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Knowledge Futures Handbook

Published onAug 05, 2020
Knowledge Futures Handbook
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Our Mission

The Knowledge Futures Group builds technology for the production, curation, and preservation of knowledge in service of the public good.

Our Values (ACCESS)

These values serve as the backstop for all of the work we do, from hiring to product development to day-to-day interpersonal relationships. When processes (inevitably) fall apart, return here to help move forward effectively and respectfully.

Accessibility

We believe that just because knowledge is available doesn’t mean it’s truly accessible. We put ourselves in others’ positions to understand the barriers that prevent knowledge from being truly accessible to diverse groups around the world.

Conscientiousness

We value honesty and good-faith efforts to fulfill our duties and obligations as highly as success in its own right.

Curiosity

We approach challenges with an honest, experimental, problem-solving mindset. We bring an intellectual curiosity that explores problem spaces with openness and intrigue in ways that lead to important new ideas.

Egalitarianism

We acknowledges that all people deserve equality and fairness regardless of the individual circumstances of their life. We recognize that teams, especially distributed ones, are made of people who bring different perspectives, opportunities, and cultures that add to the strength of the team.

Systemic outlook

We prioritize solutions that tackle problems in systemic ways rather than iterating solely at the margins. We think systematically when we approach problems, rather than solely thinking locally.

Sustainability

We value solutions that are sustainable and durable for the long-term, even if they’re more difficult, over ones that are more expedient but less sustainable.


How We Work

Structure

We are organized into three primary teams, with a few sub-teams. Team leaders are ultimately responsible for setting goals with leadership and ensuring they meet them through proper planning, delegation, and decision-making.

  • Leadership: Lead by Travis Rich, responsible for setting overall strategy, budgeting, final hiring decisions, and fundraising.

    • Programs & Fundraising, lead by Zach Verdin

    • Convenings & Partnerships, lead by Heather Staines

    • Operations, lead by Gabe Stein

    • Content, lead by Catherine Ahearn

  • PubPub: Lead by Gabe Stein, responsible for the strategy and development of PubPub.

  • Commonplace: Lead by Catherine Ahearn, responsible for strategy and development of the Commonplace, the KFG publication.

  • Underlay: Partnership strategy lead by SJ Klein, technology lead by Travis Rich.

Communication

Because we work in a mostly remote environment, you should over-communicate, rather than under-communicate. This can be difficult, because we hire conscientious people who want to respect other team members’ time, and in remote environments you can’t look at someone’s desk to see whether they’re busy or not.

To account for this, we have a simple rule for everyone: you are responsible for setting your notification preferences so that you are not overwhelmed or distracted by them. That way, other team members can feel free to communicate with you

Everyone will have different needs here depending on how they work, but a few general tips include:

  • Turn off notifications entirely using Do Not Disturb when you need to focus

  • Turn off notifications from non-essential apps (news, social media, etc.) during the work day

  • Where appropriate, turn off banners and other interruptive styles of alerts and rely on badges or notification centers you can check instead

  • Where appropriate, turn off alert sounds that can pull you out of work

  • Schedule a few times per day to check email and notification centers, rather than having alerts delivered in real-time or leaving them open throughout the day

  • Keep your phone in another room while working at your computer

If you need help setting your notification preferences, reach out to your manager or Operations.

Communication Tools and Expectations

In an in-person office, different physical settings (your desk, a conference room, the break room, etc.) imply different levels of urgency and response expectations. Recreating that virtually requires a shared understanding and some time to learn. So, generally, these are the tools we use, what we use them for, and what our expectations are for them.

Zoom/Google Meeting

Used for completely real-time, face-to-face discussion. Best when needing to flesh out ideas, brainstorm, or communicate with someone when more emotional bandwidth is needed than can be provided by text alone. Roughly the equivalent of gathering in a conference room or office to chat.

Phone/Text (respond ASAP)

Used rarely for urgent communication. Roughly the equivalent of bursting in your office without permission.

Slack DMs or @-messages (respond within your work day)

Used for private real-time discussion. Roughly the equivalent of knocking on someone’s office and asking to chat privately.

Slack Channels (respond, as appropriate, within your work day)

Used for casual ongoing discussion. Roughly the equivalent of sitting down together in a room to discuss things.

Email/Discourse (respond within 24-48 hours)

Used for fleshing out larger ideas for feedback, and for most external communication. Equivalent to writing a memo.

Communication and Emotion: Escalate Mode, Not Tone

In a world of mostly text-based communication, we lose a lot of emotional bandwidth that usually comes through in the form of tone of voice, facial cues, and gestures. It’s easy to mis-read someone’s tone, and to forget that the other person is, in fact, a human being.

