so they can update their website with a statistic. Please do more than this!

I choose not to ask this question on any survey I design. Some believe they can offer better services if they know the racial mix of the population they serve. But many non-profits say that everyone should receive the same services regardless of their race. Or they might want to use the answer to know the language a person speaks or reads. But a person’s ethnicity doesn’t tell you anything about the language they speak or read. Someone might be able to speak English, but would rather read and sign legal documents in Spanish. At a colleague’s food bank, she uses the data to know what fruits and vegetables her community prefers. But I love plenty of food outside my family’s cultures, and I explain none of that with my ethnicity. 

So what do we use it for? In a white-dominant society, race and ethnicity is a way to put non-white people into groups. It’s done to make assumptions about the needs of each group. Time and again, I find that the best way to know what a person needs, is to ask.

Instead of asking for a person’s race or ethnicity, why not target your question to what you really want to know?

  • What kind of foods do you like to eat?
  • What language do you prefer to speak?
  • What language do you feel comfortable reading in?
  • What would be important for me to know?

To me, that last question is like the empty box I described earlier. There’s nothing more powerful than letting someone speak for themselves. To use the words they want to use, to describe themselves in all the ways they think is important.

Until we can feel like we don’t need to ask this question anymore, it’s the least we can do.

why you should move on

a small passenger plane with propellers readies to take off. maybe it’s for you. just kidding. …unless?

Two to three years is the ideal amount of time for working in the same job. This is mostly true, for most industries. Some exceptions for if you’re in an executive level position or work at an extremely small company. It’s rare nowadays for someone to work at the same place for decades. As a manager, I want to help my employees challenge themselves and grow. I don’t expect them to find the same level of fulfillment from the same job for the rest of their lives. It’s up to them to decide their own goals, of course.

Organizations suffer when we do things a certain way only because we’ve always done it that way. Regular turnover is the most natural way a company can adapt fast enough to a world that is changing around them. Turnover is especially important among management. Stagnating managers create decisions based on the way things have always been. People who make decisions are often nostalgic about those decisions. Their coworkers or employees risk offending them if they challenge ingrained policies.

I also want to be able to continue to challenge and grow the employees my organization has invested in. I hope that my employees can take what they’ve learned and turn it into a promotion or a new job somewhere else. With regular management turnover, new and entry-level employees can imagine a future at a place they like working.

I seek challenges and self-reflection as a way to keep my own skills sharp. I think about what I like doing in my current job, and what I would like to do more of. I think about the parts of my job that I don’t like, and why I don’t like them. Do I have something to dig in and explore? I ask myself how I know the things I know to be true. I listen to my coworkers, old and new, and wonder if they are still true. I wonder if they were ever true. And when I’m ready, I grow, and I move on.

race-based affinity groups

Besides climate change, racism is the single-biggest threat to humanity that we face. People use many methods in the work to end racism. This is one of them.

why do we caucus?
“The work we do is hard, but we do it anyway.”
Race-based caucusing is sometimes known as affinity groups. Caucusing provides a space to talk in community with those who share our racial identity. Caucusing can also provide belonging to people who feel isolated in white-dominant culture.

how do we caucus?
Caucuses can group people into whatever racial characteristics are present in your team. White, black and indigenous, people of color, and multi-racial folks are some of the most common. People with many racial identities can caucus with whichever group they choose.

what do we talk about?
Caucuses provide us a space to talk about race with people outside of work. It’s not enough to get together and talk. The framing for each group is how to support people who face oppression because of their race.

a note on confidentiality
Confidentiality is common in affinity groups. Talking about race requires vulnerability. Sharing our experiences can be deeply personal. When you leave a caucus, please don’t share what you hear. Instead, share how your caucus-mates’ stories make you feel. Share the perspectives or lessons you learned. Leave the details behind.

why do we caucus by race?
Think about something you’ve lived with for a long time, or know a lot about. For me, that’s the TV show Battlestar Galactica (BSG). If you don’t know anything about BSG, I’m going to talk to you about it in a different way. If you’re like me, you’ve lived and breathed the show (and own both the board game and two expansion packs). You and I are going to have a deeper conversation than I will with the person who has never seen the show.

For many people of color, race is like Battlestar Galactica. When we caucus by race, we can talk about our experiences freely. We don’t have to explain or introduce entry-level concepts to visitors. We can learn from each other while staying within a specific context.

I adapted some of the concepts from Dialogue for Affinity Groups, a publication of Everyday Democracy.

distributed decision-making

People in organizations make decisions all the time. This is sometimes a time-consuming or unsatisfying experience. We want to empower employees to make better decisions faster. Some organizations use a technique called the Advice Process. Here’s a summary of how it works. 

when you identify a problem
When you see a problem, you can do (at least) three things: 

  1. Solve the problem yourself 
  2. Identify a person who could better solve that problem 
  3. Log the problem for others to review 

solve the problem yourself
Before you can make a decision, you need to understand the problem. How would you describe the problem? Who does the problem affect? Who does it affect the most? What problems have we already solved that are like this problem? Who solved those problems? Ask yourself, “Am I the best person for this decision?” 

