The bases of social power

The bases of social power

French and Raven

Weeknotes #208

This week I did;

The internet is open 24/7

Every website on the internet is available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. One of the measures of success for a website is its up time. But what do you do when you want your website to have opening hours and not be available at certain times. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, especially with limited time and no budget. But we did it. Our tech guys came up with a single sign-on solution that only authenticates users between certain hours using API calls and cron jobs. I was impressed. Being able to control access at certains is part of our journey in understanding how to ensure the safety, security and privacy of young people in online environments. I guess most people think we’re just building another bit of tech to solve a particular problem but I spend a lot of time thinking about how it all fits together and what we can learn to achieve our vision.

Charity Service Model Canvas

I started experimenting with ideas for a Charity Service Model Canvas. Canvases are useful tools for seeing the big chunks of things all in one place, and done well they help ensure that balance decisions about whatever is being designed are made. So, for the Charity Service Model Canvas, the Needs connect to the Outcomes (are the outcomes of the service going to meet the needs), the Activities connect to the Resources (what resources are you going to need to provide those activities), in fact all of the boxes connect to each other. I thought about creating a Miro template for it so that people could use it when designing a service. Why haven’t I? Because I don’t know how.

The role of charities in the Democratic Society system

I wrote about some of my ideas about how the three domains of a democratic society system interplay and how the charity sector can choose to fit in to have an impact on society. I see our democratic society system as being made up of the three domains of state, market and civic, and look from a systems-thinking point-of-view at how they have mechanisms that are constantly interplaying with each other as checks and balances in the system. Each domain has particular organising modes which are used to empower and disempower members of society, and charities are one particular type in the civic domain that is useful where people want to organise around a particular issue or cause but need a means of centralising certain processes. 

How the cause-agnostic charities of the future will be innovators for the state and the vanguards of social change for good

I also wrote about an idea of a vision of charities in the future where they play a very different role in society to now. Rather than being focused around a particular issue or cause charities in this future would act as innovators-for-the-state and utilise their civic domain skills of organising people, fundraising, understanding social problems and developing solutions to solve social problems before handing over those validated solutions to the state to run, driving forward social improvements over time. 

Digital Trustees

I joined the Tech For Good Live event about Digital Trustees. I couldn’t stay for all of it but what I did hear was really interesting. I particularly liked the description of a digital trustee as someone who thinks in user-centred, data-driven ways, rather than being knowledgeable about technology. It’s almost like ‘digital’ is shorthand for modern ways of thinking, which I absolutely think it should be (that’s why I don’t always agree with the ‘don’t use the D word’ school of thought).

Got style

I started It’s either an ode to the nostalgia of the British countryside, a critique of the inaccessibility of the British countryside for less able people, or just something to amuse me on my walks. I can’t quite decide.

Some stuff I thought about this week:

Power in the civic domain

I think it’s right to challenge the established way of doing things. But the more established something is the harder it is to challenge without falling into the same traps as the thing you’re challenging.

In the civic domain power should flow to the people. That’s a value some hold dear, and an assumption that is hard to validate. Why should power flow to the people? Which people, all people, even those that disagree that power should flow to the people and have advantage over those suffering inequalities? Do we assume that if the people have the power society will be more equal? If so, what makes us assume that, is it based on any evidence or is it an ideal? 

The criticism that charities hoard power when they should be distributing it to the people is another opinion held by some. And the obvious conclusion that follows is that to solve this kind of problem the opposite situation should be created.

Charities are the way they are as a byproduct of the system they are in. They have whatever power others perceive them to have (because of course power is in the hands of the beholder and/or non-beholder) because of the structures of civic society. It’s not as if lots of charity CEOs got together one morning and said “let’s take the power from the people”. Charities are the way they are because that’s how the funding system works, and that’s how government regulations work, and that’s how the economy works. We can’t change charity and expect it to still work in those systems.

If we want to change how power flows in the civic space then telling communities that they should have the power because we jumped to the solution without really understanding the problem, just replicates the same power imbalance. It’s Pirsig’s rationality factory. So how deep do you go to understand power structures, and then how on earth do you approach building something different?

Products and services

What’s the difference between a product and a service? A product exists whether you use it or not. A service only exists when you are using it. A washing machine is a product, it still exists whether you are washing your clothes or not. AA breakdown cover is a service, when you aren’t using it it’s just a lot of men driving around in yellow vans. Let’s see how long that distinction lasts in my long running (actually, not that long) saga of trying to figure out the difference between products and services.

And some people tweeted this week:

Creating social change

Natasha Adams tweeted about creating a radical vision for the social change sector that is actually accountable to the communities it claims to serve. This is the tweet that started me thinking about some of the things above about power. When I see things like this I always have two thoughts; that action towards solution without understanding the problem can cause more problems than solutions, and aren’t we lucky that there are people in the world who are ‘do-something-now-ers’ to contrast those of us who are ‘think-about-it-and-probably-never-do-anything-ers’.


Lesley Pinder tweeted about charities who have set up accelerators outside of their normal structures. This is really interesting to me (I’m thinking it might be the topic of my dissertation) because more and more I think the best way to build new organisations (which is what most organisations really need when they talk about digital transformation) is to create a small splinter organisation that works to solve the same problems as the old organisation but in new ways and then transition people so that the new organisation grows as the old one shrinks and is replaced.

Charity sector facing financial catastrophe

Emily Burt tweeted about the financial catastrophe facing the charity sector. Seeing what was going on for charities at the time in a thread like that makes for shocking reading, but often, even seeing the writing on the wall doesn’t instigate action, especially if you’re not used to reacting quickly. Yes, the current financial situation almost every charity faces is going to result in a massive shock to the sector and society, but if charities don’t get better at acting faster, or can’t because of the system they are in, then that is a much greater and more far reaching catastrophe.

Strategy for change

Jason Yip tweeted “Strategy is non-iterative only if you assume a static environment and/or non-thinking adversaries”. Yes.