If you find yourself getting frustrated with someone, take a step back. Remember our values and assume the other person is operating with good intentions.

Then, suggest escalating the conversation to a mode of communication with higher emotional bandwidth – likely a video call. Often times, when people get stuck over text, adding a little more human contact and emotional content in the form of tone of voice, facial cues, and gestures, goes a long way towards resolving tension.

Making Decisions

We believe that it is more important to try something, collect data, fail, learn, and try again than it is to get everything right all the time. Thus, we use decision-making paradigms that allow individuals and teams to move forward quickly, understanding that there is plenty of tolerance for failure. And we prioritize individual autonomy for smaller decisions over consensus-building.

In other words, don’t spend too much time asking if you can or should do something. Decide to do it or not. If you need help making a decision, reach out to your manager to get specific help with the decision rather than offloading it onto a larger group.

Authority vs. Consensus for Teams

We view decision-making as a spectrum with top-down authoritarianism on one side, consult & decide in the middle, and consensus on the other side. Different projects and moments may require different decision-making models, but in general, we we want to fall between consult & decide and pure consensus, leaning towards the former.

authoritarian <————— consult & decide —x———> consensus

This means that in most cases, project Owners will meaningfully consult with their teams on major decisions before making the ultimate decisions. Team members are encouraged to vigorously debate these decisions during consultation, and expected to fully accept the final decision of the Owner. If the decision turns out to be wrong, teams are expected to try to understand why without pointing fingers or leveling blame.

Autonomy vs. Consensus for Individuals

For individuals or small groups making decisions, the calculus changes a little bit. In general, we expect individuals and smaller groups to operate fairly autonomously. That is, they should feel comfortable moving forward on projects with minimal consulting of other groups. If they get stuck, they should ask their manager for help making a quick decision, rather than offloading decision-making responsibility to a wider group.

autonomy <———x—— consult & decide ————> consensus

Meetings

We view meetings primarily as a way to get in sync, share context, consult, brainstorm, give feedback and discuss ideas.

In general, we do not believe meetings are good venues for making final decisions, writing documents, or reading documents.

Every meeting should include an agenda in the meeting invitation. Participants are expected to review the agenda and any included documents, and add their own items if needed, ahead of the meeting.

Each meeting should have a designated note-taker, often the convener of the meeting. At the close of the meeting, the note-taker should extract any action items from the notes, put them at the top, and send a follow-up message to attendees reminding them to review and complete those action items.

External Meetings

All external meetings should include an agenda with a description of external participants and the goal of the call. If meetings are with partners, notes should be logged in Freshsales by the note-taker.

Current Regular Meetings

  • KFG Strategy Weekly: All-hands meetings where teams and projects share progress and get in sync.

  • Weekly Project Meetings: Every project meets at least weekly to share progress and get in sync. Some projects meet more than once.

  • Manager/Report 1-on-1: Every manager should meet with their reports to check-in at least once every other week.

Responsibility

Most work at the KFG should be structured as a project with a clear Owner, measurable goals, and timelines. This includes both teams (like PubPub), one-off projects (like organizing an event) and smaller projects within teams.

Project Owners are responsible for ensuring a project gets done as expected and on time, but they are not expected to do it all. Their job is to bring together the right people to get the project done, define goals and structure, and communicate their progress and needs back to their manager and to the larger team via our weekly all-hands meetings.

Most projects, even small ones, should have a clearly defined process that includes meeting regularly, documenting meetings with notes, setting and measuring goals, and reporting back to their larger teams.

Starting New Projects

We are creative people constantly generating new ideas. This is great! But it can also become overwhelming and lead to a lack of companywide focus. In general, we should try to avoid offloading decisions on whether to start new projects, even small ones, onto the broader team. Instead, everyone should feel empowered to use the decision-making and project frameworks above to filter their ideas.

Thus, if you want to do something, resist asking if we can or should do it. Instead, if the idea is small, like a conference proposal, use your autonomy and decide to do it (or not!). Spin up a new project, assign yourself as the leader, recruit team members, and make it happen. If you need help deciding to do it or not, consult your manager.

If an idea is larger, lean on the consult and decide model. Write a short informal proposal, bring it up at your next team meeting, and ask the team to help you think through it.

If you decide not to pursue an idea, that’s also a great use of time. If you make that decision, make sure to leave a note in the #to-revisit channel on Slack to make sure that other people see it, so it enters the group consciousness, and we return to it later.

Getting Things Done

So, you’ve setup a project with a clear Owner. You’ve recruited the right people to help. Now what? Getting things done well, even when there’s a lot of passion and excitement, can be hard. To help, we’ve devised a very basic framework that every project at the company should follow to get things done well.

