Opting into collaboration with Good Good Work

Relationships are built on mutually understood agreements. More often than not, these agreements are based on mutually implicit understandings of common terms. Employee, best friend, peer, co-worker, manager, president, CFO, etc. all have implicit meanings which we assume are commonly understood. In my experience, we can often trace problems in relationships back to misalignment in these implicit understandings. Our expectations of another person do not align with what they believe is expected of them when our agreement is only as deep as a single word like “client” or “consultant.” At the end of the day each of us has our own unique understanding of these words.

At Good Good Work we strive to make the implicit explicit. We also strive to be transparent. To that end, I’m going to dig a little deeper into how we engage with clients.

The Master Service Agreement

From Wikipedia:

“A master service agreement is a contract reached between parties, in which the parties agree to most of the terms that will govern future transactions or future agreements.”

Download the template here

We see the MSA as the opening of a relationship with a group we are going to do work for. In fact, before we do any work for a group, we require that they sign an MSA. Typically, the MSA is followed by a Statement of Work (SOW), which defines the scope of a project. The MSA acts as a foundation for the relationship while the SOW defines very specific acts. Legally speaking, the SOW supersedes the MSA whenever they are in conflict. The MSA “catches” anything that isn’t covered by a SOW. This allows us to create Statements of Work that are tidy and precise.

We break our MSA up into a few sections:

  • Preamble
  • Rate
  • Legal Requirements
  • Cultural Norms
  • Client Cultural Norms

The preamble and legal requirements aren’t really interesting; you’ve probably seen this kind of stuff in many agreements and it’s thoroughly covered online, and you really should talk with a lawyer about this kind of stuff anyway.

We define the rate  as a means to set a standard hourly rate for any work that falls outside of a Statement of Work. This allows us to do little things for our clients without having to create a whole new SOW. For instance, we were asked to do a discovery recently for a client, but quickly found out that they had an emergency with their server. Due to a little bit of technological malpractice on the part of a former consultant, they were 200% over their server space limit and were about to be charged some $700 by their hosting company. We were able to swoop in and save the day because we had the MSA already in place to account for this kind of out-of-scope work.

This might seem small or petty, but we can avoid uncomfortable situations because we are explicit like this. Having a Master Service Agreement allows us to do work without putting us or the client at risk.

Cultural Norms

What I’m really proud of here is our cultural norms section. This is something that Katie developed after years of working on her own. She developed an arsenal of legalese to protect her against bad clients who stiffed her or stole her work. In spite of that, she found that there were practices some clients would engage in that couldn’t be curbed through legal language. What it came down to was expectations and our misalignment around them. For example:

[9:45 pm] Client: “Hey I’ve got an urgent request, can you do this now?!”

This is a text message we’ve gotten far too often. The work day is over and we are trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance when an urgent request comes in. This signals different expectations. The client expects people to be on call, perhaps because they are on call (for whatever reason) at night. It’s a minor thing but again, this is about setting expectations so everyone can be happy. We cover this exact scenario in the maintain professional boundaries section of our cultural norms:

As it turns out, our Clients are pretty great! We love to socialize and get to know them on a personal level. We’re all about happy hours and hikes instead of dumping catch-up and hang-out time into meetings. One-on-one time shouldn’t cost money. We also like to keep work inside standard US business hours (10:00-18:00 eastern time, Monday-Friday). If we get text messages [see documentation]—or emails after hours—it’s 99% likely we won’t respond. But we’ll certainly get back to you the next time we’re in the office.

This gives us the power to say “no” and mean it. We’ve set a boundary and now it’s just a matter of pointing to the document everyone signed and saying “nope sorry can’t do that, we agreed.” This might seem trivial, but consider the power dynamic of someone who controls your livelihood making a demand like that.

Beyond being able to say no with confidence, it also supports our own development of healthy work habits. I’m constantly reminded of this agreement, that I have with all of my clients, when an email pops up on my phone while I’m out with friends. Not only do I have no obligation to look at it, I’m actually incentivised not to respond lest I break my own agreement!

The Client’s Cultural Norms

We provide space for our clients to add their own cultural norms too. We want to know what they expect and how they work. We haven’t yet actually tested this part of our document with any clients, so I can’t say how well this works. If you want to try it out with us, just book a consult here.

What I do know is that this little bit of work upfront can save a lot of heartache down the road.

The post Opting into collaboration with Good Good Work appeared first on Good Good Work.

Fractals: Considerations for More Effective Change-Making

Last month was the 6 year anniversary of #OCCUPYWALLST, a political movement in the US that needs no introduction. September 17th, 2011 was a pivotal point in my life. It was the day I started down a road divergent from the status quo, the day I left the confused world of early 20’s “adulting” and joined The Movement. It brings hope of a world arranged in such a way that poverty is impossible and extractive ecocide is not the basis of economic activity.
It took me three years to begin to grasp a very important lesson that The Movement demanded I learn.

