Some thoughts from Robert Chambers, from whose wonderful new book I recently posted several excerpts. People tease me for being pentaphiliac. They notice that I love fives of a thing. Well, it’s true. If there are six, I boil them down to five. If there are only four I rack my brains to find a fifth. So the four types of power have been a challenge: Power over needing no explanation Power to agency, meaning being able to decide to do something and then do it Power with collective power when people come together Power within self-confidence or something like that There had to be a fifth. Power to Empower, linking some of these? Can people be empowered to gain power within and power with which then combine as new power to? In workshops I have invited participants to put some flesh on this power to empower. They brainstorm lists of verbs to complete the sentence As an ‘upper’, to empower ‘lowers’ you can ……….. Uppers includes people who are dominant or powerful in a situation or relationship , with power over and power to, and lowers means people who are subordinate and relatively powerless in a situation or relationship. There are innumerable upper-lower pairs (parent-child, teacher student, …..). So what can uppers do to empower lowers? You may want to make you own list. Some verbs come up again and again- listen, respect, trust, inspire, coach, mentor, give responsibilities… Some are behaviours from the PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) tradition
- Sit down, listen, learn
- Facilitate (fundamental to good management behaviour, to transforming relationships…?)
- Hand over the stick (or pointer, baton, marker pen, chalk, powerpoint clicker, microphone…even megaphone -yes really, with large groups….) (Duncan wrote to me that he still feels funny inside when he does this – a mixture of excitement and reluctance! I know the feeling. It is also often relaxing as you hand over responsibility).
- Ask them! – as an upper, ask lowers what they know, their priorities, their ideas, advice and views. Often they come up with ideas new to the upper. Power relations are reversed or levelled. Uppers discover that ‘They Can Do It’ – that lowers have unsuspected capabilities.
- Shut up! The empowering power of silence – surprisingly hard to practice – ‘suffering the silence’ but worth a try
- Make simple empowering rules. Take codes of conduct for a workshop, for instance. These can give voice to those who hold back and restrain and limit the big talkers. With ‘Senior Silence’ no senior person or upper is to speak. Lowers come into their own and uppers are sometimes amazed at what they know and say.
- Convene – invite people to come together and share knowledge and ideas, co-generate knowledge and gain solidarity. This happens again and again with women’s groups, leading to Power To and action
- Broker act as mediator, intermediary, conciliator…
- Ask empowering questions.