Some projects will need more structure, very few will need less. If you need help with any of this, ask your manager or Operations.

  1. Have a kickoff meeting. Gather the people who you’ll be working with and have a kickoff call to discuss the rest of this list.

  2. Document your (measurable) goals. Every project should start by writing down what they hope to accomplish, how they’re going to measure success, and when they want to accomplish it by. For long-running projects, this should be assessed & updated monthly or quarterly.

  3. Establish some kind of project tracking. Every project should have some kind of list of what’s been done, what’s being worked on right now, and what’s coming up. For smaller projects, this can just be a list in a Pub. Larger projects may need to setup a Trello board, Airtable, or GitHub issues with help from Operations.

  4. Schedule a weekly check-in. All members of the project team (even if it’s just two!) should meet once per week to get in sync, discuss progress, and prioritize the week’s work. This includes updating project tracking, reflecting on any blockers or issues, and, when appropriate, updating goals.

  5. Report out. All projects should report on their progress at the weekly KFG strategy meeting.

Making Remote Work

This section is deliberately minimal, because this Handbook (and the KFG as a whole) is designed to be remote-first, rather than to incorporate remote work. That said, we acknowledge that there are particular difficulties in making remote work…work, and we want to spend a little time highlighting how we try to overcome those, here.

  • Make as many meetings fully remote as possible. It’s very easy, if you happen to be colocated with someone, to prioritize the physical experience. In general, unless the entire team is in town for an all-hands, you should resist the urge to have a meeting with 2 or 3 people in a room on one machine, and 2 or 3 people on the phone. Instead, prioritize the remote experience: the people who are colocated should use their own equipment and sit in separate call rooms, if possible.

  • Invest in great mic & video setups for remote participants in physical meetings. When large in-person meetings are called for, we should make sure we have great a/v setups for remote participants. For example: we purchased an Owl device for the Cambridge space, and try to use it for every group meeting with a remote participant, even though it takes some time to setup.

  • Host full-team, in-person meetings at least once per year. Remote work can produce feelings of isolation, and in particular make it easy to dehumanize teammates due to constant asynchronous, low-emotional-bandwidth communication. To make up for this, project teams should try to meet in-person at least once per year, and, separately, the KFG as a whole should try to meet in-person at least once per year.



Employment

Performance Expectations

People’s lifestyles, preferences, and productivity cadences vary widely, particularly in at-home settings. In fact, we expect that there will be a significant variance in number of hours worked from day to day and week to week. Sometimes you may work 60 hours in a very intense week. The week after, you may need to only work 20 hours to recover. Both ends of that spectrum are natural and okay. We expect hours worked to average out to 35-40 hours per week. If this is consistently not the case, on either end, you should discuss it with your manager.

Because of this variance, our performance expectations are not based on the number of hours worked, or when you do the work, but on whether you keep the commitments that you set with your teams and manager. Those commitments include attending or contributing to all confirmed calls/meetings, contributing to team-wide discussions.

To keep ourselves accountable, we expect you to work with your manager to keep an updated list of what you’re working on, and go over it regularly to set and adjust expectations. In addition to regular communication with your manager, the KFG performs yearly performance reviews to go over how well you met commitments, get feedback from your peers, and give feedback to peers and managers.

Management Expectations

Our approach to management is simple: your manager’s job is to help you get the most out of working with the KFG. Your manager’s performance will be based, in part, on how well they position you to meaningfully contribute to both your personal goals as a team member and the larger mission of the KFG.

Practically, we expect that your manager will:

  • Meet with you weekly or bi-weekly.

  • Set clear performance expectations

  • Help clear roadblocks that get in the way of your achieving your goals

  • Give frequent, honest, clear feedback on whether you’re meeting expectations, and if not, how to get back on track

  • Help you define and achieve professional and personal goals

  • Help resolve conflicts when needed

If your manager is not meeting these expectations, you should first gently ask them to provide the help you need. If they still do not meet those expectations, you should escalate the issue to Operations or a member of the Leadership team.

Benefits

You are expected to take a minimum of 15 days of paid vacation per year to recharge and prevent burn-out. You can take these however you like, but we also expect you to take one weeklong (or more) vacation per year to truly get away from work and recharge.

You should notify your manager that you plan to take an individual day off at least a week in advance, or at least three weeks in advance for weeklong or longer vacations, so that your team has time to plan around your absence. Except in rare circumstances involving known deadlines, you will most likely be able to take off when you would like. You should work with your manager to keep track of how many days you’ve taken off.

There is no explicit maximum number of vacation days, but you should work with your manager to set expectations. If your vacation time starts to feel excessive, you may need to adjust expectations with your manager.