Photo by Steven Diaz on Unsplash

“Change must start from within”

It’s almost cheesy in its simplicity. But this was such a profound realization that I recall the exact moment it truly stuck. Sitting on a low wall, looking over the East River on September 17, 2013, I realized that change starts within me. This is why a protest that seemed to be about big banks and income inequality spent so much time talking about systemic racism. It’s why I was constantly being told to “check my privilege,” why I was told to examine my bias. The systems that created the economic crisis of gross inequality didn’t come from nowhere; they came from people just like me. People who hold within themselves the schematics of oppressive systems. It is through people that these horrors are birthed and through them that the horrors are overcome.

“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”

Bell Hooks

In this quote, Bell Hooks is describing the connection between violence against women with the internal violence against one’s self. She makes a similar connection to police violence in the US and its roots at home. There is a thread of commonality that runs between the unaccountable violence we see from police as an institution and the individual acts of violence we commit against ourselves and others. The way we treat ourselves as individuals and those around us is linked to the whole of a culture.

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

As Above, So Below

I believe the message here is that we cannot hope to address systemic violence in our institutions if we do not also face the violence in and around ourselves.

More broadly, we cannot change anything outside of ourselves if we do not also change within. This is why:

“Change must start from within”

I don’t believe that it is a controversial thought, that a person who commits domestic violence will bring that same violence into their workplace and, inversely, a workplace that is violent will be carried home by those who work there.

What The Movement taught me with #OCCUPYWALLST was that I couldn’t hope to change the way the world worked if I didn’t change the way I worked within the world. If I want women to be equal I’d better treat them as equals. If I want equality, then I must practice equality in my life.

The fractals of change

These thoughts are not groundbreaking; the Dalai Lama was tweeting about this before I even integrated it into myself.

What I want to do is apply this truth to work we do and how we do that work. Consider the leap between me not interrupting women at meetings and systemic violence against women being eliminated. I’ll admit, a single act of not-being-a-dick doesn’t do much to erode thousands of years of systemic oppression. But the actions of the self and the actions of a culture are fractal reflections of each other, with too many steps in between for a single act to resolve this deep-rooted issue.

For the purposes of this article, “culture” is defined as the dominant form of human activity on earth. This could be K-12 education, nation-states, money, etc. Basically, everyone except for the 0.01% of tribal people still holding on.

If we consider culture to be a mighty river, then the individual is but a tiny spring that flows into it. These individual springs flow together to form a small creek, and all the creeks join together to form a stream, and the streams join to form the river…we can see how this analogy might be used to map the fractals of human endeavors. The individual flows into a group, the group into a team, the team into an organization, the organization into sectors, the sectors into economies, the economies into culture.

Image taken from Pexels

So, if we agree with the premise that “Change must start from within,” we see the fractal connection between the atomic part (the individual) and the whole (culture, or all humans). Change the humans, change the culture. This connection is present between every step in that system. To change the family, you must start with the family members. To change the team you must start with the members of that team. Again, I suspect that this isn’t earth-shattering news to you. Basically, what I’m saying is, “To change the whole you must start with the parts.”

There is a relationship between the components and the whole. If you want to change the educational system, teachers will change how they teach, schools will change how they run, school districts will change how they operate, and so on up the fractal ladder. If we want to address police violence we must address violence along the fractal, from violence against the self to domestic violence, to violence among nations. The violent tweet is connected to the bombs dropped on Syrian children is connected to a bully beating up a peer is connected to the violence that the bully witnesses at home. All are parts of the fractal.

Photo by Rostam Torki on Unsplash

You are part of the world and part of the fractal

At this point, we must be careful not to get lost within ourselves. Change along these fractal ladders happens all at once. Its influence is omnidirectional, happening up and down and at all points. It can be easy to confuse the need to start within with the desire and ease of staying within. We must address state violence as we address police violence as we address our own violence. It all happens in tandem. The spring flows at the same time as the river.

You might think that you need to do all the internal work before facing the work that needs to be done in the world. This is not the case; I can advocate for a carbon tax while still driving a car. You can and will be a hypocrite and that’s okay.

The whole system moves at once. We start from within because it is where we have the power to start. I can only move my body. I cannot move yours, yet by moving my body, I inspire yours to move too.

