Things I should write

The following article titles have been staring out at my from my “drafts” folder for months (or longer):

  • Can we save the planet with grants averaging $40k?
  • How do we measure the effectiveness of organizing and advocacy?
  • Running Agile non-software projects (like campaigns)

Clearly I’m not getting around to them. Crowdsourcing anyone? 😉

How to measure the effectiveness of GiveBig and other “day of giving” campaigns?

Today, May 15, is GiveBig, Seattle’s third annual “day of giving” event. Created by the Seattle Foundation in 2011, the idea is to focus attention on charitable giving, raise the public profile of the Seattle Foundation and of course raise some dough. There are similar events in many other cities now, and even a national “GivingTuesday” event right after Thanksgiving.

But how do we know whether GiveBig and similar day of giving type events are really working?

Continue reading How to measure the effectiveness of GiveBig and other “day of giving” campaigns?

Needed: an open data standard for volunteer opportunities

I was chatting today with my friend Sameer about the challenges and opportunities in volunteer management software and had a bit of a realization: it’s crazy that we don’t have an open data standard for volunteer opportunities, so that organizations can publish a machine-readable list of volunteer opportunities on their websites, and let them get picked up and syndicated by services like VolunteerMatch and Idealist that specialize in aggregating and curating volunteer opportunities.

I’m thinking of something like RSS (or even better, ATOM), which provides a simple, open standard for publishing information about articles on websites so that they could easily be picked up, remixed and syndicated to reach a far larger audience.

Let’s call it “VSS” (Volunteer Syndication Standard). I haven’t thought about this deeply, and I’m no expert on designing protocols like this, but I would start by seriously examining ATOM, the most modern RSS-like standard for publishing articles. I’d also look at hATOM for inspiration about how to embed machine-readable data directly into a standard webpage. EDIT: Probably also .ics (the standard for event syndication, because volunteer opportunities often–but not always–resemble events.)

It would be hard to inspect one’s navel to design this right, so I’m not even going to try. But I’d definitely definitely want to include folks like:

  • Organizations that publish lots of volunteer opportunities
  • Organizations that aggregate and curate volunteer opportunities or recruit volunteers for many organizations
  • Makers of volunteer management software (or other tools that let groups publish volunteer opportunities online–this could include major CMS platforms, for example)

I think that a standard like this, if sufficiently widely adopted, could unlock a huge amount of innovation in how organizations (and intermediaries) recruit volunteers, especially if it was coupled with another set of standards for intermediaries to use to push data about volunteers directly into groups’ volunteer management databases.





A course I’d like to see for social change organizations

I’d love to see a course for leaders (or prospective leaders) of social change organizations built around the following core readings:

  1. Nonprofit Strategy Revolution” by David La Piana
  2. Immunity to Change” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey
  3. Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath
  4. The MoveOn Effect” by David Karpf

What else would you add to this list?

How to make your organization’s story compelling

I got an email today from one of my all-time favorite organizations, Sightline Institute, that just blew me away. This is one of the best tellings of an organziation’s history that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s succinct, personal, filled with rich, specific imagery (especially for an organization that mainly trades in data and policy!) and best of all, it places the reader into the story. Sightline has a long history of top-notch writing, so it’s no surprise to seem them hit it out of the park. Any organization looking to tell its story better could learn a ton from studying this single email closely.

Dear Jon,

Twenty years ago, I lugged a refurbished library table into my cramped bedroom closet, drilled a phone line through the wall, and let myself begin to heed the mission that had been calling me: to make the Pacific Northwest a global model of sustainability.

Daunted but unswayed by the audacity of this goal, I began to do what I have been doing ever since: describing the challenge to others. And then as now, they—you—joined me. You brought your talent, grit, generosity, and faith, and the result was Sightline Institute, then called Northwest Environment Watch.

Sightline grew through eighteen books, scores of reports, hundreds of speeches, and thousands of articles and blog posts. It grew from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of monthly readers, each a force for change in his or her own community. It grew to reach media audiences tallied in the tens of millions and to shape the thoughts of governors, senators, and CEOs.

In time, it grew influential enough to leave fingerprints on Cascadia’s future. In our first decade, we launched Stuff, studied in hundreds of classrooms and in tens of thousands of copies. We planted the seeds for a carbon tax-shift in British Columbia. We coined the term “green-collar jobs,” words that would eventually issue from the lips of presidents.