Once you describe the problem, you can then collect advice. Find time to talk about the problem with the people it affects. Use their experience and advice to inform your decision. Consult people who might also have experience you can use. Then, make the decision. Share your decision with everyone you consulted. Thank them for their input. Make yourself available for feedback. 

identify a person who could better solve that problem
If you see a problem but think someone else is better able to solve it, you might be a person affected by the decision. Explain the problem to them and ask for their help. “Hey, I see this opportunity. What do you think? Given your role should you initiate this?” Give advice based on your experience and perspective. Let them decide according to the framework above. If the person doesn’t have interest or capacity to do this, anyone can. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Log the problem so you don’t forget it. 

log the problem for others to review
If this problem needs a decision but you don’t have time to make it, write it down! Post problems in a public space with your name and the date. If someone wants to take on that problem, they can write their name next to it. This person might make a decision or form a task force. Anyone can take on this problem if they follow this process. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Keep the problem on the log so you don’t forget it. 

task forces: when the problem is too big
Some problems may need solving through a team discussion. Generally, the bigger the issue, the more people you need to consult. Complex problems may need several decisions. In this case, you can form a task force or workgroup using the guide above. Bring together the people affected by the problem. Also invite people with relevant experience. There is no leader in a task force, only a convener. 

Discuss the problem. Talk about potential solutions. Talk about who should make decisions. Talk about who can do what. Ask who else the decision-maker should consult. Ask what else the decision-maker needs to move forward. Decide if you need a second meeting. 

I adapted this material from Reinventing Organizations. There’s even more detail on the wiki.

boom times

“Everyone thinks they live in a boom time,” I turned the words over and over in my mind like I was polishing them for something. I was looking for hope within them and kept finding none, but I couldn’t stop. I’m standing in one of the three different lines at the spaceport, watching the different people lining up. Watching the wealthy elites casually submit to a blood scan, the thin probes flicking into their skin like a snake tongue, watching them brush it off like it’s their burden in this world. 

I watch the snaking line of the discount class straggle through their inspection. The ones who didn’t pay the extra ten thousand or so dollars to precheck their suits are dragging their crumpled person-shaped husks along with them. The empty suits are varied in their conformity, mirroring the unique styles and tastes of their owners, as if each person in line was holding a dehydrated clone of themselves. Some of them have activated the built-in drink sack holders on the front of their suits, and bulging sacks from Starsbucks peek out from the molded hard plastic. 

The third line is full of mechs and the dispassionate faces of the permanent gig workers. They’re standing in for the people relaxing in lounges nearby, ready to swan aboard their vessels when the hours of processing are done. There is, of course, a fourth line that nobody on this side of the terminal will ever see, the ones who believe that things have gotten better for their societymates. There is no line for them. They skim the headlines and note that protests are down, prisons are full, and they sit with placid contentment knowing their investments are secure. 

Things have gotten so bad out there that some of us don’t even leave the spaceport between our visits to distant lands. A seat with a VR port is only 20 bucks an hour, and personally I’d rather clock out for a few days than pass through the endless stops and checkpoints so I can get home. Sometimes I wonder where it all went wrong but I know that it happened decades before my lifetime.

Things are better than they’ve ever been. I’ve seen the holos before my time, the people who talk about how it used to be. I’m glad that we’ve made so much progress in just 500 years since slavery ended. I know that we all were slaves once, at one time or another. I realize that we have so much freedom now to envision a bright future that our children’s children can enjoy in another 500.  

I toss my empty suck bag into a container nearby as I make my way forward. Everything is made of seaweed now, and everything composts on a long enough time scale. I saw a holo recently about the jellyfish colonies that live in the plastic piles of older generations, and I marvel at the wonders of nature. I don’t know how I would’ve survived in another life. I don’t know what kind of world that would be.

It’s so hot here. Maybe I would have hated the cold. The waters are great for the seaweed, and the jellyfish get turned into food for our aquaponic fields out in the newer parts of the coastline. Some of the best fruit used to come from the equator, and we can grow that stuff anywhere now. Mangos are such an extravagance, though they’re honestly not even that good. When I see them languishing under lights in stores I think about how the best versions of them can be tasted anytime through VR. It’s no contest. Every molecule of every scent has been preserved in vast memory banks I can access for half the price. Only the rich crave the excesses of produce that can go bad, experiences that are uneven. I think they love the variety. 

But the phrase, again, hangs on my mind like a tendril. If everything is a boom time, how can anything be? And if this isn’t a boom, what would be? The thoughts linger for a moment, then the line moves forward and it is forgotten.