An initial step toward stewardship of your work is to acknowledge the underlying layers or structures it relies on. I see this already happening in many areas of journalism:

  • Last year, LION Publishers shared a lesson that “without taking the time to create a strong operational infrastructure… no amount of direct dollars will make a news business financially healthy.”
  • The Center for Cooperative Media surfaced the role of “strong collaborative scaffolding in helping newsroom collaborations “weather the inevitable difficulties of collaborative work.”
  • In the broader context of news partnerships and ecosystems, Tim Murphy from the McKnight Foundation said: “You need the infrastructure of information to be available to make progress.”

Their observations of the less visible aspects of journalism are the thinking we need to stabilize the more community-facing ones. To help us practice this acknowledgment, I recommend the Iceberg Model:

The model splits a situation into four layers to describe what we’re observing (above water) and the underlying structures it’s supported by (underwater). By starting at the top-most Events layer, you can explain what you’re experiencing and gradually move downward to recognize Patterns and Trends over time, Underlying Structures encouraging those patterns, and Mental Models guiding those structures.

In my case, for our recent product migration:

  • Events: Difficulty changing or building onto products.
  • Patterns and Trends: Increasing support tickets and debugging time.
  • Underlying Structures: Proprietary software framework was difficult to manage.
  • Mental Models: Outdated standards, documentation and routines.

As you define the Iceberg Model for your own experiences, you’ll sense an interconnectedness across the different layers. These connections act as a system, perhaps an ecosystem, which nature-based author Pat Murphy says is shaped “to the demands of a dynamic environment… a hidden unity.” Understanding how you can be a steward to each of the four ‘living’ layers is an important practice to sustaining your work and its environment.

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