In our second decade, we inspired bold commitments to compact urban growth in key Cascadian cities. We prompted new rules on toxic flame retardants by studying chemicals in breast milk. We played midwife to pay-by-the-mile car insurance and peer-to-peer car-sharing. We designed regional carbon-pricing policies and brought them close to adoption. We unmasked the dangers of Big Coal’s export plans, revealed the folly of urban highway expansion, and championed a new, green approach to managing the rainwater that falls on our communities. Sightline’s fingerprints, your fingerprints, are on all these things and more—much more.

Now, today, pausing for a quiet moment in Sightline’s Seattle offices—brimming as usual with passionate and intelligent people—I stand in awe of these accomplishments. They have been improbable, considering that Sightline’s annual budget makes us account for just two one-millionths of the regional economy. In the animal kingdom, we would be like a gnat trying to steer an elephant.

Yet I am filled with hope for the years ahead. The challenge is no less daunting than ever, but we have grown, in concert with you—our friends, supporters, and allies—into a force to reckon with. Sightline’s influence has never been a function of our mass. It is a function of the light you help us spread. Comets such as Halley’s are less than one ten-billionth the mass of the Earth, yet they’ve been known to change the course of history. Sightline’s strategy is comet-like: a small nucleus of staff and board plus a long tail of supporters and allies. Shining outward from this body, our ideas, presented well, can attract the attention of millions and even define a new direction.

A Cascadia worthy of our grandchildren and theirs is more attainable than ever before. But it is certainly not inevitable. It’s a possibility only—a possibility whose realization depends entirely on what we in this generation choose to do. In the span of 240 months, Sightline, now giant compared with my bedroom closet but still minuscule compared with the region we aim to influence, has begun to shift the public agenda in a region of 17 million people. It’s only a beginning, but, I hope you agree, it’s a promising one. Just think what we can do together in another 20 years!

In the next two decades, together, we will shine even brighter. We can put a price on carbon. Indeed, we can move the region along the path that leads beyond carbon and dirty fuels entirely, to clean energy. We can make prices tell the ecological truth in other ways, too: from pollution to traffic congestion to habitat destruction, we can better align the power of markets with the conservation of our natural inheritance—of Creation. We can measure what matters, replacing GDP with better indicators of progress. Through better reproductive health technologies and policies, we can help create a Cascadia in which every child is born wanted; we can help men and women have the families they want, when they want them, even as we temper population growth. We can build complete, compact, walkable communities—places where motorized travel is less common because less necessary. All these things and more we can do.

Twenty years ago, I was the one at the library table in the closet signing the papers to incorporate Sightline, but the resulting improbable cavalcade of hope has never been about me. It’s been about you: Your love for this place on Earth. Your confidence that we can do better, that we can build an economy and way of life that can last. Your faith that we, here, can set an example for the world.

For your love, confidence, and faith, I thank you. Here’s to the next 20!

Alan Durning
Executive Director

On boards

As a public administration grad student, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about nonprofit boards of directors lately. I’m not the first person to think that nonprofit boards can be super-dysfunctional; there’s a whole industry of “self-help” books for boards. (The one I’ve most enjoyed lately is Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, if you’re looking for some bedtime reading.)  But the roots of board dysfunction are not to be found in some sort of failure to implement “best practices,” though. There are deeper problems with the institution of the board itself, and I’ve rarely seen these talked about.

Most of the time nonprofit boards work just fine, because there is nothing difficult they need to do. Sometimes, though, boards have to do urgent, important, difficult work–like an executive director transition–and that’s when they can get into big trouble.

The hard truth is that nonprofit boards have almost zero accountability for performance beyond meeting the bare minimum legal standards of “don’t steal the money or let it be stolen.”

  • Board members have no financial assets at stake, unless they also happen to be major donors–and that is all sunk cost anyway. And of course, nonprofit board members are typically unpaid. So there’s no economic incentive.
  • Board members have no real professional reputation at stake, and will typically experience no or few negative consequences even if they destroy the organization through mismanagement.
  • Most boards aren’t elected by a membership, and when they are, the elections are rarely competitive. So, pseudo-democratic accountability is rarely a factor, and weak at best.
  • Much of the time, board members don’t have strong enough relationships with each other to effective hold each other accountable for high performance. How many boards do you know of where the members are close collaborators or, god forbid, friends, outside the boardroom?