You have unlimited sick and personal days, and you should take them when you need them to recover and recuperate quickly, rather than trying to work through illness, which tends to prolong it.

Equipment

We will provide computers, software, and office equipment to employees who need them. As a general rule of thumb, if you need something under $50 to do your work, feel free to purchase and expense it. For anything over $50, run it by your manager first.

All employees receive a one-time $750 home office benefit for buying equipment to make their home office more comfortable. You can use this on anything related to your home office – but in particular, we recommend buying a high-quality monitor, keyboard, and mouse if you don’t already have one, all of which are proven to dramatically increase productivity.

Healthcare

The KFG pays for up to $X/mo (checking exact number) in healthcare, which covers almost all of the plans offered by our HR provider, TriNet. TriNet also provides affordable dental and vision plans that employees can opt into.

Retirement, Transit, and Other Benefits

TriNet, our HR provider, provides a number of other benefits, including retirement accounts, tax-free transit accounts, disability insurance, and more. For more details on those benefits, login to your TriNet account and/or ask Operations.

Conduct

This Code of Conduct is loosely adapted from the Contributor Covenant, version 1.4, available at https://www.contributor-covenant.org/version/1/4/code-of-conduct.html

In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, you as a KFG employees pledge to making our workplace and community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.

Our Standards

Examples of behavior that contributes to creating a positive environment include:

  • Using welcoming and inclusive language

  • Being respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences

  • Gracefully accepting constructive criticism

  • Focusing on what is best for the company, partners, and community

  • Showing empathy towards other employees, partners, and community members

Examples of unacceptable behavior by participants include:

  • The use of sexualized language or imagery and unwelcome sexual attention or advances

  • Trolling, insulting/derogatory comments, and personal or political attacks

  • Public or private harassment

  • Publishing others' private information, such as a physical or electronic address, without explicit permission

  • Other conduct which could reasonably be considered inappropriate in a professional setting

Scope

This Code of Conduct applies to your interactions with other KFG team members in any setting – digital, in-person, in public or in private – your interaction with partners in any setting, and your interaction in any public spaces, including conference calls, webinars, group forums or chats, digital messages (public and private), events and conferences when you are representing the KFG, our partners, or our community. Representation of the KFG, our partners, or our community may be further defined and clarified by project maintainers.

Enforcement

Instances of abusive, harassing, or otherwise unacceptable behavior may be reported by contacting your manager, Operations, or a member of the Leadership team. All complaints will be reviewed and investigated and will result in a response that is deemed necessary and appropriate to the circumstances. The KFG is obligated to maintain confidentiality with regard to the reporter of an incident. Further details of specific enforcement policies may be communicated separately.

Resolving Conflict

In remote settings, it’s easy to let conflicts fester and get out of hand. Thus, it’s important to address issues quickly when they arise. If possible, try to resolve issues by talking directly to the person with whom you are feeling in conflict. If you want to, go to your manager to get advice on how to move forward.

When possible, address issues in-person or over video. Remember our communication principles: text communication tends to be low on emotional bandwidth and lead to misinterpretation. Escalating to an in-person or video chat to resolve conflicts is almost always more effective.

When resolving conflicts, remember our values. Take a step back and remember that your coworker shares these values, and assume that they are operating in good faith, with good intentions.

If you feel that someone is violating our values or our code of conduct, immediately go to your manager or, if it’s your manager, to operations or the Leadership team.


Hiring

The below is a work in progress. This is a major project for FY 20-21, with a particular focus on diversity and broadening our networks.

  • Leadership team has final say over all hires.

  • Unconscious bias is real. Everyone evaluating candidates, especially performing interviews, should go through unconscious-bias training.

  • To avoid candidate self-screening, write trait-based job descriptions. In particular, avoid using gendered or tenure-based (i.e. “5 or more years”) qualifications.

  • Hire for traits relevant to the specific role, not for fit or pure experience. That is, ask questions designed to assess whether someone can demonstrate they have characteristics for the role — problem-solving, for example — rather than specific experience or whether they are a ‘fit’.

  • To avoid bias, interviews should be scripted ahead of time – interviewees for a role at a given stage should be asked the same questions.

  • To avoid bias, interviews should be scored on traits relevant to the job on a common scale.

  • 3 rounds? Screener, in-person with team, final round with leadership

  • Our aim is to have high levels of diversity in our finalist pool for every hire. Do this by actively reaching out to diverse networks with job listings (i.e. Writers of Color).

Producing vs. Exploring

Work in progress.

  • Projects may have an exploration phase + a get-things-done phase.

  • Exploration is often self-directed + solo, and result in incomplete work, ready for criticism and next steps.

  • Project leads are responsible for meeting deadlines + determining the right amount of exploration vs. producing.

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