Tensions around how we use software within SoFA

In the relatively new Software for SoFA Helping Circle (which has as its aim to test, evaluate, and report on the benefit of software tools for SoFA’s circle collaboration; and which is a step in from IT Circle), one of our first steps has been to consider the ways that we have been dissatisfied with the current suite of software that we use in SoFA. Below are some of the tensions that we’ve identified so far. I summarized this list from exploratory rounds in our original meeting notes (in our 11-11 and 11-23 meetings), if you’d like to see the original lists there.

One reason we wanted to share these notes here is that we want feedback from you. What are your reactions to these items? What tensions and ideas would you add to the list?

  • There is no single place where we can contact or see all SoFA members, and there are many disconnected or only partially connected silos of information. The various tools that we use are generally not integrated with each other (in contrast to using a more unified platform approach). Also, our primary use of email makes it difficult for those messages and that information to be connected or integrated into other information systems.
  • Google Docs provides a lot of editing power, but this makes it challenging to get consistent formatting and structuring of the information. We yearn for agenda and minutes documents to be more structured around sociocracy, including presenting best practices for structuring and organizing a backlog. Also, using Google Docs for minutes can lead to very large documents which can be difficult for some computers to load.
  • Google Docs doesn’t keep track of circle decisions, and it can be difficult to find a history of decisions within the other content of a document.
  • One of us presented the idea that we could benefit from a tool to support onboarding of members.
  • Many of the tools we use are not open-source. Also, we have a concern about security and privacy issues with using some of our current tools (such as Zoom).
  • We imagine tools that provide guidance for facilitators, such as providing suggestions for facilitation steps and automatically proposed agendas based on a prioritized backlog.
  • One freedom we have is that within SoFA we don’t have to manage a distinction and reconciliation between in-person spaces and distributed spaces.
  • It’s difficult to keep track of roles in circles; for example, when are selections and review dates coming up? We yearn for more visibility and capacity around keeping track of roles, and also keeping track of deadlines in general in a way that is organized alongside our circle structure. This also touched on having a view into SoFA’s history, including the history of circle members, role holders, and policies.
  • The idea came up of having a strong software-backed chain of evidence indicating that certain members did or did not consent to a decision. This touched on a larger issue that we have been discussing about how much support do we want from our software, in contrast to support from training and our personal relationships within SoFA and our circles?
  • Another idea came up around the possibility of having an internal currency within SoFA to keep track of the use of time and energy and help with understanding our budget.
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Asana limiting how many people who can be on teams is often a barrier.

With both Asana and zoom, we are doing weird work arounds to try to avoid paying/pay less for the services which makes working with them less intuitive and more cumbersome.

@david.cebrian_tarras has more thoughts about Asana if I recall correctly.

I think its also important to note that most people generally know how to use Google Docs. Switching to any other note taking software will increase the complexity of the onboarding process.

Also, if we consider switching away from 3rd party services to self hosted services(which I’m guessing is on the table if you’re exploring open source options)-- It is incredibly unlikely that an organization that has 4 part time website folks that total up to about 1 full time employee will be able to offer better service for those services than large corporations that employ dozens or hundreds of full time employees that can focus specifically on those services(instead of having other responsibilities which would probably be the case if we switched to internal services)

Historically, we also have a bumpy track record when switching from external services to internal services. People are still feeling pain from transitioning from Hubspot to Groundhogg(even though it was financially necessary as we’ve grown large enough that Hubspot would now cost us $17k+ a year) and largely none of us use groundhogg’s scheduling tool even though we have it as it is not comparable in terms of quality of service to third party tools.

I think its also important to note that many of the things we don’t track at the moment I think is more related to the implicit or explicit workflows that we have and not a result of limitations of our current technology. We have the technology already to note down who was present to consent to a decision, we have the technology to be able to note down decisions someplace separate from the minutes document, we have the technology to be able to keep a history of who used to hold circle roles.

I also want to mention that I sense a tension about “lack of compliance” to policies. Many of the things you have listed seemed to be related to things like people not engaging with the policy manual, not tagging people the way they’re supposed to, otherwise not following policies. I think it is worth thinking about the costs of imposing a more authoritarian technological system that enforces compliance with policies-- when there might be reasons besides technological barriers that are contributing to lack of compliance. Also, many of the things on this list would have some operational impact, especially for people in log keeping roles I imagine, but there’s also a balance that needs to be struck between how much time we put into building systems vs how much of our time actually goes into working towards SoFA’s aim, and some of these items you’re considering feel like they could easily slide into creating a number of projects that would take up a lot of initial labor and have uncertain benefits. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I think an important thing to consider when I also sense a tension around SoFA feeling under resourced when it comes to having enough labor for some key areas of operations.