To be sure, board members have their own consciences to guide them, and for many boards, that is enough to carry them through the good times and even the slightly rocky times. But when the going gets really tough–as it sometimes does–it is far easier for board members to avert their eyes, pull away and even just resign rather than to “lean into the messy” and grapple with the really tough questions of organizational identity, executive performance, and leadership. There are few rewards for high performance, and fewer disincentives for low performance.

If that’s not bad enough, consider that the number of nonprofits in the US continues to grow rapidly–from 2001 to 2011, the number of nonprofits increased by 25% to over 1.5 million. More nonprofits means more board seats to fill, and last I checked, good board members were hard to find. (Proof? Name an E.D. you know who is turning away highly qualified board candidates.) At what point have we created more board seats than we can fill with talented, motivated people? Is this contributing to the phenomenon of low-performing boards that I describe above? How would we know?

I’m joining ActionSprout!

ActionSprout LogoI’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the team at ActionSprout, where I’ll be serving as Director of Strategy.  ActionSprout is a startup that was founded last year by my dear friends and fellow Groundwire alums Drew Bernard and Shawn Kemp, and we make tools that help nonprofits organize action and raise money on Facebook.  (For a quick example, check out this ActionSprout campaign from the Sierra Club, going live today, where they’re organizing folks in support of an environmental high school program in Los Angeles that’s threatened with closure.)

To say I’m excited would be an understatement.

First, I’m excited about the opportunity to have a huge impact on how progressive activists (and political candidates! and companies!) communicate and organize online.  Facebook has become a huge communications channel, but until now, the tools for organizing people in meaningful ways there have been pretty limited: you can “Like,” “Share,” and “Comment.”  That’s about it.  But with ActionSprout, organizations can take advantage of Facebook’s Open Graph to create all kinds of new action posts (e.g. “Stand with…” “Support…” “Stop…” “Donate…”) that are far more meaningful and engaging.  And did I mention that we can let groups take online donations directly inside of Facebook? So far as I know, we’re the only tool that makes that possible right now!  I think we’re going to upend the conventional wisdom that “you can’t raise money on Facebook.”

We’ve already thought of a thousand ways to use ActionSprout, and I can’t wait to see the creative things that all our smart friends and allies are going to come up with!

Second, I’m exciting to be working with Drew and Shawn.  They’re fearsomely fast and creative visionaries.  I’m stoked to be able to help them paint boldly on a wide-open canvas.

Third, I’m excited to be working for a startup.  I’ve long been nursing an entrepreneurial itch, and ActionSprout feels like the perfect way to scratch it: innovative, social-mission driven and with nonprofits as the primary customers.  What’s more, Drew and Shawn are both successful startup veterans, and so I have two amazing mentors as my colleagues.

I’ve still got two quarters of grad school remaining, so I’ll be part-time from now until June, then ramping up from there.  I’m going to initially focus on helping our early customers get up and running, building out a partner program for strategy, campaign and social media consultants and getting done what needs doing.

If you’re interested in finding out more about ActionSprout, drop me a line and I’ll give you a tour, or even better, just head on over there and check it out yourself. There’s a short video, some case studies, and best of all, you can test drive it for free.

A neat trick Engagement Organizations can do

Here’s a neat trick that Engagement Organizations can do: because they have solid, integrated website and database systems, they can quickly identify contact records that have missing information, then send out an email blast like this one I just got from Dogwood Initiative:

Contact update email from Dogwood Initiative

As you can see, the email includes a personalized URL that takes me directly to a page on the Dogwood website that displays my current contact info from Dogwood’s database, and lets me update it with a single click.  The information feeds back directly into the database–no data entry or cumbersome import processes are required, so it’s fast and easy both for me and for the Dogwood team.

Dogwood contact update web page

Dogwood sends an email like this a couple of times per year.  In just a few seconds, their members are able to easily update their contact information.  Dogwood reaps the benefits of an up-to-date supporter list and its supporters get the most relevant, personalized information possible.  That sounds like a great deal to me!

“Engagement Organizing” is live!

I’m pleased to announce the release of “Engagement Organizing,” a short whitepaper about the culture and technology of building power for social change in a networked era.  I had the great pleasure of collaborating with my dear friend Matt Price, and I’m really pleased with the final results.  If you are working to make progressive change in the world, please give it a read and share your thoughts with us at

In an era of climate risk, is cost-benefit analysis enough?