Photo by Dan Roizer on Unsplash

What you do is how you do it

Let’s consider how we make change in the world. The kind I’m talking about is often done through activism and organizations with social good as their bottom line, which in the US take the form of non-profits or a 501c3. These organizations seek to change something other than the numbers in their bank account. The idea that “Change must start from within” is probably very familiar to them. Personal development, anti-oppression training, and other means to change the “within” of the individual are often present. But what doesn’t seem to be given much thought to is how these organizations’ structures mirror the fractal patterns they target for change.

Can an organization that wants to reduce inequality in the world complete their mission if those very patterns of inequality exist within their own organization?

“Change must start from within”

Even if the people in the organization are all woke as f**k, that organization also needs to start from within.

This is the fractal ladder we must climb to get out of our current crisis. Just as we need to look inward to work through our internalized biases, so too must our change-oriented organizations look within. How can a group fight for women’s rights if women are talked over in meetings discussing this very subject? How can a group push for greater democracy in the world while organized as a tyrannical hierarchy? How can a group demand equality while it’s interns go unpaid?

It is this relationship between the meta and the micro that we need to address. I do not mean to say that a group cannot work toward change without being perfect. Instead, we need to always remind ourselves that working towards change means working to change –on all levels of ourselves, our lives, our peers, and our culture.

This is why my co-op chose to organize as a co-op instead of any other hierarchical business model. This is why we spend so much time working on our internal culture. If we want to be able to shift other groups’ culture towards alignment with their goals, we too have to shift our culture to align with ours.

“Change must start from within”

This post also appears on Medium.com if you’d like to click buttons about it over there.

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Online Community Guidelines

I’ve been trying to gather feedback for a card on the ALF Community Mastery Board:

I feel like it isn’t being taken serious largely due to the amazing community we have who operate from a place of trust, respect, and understanding. It doesn’t feel like a big deal to define agreements because if something comes up we can “deal with it” on a case by case basis.

Perhaps that is right, but I don’t think so. We are growing at a fast rate, 5 new ALC Startups in the past 2 months, with nearly zero advertising on our part. The folks working on network infrastructure (like the website, etc) are foreseeing a “flood” of new interest in the coming year.

I work to keep our communication infrastructure running and transparent. Most of this is configuring web services, documenting their use, and working on making clear how they function. A part of this upkeep is also keeping cultural technology well functioning. An email list or website activity feed isn’t working if it’s full of spam or harassing messages.

Why General group communication agreements?

Right now there are about 6 email lists, multiple forums and discussion spaces on this website, plus endless comment threads on each blog post (including this one). We have no explicit agreement about what is and is not acceptable on any of these channels.


For the most part people can delete comments on their own websites, administrators of groups can moderate their forums, and empowered users can remove toxic people from email lists (which hasn’t ever happened). This is a fine system when we have only about 150 users. What happens when we have 1500 users? 15,000?

I want the General group communication agreements to act as a “baseline” agreement that is applied automatically to all ALC communication channels. Groups can exercise their autonomy to make their own communication agreements by over writing or adding to the general agreements.

What’s the big deal?

This isn’t the first site of this kind I’ve built. In 2011 I worked with a team of activist technologist to build a very similar site for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET in NYC. There was a need to coordinate and communicate about the encampment in the park digitally. It’s scope was limited to the NYC metro area and participants limited to people actually on the ground.

Even with this limited—trust based—scope things quickly spiraled out of control on the website. A minority of people began to create a very unsafe space online for other users. The tech working group who oversaw the site didn’t have clear guidelines around how to remove people. We were too afraid to use our autonomy to police the site because it hadn’t been clearly defined or granted to us by the larger community.

Our site, which we had worked so hard on, died. Only the trolls remained on the site and all the nice people who were interested in social change were driven out.

Trolling, not even once!
Trolling, not even once!

I don’t think the same thing will happen to the ALC site, the stakes are much lower and the community is much more grounded in trust.

The thing is, I don’t want to wait till something bad happens to have a process in place! I don’t want me and the other people I have granted admin rights to make arbitrary decisions about if a person is damaging the communication channels of our community. I want to be able to look to an agreement that is clear, which I can show to someone in “violation” and say “what you are doing is against our communities’ agreements”.

The Draft Agreements

## Agreements

Keep posting relevant to the charter of the tool, no spam (irrelevant or inappropriate messages)
Respect each other, no hate (any form of hate speech will result in immediate removal)

## Oversight

Any ban, blocking, or censorship will be forwarded to the Network Culture Committee Working Group (not yet a thing)

I think this could be much better. If we model it after student agreements, which are agreements that students sign to play in a space, then anyone in that space is empowered to point out violations of these agreements. This saves people like me from having to be the police and from normal users feeling powerless to deal with spammers or bullies.

Please add your suggestions below or, if you are an ALF add comments directly to the card.


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