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Re: Task management tools
It’s worth noting that if we paid for Asana, we could have more people. It’s just a bit expensive.

There are other open source task management tools that would be easy to host on the cheap like those listed here but to my knowledge they don’t have quite the same functionality as asana. Specifically Taiga and Wekan, but also OpenProject

Wekan would be a pretty functional replacement for the free version Asana I believe, but there are key features like receiving cards from email (it has outgoing wehbooks, but I’m not sure about incoming…)

The same goes for the Discourse Kanban Board functionality, though I would definitely support making a switch to that if we could make it work for us.

I’ve been hesitant to champion more software switches, especially to open source platforms (which may not be as polished but are much more affordable that closed source service based software).

EDIT: turns out Taiga is pretty fully functional and would make a good self hosted open source replacement for most of the functionality we current have in Asana.

For sociocracy specifically it seems the biggest value ads would be something that ties decisions to the groups that made the decisions and also the review dates, including for selections.

Right now the only way to do this is manual linking and/or searching textual histories. It would be great if the textual history allowed for easy automatic creation of these records and and flexible viewing of the information in different formats - like the circle structure, or a list of all past decisions by date, or decisions up for review, etc.

I know of some organizations that store decisions in a database, but it was a custom made system and a bit costly for a single organization to maintain functionality of.

Yes, I do think that we’re going to end up focusing first (and perhaps solely, in our limited life span) on tools to help us follow the links of circles, decisions, roles, and terms. My sense is that we wanted to start with some time to be heard and take some notes around the things that frustrate us with the broader set of tools that we use. Maybe it will simply provide us with more empathy with each other as we continue to use these tools.

I don’t know, I don’t think that’s been the vibe in SoSo Circle. Instead, I think we’ve been more reflecting on how remembering to do these things and stretching the tools to do things in a way that’s not really consistent with their workflow model is taxing, and we want to take some time to think about possible alternatives.

We also do want to keep our capacity as an organization in mind, and I’m grateful for your reminders about this.

Yes, and I find that actually a big problem. Not only that one cannot contact members but in particular role holders. It’s impossible for me to remember for circle where I’m not who is doing what. That’s why I’m advocating for a professional circle/role tool. It’s actively holding us back that we aren’t using one for operational roles.

Huh, this wasn’t on my radar for SoFA. by comparison, I find us rather consistent in our note taking. But if others struggle, I’d be happy to hear what you’re thinking in terms of solutions. I know Holaspirit etc offer more of a decision log function as well. I’m not enthusiastic about switching our notes elsewhere because I think it’ll create a barrier for the volunteers.

Sounds great, and is that within IT Circle or somewhere else? I’m asking because I don’t think we necessarily need it in SoFA as all SoFA members are trained. But as a product for others, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. As a product, it would live in Continuing Education Circle. There are plans there to build on the cards and have others kinds of cards as well as, maybe, in the future an app. But again, that’s product development.

Do you mean absent people, or people who object and want to stand aside? Please tell me you mean the former. Our governance agreement addresses that issue.

If you’re talking about the sheer mechanics of knowing what absent member has consented to something, for example in asynchronous contexts, I know the typical tools (like nestr.io) have asynchronous decision-making functions.

Remember not to solve all issues at once :wink:
Also, Financial Wellbeing Circle is thinking about budget visualizations. But before visualization, we have to solve the problem that we’re running out of actual money.

If I could advocate for a good enough solution that solves many of these issues without handmade solutions, please come to a decision on whether to adopt a tool written for/compatible with sociocracy (peerdom, nestr or Holaspirit), and soon.

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Hi! I think this is one of the most ethical and inclusive ideas. I guess the currency will be convertible in real money, is it? People could easily choose to withdraw money for themselves or donate some money to SoFA. Volunteers would have the sense that their work is valued and chose how much of their work they are doing for SoFA and how much work they are doing for themselves. I’m interested to understand how each task or project would be valued in the SoFA internal currency and how the exchange rate will be set at a given time. I would like to see this idea becoming reality because it seems to me ethical and inclusive. To become more real, let’s give a name to this virtual currency. I propose to be named “sofar” (not “dolar”). I guess many people would be interested to do something to accumulate more “sofars” in their virtual account and decide how much they use for themselves and how much they are eager to donate. Good point with this internal currency. Let’s make some “sofars” and enjoy the process. Best regards!