David Roberts at Grist thinks not.  Great article, with deep links to hardcore World Bank wonkery.  Food for thoughts for Evans students (and profs):

As time horizons and uncertainty increase, cost-benefit analysis becomes less and less useful, more and more “a knob-twiddling exercise in optimizing outcomes,” as economist Martin Weitzman put it. Differences in social/political/ethical assumptions, like discount rates, start determining model outcomes. “Results from the cost-benefit analysis,” says the World Bank, are “extremely dependent on parameters on which there is no scientific agreement (e.g., the impact of climate change on hurricanes) or no consensus (e.g., the discount rate).” It’s still possible to construct models and get answers, but the danger becomes higher and higher of getting the wrong answer, i.e., optimizing for the wrong thing.

Authenticity and social change

This didn’t make it into the paper on Engagement Organizing that we’re about to release, but I thought it was an important point on its own.  Curious to hear your thoughts.

One thing is common to all of the engagement organizations we interviewed: authenticity. These are organizations that are so comfortable with their identity and able to explicitly connect their work of the moment to deeply-held core values that their supporters feel it and respond to it with higher levels of engagement than in other organizations. In a world where people are less trusting all the time, authenticity is a critical foundation of social change.

Should grantmakers be more like VCs?

At Web of Change 2012 last week, I had an interesting conversation with Drew Bernard about nonprofit boards vs. the boards of internet startups, and the very different roles that nonprofit and VC funders play.   Drew’s a great person to chat with about these topics, because he’s worn all the hats: startup entrepreneur, angel investor, startup board member, nonprofit tech consultant and nonprofit board member.

We think that advocacy nonprofits and startups have one huge thing in common: they are both highly entrepreneurial organizations, in that, as Eric Reis puts it, they both need to operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty.   Nonprofits are funded by grantmakers, startups by venture captial (VC) firms.  A typical VC firm has partners, each of whom has a portfolio of investees.  Grantmakers have program officers.

In a VC firm, each of the partners will carry a portfolio of roughly 7-12 firms, and in exchange for the firm’s investment, the partner will sit on the board of each of the firms in his or her portfolio.  VC board members not only look out for the interests of the investors, but they also serve as mentors, advisers, connection-makers and often-vigorous advocates for the startups they advise.  Even in situations where the VCs have relatively small amounts of money on the line (e.g. in angel-funded startups, which are what Drew works on), the VC board member<>startup relationship is often intense, hands-on and collaborative.  “I’m on the board of one startup right now,” Drew told me, “and I’m probably in their office at least once a week.”

Compare and contrast to the nonprofit sector.  All of the foundation program officers I know carry portfolios of roughly 20-50 grantees.  Serving on the board of an grantee is rare, and in most cases it’s done out of personal interest rather than as a part of the job.  There’s some coaching and mentoring and network-making that’s part of the relationship, but with 20-50 grantees, that’s just not a lot of program officer time per grantee.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m about the last person in the world to put VCs on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if a grantmaking foundation tried to use the VC model for its grantee relationships: big investments, small portfolios, intensive, supportive, hands-on involvement.

“The Lean Startup” — for nonprofits too!

I’m most of the way through Eric Reis’ 2011 book, “The Lean Startup.”  As the title suggests, it’s attempt to apply “lean” management thinking (as developed at Toyota and popularized by a thousand books and consultants) to entrepreneurial startups.  But what really grapped me by the proverbial lapels was how directly most of his ideas apply to nonprofits.  After all, Reis’ core definition of an entrepreneur is someone who has to manage under conditions of extreme uncertainty–or, as Ronald Heifetz might put it, people who face adaptive challenges.

Reis’ solution is that leaders have to design their organizations so they can hypothesize, build, measure and learn in iterative cycles, as fast as possible.  Central to this is the idea of “validated learning” — using data to confirm or falsify specific hypotheses about each element of the experiment.  There’s some great discussion of how to approach experiment design and how to avoid “vanity metrics” (list size, anyone?) in favor of measurements that actually correspond to success.

I love, love, love the idea that social change organizations need to think of themselves as learning machines, where the objective is to do learning experiments as fast as possible, backed by rigorous data.  (Bonus: imagine if philanthropy worked this way!)

This perfectly corresponds with much of what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately.  I can’t wait to have the opportunity to chat about it with 100 of my smartest colleagues at Web of Change.

An Advocacy Dilemma

I’m working on a fairly big chunk of writing about advocacy campaigns, organizing and strategy.  (More on that very soon!)  In the meantime, one idea that popped out along the way that didn’t really fit into the main thrust of the piece was the observation that, for many organizations, there’s a deep tension between building an army of passionate followers and being credible with the not-already-converted.  One manifestation of this tension, with which we’re all probably familiar, is the organization that is extremely fired up but decisionmakers don’t take them seriously.  More common, though, is the organization that is well positioned to be credible, but extremely weak.  The creative challenge, I think, is to be both passionate and credible.

Blocking more Facebook ads with Adblock Plus

I hate looking at online ads that I am never, ever going to click on, and I’m pretty aggressive about using adblocking software like Adblock Plus to avoid seeing them.  Recently, I’ve noticed that quite a few Facebook ads are getting around the default Adblock Plus filterset, so after a bit of experimentation, I’ve found that adding the following three custom rules to Adblock Plus cleans things up quite a bit:

Theming Plone websites with Diazo (for non-developers)

Plone 4.2 has just been released. Congrats to Release Manager Eric Steele and all of the excellent folks who worked hard to make it happen!  For me, this is one of the most exciting Plone releases ever, because this is the first release of Plone that includes the amazing Diazo theming system as part of the Plone core.

Diazo completely revolutionizes the process of theming a Plone website, and it’s already making the lives of everyday Plone integrators better  What’s more, while Diazo is now part of Plone, via the module, it’s also a standalone website theming system that can be used the theme pretty much any website.  So, not only is Diazo a revolution in Plone theming, I also think that it has the potential to revolutionize how any website is themed.  (Diazo-powered Drupal or WordPress anyone? 😉 )

What is Diazo?

Diazo is a simpler and smart approach to theming a website–without sacrificing creative control.  Here’s how it works: Your graphic designer, who doesn’t need to know anything about Plone, builds you a theme consisting of one or more HTML + CSS templates.  Plone emits its HTML pages, known as the “content.”  Diazo then lets you merge bits and pieces of Plone’s HTML content into your theme’s HTML and CSS template.  Diazo’s merging behavior is governed by a simple text-based rules file consisting of simple directives such as <append>, <replace> and <drop>.  It’s a drop-dead simple syntax that anyone can master, and it doesn’t require you to understand anything about how Plone works–basic HTML and CSS literacy is all you need.

I’m intrigued, tell me more.

Diazo does its magic by building on top of XSLT (eXtenstible Stylesheet Language Transformations), a standard originally developed in the late ’90s that defines a language for transforming XML documents into other XML documents.  (HTML pages are one kind of XML document.)  Raw XSLT is too generalized and too complex for everyday use as a everyday website theming technology, so Diazo provides a simple and user-friendly set of basic rules that get compiled into XSLT behind the scenes.  If you’re already an XSLT wizard, you can use the full power of XSLT expressions in your Diazo rules files, but most folks will never need or want to do this.

Plone 4.2 comes pre-configured for Diazo (via, so if you’re using Plone, you don’t have to lift a finger.  If you are using Plone alongside other web applications, or not using Plone at all,  most modern webservers already have support for XSLT transformations, so deploying Diazo via WSGI, Ngnix, Varnish or Apache is simple and straightforward.

Diazo’s been around for a while, and it’s been battle tested in production as an add-on product for several years now.  It’s ready for prime-time.  There are already a couple dozen Diazo-powered Plone themes available for download, and I’m expecting to see lots more as Diazo becomes “mainstream best practice.”  It’s pretty easy to take any generic open-source HTML/CSS website theme and adapt it for Diazo.

Sounds great, what’s the catch?

There isn’t one.  That’s why Diazo is so exciting.  One thing to think about, though, is whether Diazo’s definition of “theming” matches yours.  Unfortunately, if you’ve been using certain other CMSes, you might have some odd ideas about what’s part of a “theme.”  (Hint: not an e-commerce system!)  With Diazo, theming is about HTML, CSS and Javascript–it’s not about adding new logical functionality to your website such as image sliders, calendars, shopping carts or content types.  Sure, these kinds of features can be an important part of a website’s “look and feel” but they’re not legitimately within the scope of a Diazo theme.

So, if you need to make a Plone website look beautiful, Diazo is all you need.  If you need to fundamentally change what content Plone is emitting in the first place, then you’ll need to dive into Plone customization.  Diazo doesn’t completely replace all of the customization that you might to do Plone, but it narrows the scope of what you need to do inside of Plone quite a bit.

The future is even brighter

If you’ve got a vivid imagination, you might already be thinking, “OK, simple text-based rules files are cool, but what about a graphical editor for building themes?”  Well, that’s in the pipeline.  Martin Aspeli is putting the finishing touches on a version of that includes a graphical editor for Diazo rules files.  This is currently slated to ship with Plone 4.3, and will make it point-and-click easy to build or modify Diazo theme rules.

Final thoughts

I’m really excited about Diazo.  It’s the fulfillment of a vision for “rules-based theming” that’s been percolating in the Plone and Python communities for a number of years now, starting with Paul Everitt’s original implementation of Deliverance way back in 2008.  It was a radical idea then, and it’s still cutting-edge now.  Diazo brings rules based theming into the mainstream, both for Plone and for other web applications.  I think we’re going to look back a few years from now and wonder why we ever themed websites any other way.

Stuff I’m reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Stuff I’m reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Hidden gems of the Plone Collective

Periodically, I trawl through the Plone Collective repository (both via Github and via PyPi) to see what folks are building but not publicizing widely via  As usual, I found some hidden gems that I think deserve a bit wider attention.

Fair warning: I’ve tested each of these products in a Plone 4.1.5 development instance, but I’ve not deployed any in production or reviewed the code.  All are written by experienced Plone community members, though, so they should be at least reasonable sane.  I’d love to hear about your experiences with any of them.

collective.folderorder – Jens Klein and BlueDynamics Alliance

Plone’s default folder view shows items in the order they were added, and while you can manually rearrange items, there’s no way to automatically resort items in a folder view.  (Although you can add a collection as the default view of a folder, this is not always obvious to new users, and quite a few clicks.)  With collective.folderorder, you get a new “Order” option the Actions menu for a folder, and you can easily choose from several default folder ordering schemes, including: reverse order, unordered, and partial ordering. Even better, it provides an easy way for developers to add new ordering schemes.

I’d love to see this one PLIPed for future inclusion in Plone, possibly with a few more ordering options (e.g. last modified, creation date). It’s a small but welcome UI affordance.

collective.folderpositionLaurence Rowe

Another small but welcome improvement to folder ordering.  This one adds a nice little set of buttons below a folder listing that allows you to move items instantly to the top, the bottom or up/down a designated number of slots. Again, super convenient when you need to rearrange a lot of folder items.

collective.prettydate – Franco Pellegrini  & Héctor Velarde

collective.prettydate reformats the display absolute dates/times (e.g. 3/1/2012) to relative date (e.g. one month ago, four days ago, etc.)  This is really nice for news sites or sites with upcoming events.

collective.embedly – Quintagroup

collective.embedly makes it stupidly simple to embed almost any externally hosted multimedia (YouTube, Vimeo,, etc.) into Plone.  It uses the fantastic service “Embedly” which is itself built on the open “oembed” standard.    Developers who want a bit more power may also want to look at collective.oembed.

collective.routes – Nathan Van Gheem

This one is a bit conceptual, but pretty awesome.  From the prolific and talented Nathan Van Gheem comes collective.routes, which makes it possible to build URLs in Plone that do catalog queries, e.g.  This isn’t really an end-user product, but it makes it easy for integrators to build really nice URLs for their custom Plone apps.

Visible, invisible and hidden power

I’m reading an interesting short essay by John Gaventa, in which he talks about three different forms of power: visible, invisible and hidden.

Visible power is the power that plays out in formal decisionmaking processes.  Social change activists participate in this through lobbying, advocacy, organizing, etc.

Hidden power is the power to set the agenda, include or exclude certain participants, etc.  This kind of power is often exercised behind closed doors.

Invisible power “involves the ways in which awareness of one’s rights and interests are hidden through the adoption of dominating ideologies, values and forms of behavior by relatively powerless groups themselves.”  In other words, invisible power is the creation of culture, beliefs and awareness.