What's Power Got to Do With It?April 21, 2010 12 Comments
A few years ago, I researched and wrote a masters’ thesis on addressing power dynamics in collaborative process design and facilitation.? I was doing the study based on great questions raised over the years by Cyndi Suarez (Co-Director of Northeast Action) – and with the belief that if power dynamics are not well understood and addressed, group process facilitators are likely to unknowingly reinforce the status quo – a scary thought for those of us working on social justice and social change!
It was an amazing, exciting and fully engaging project – which involved doing significant research on power, as well as in-depth interviews with all the Senior Associates at the Interaction Institute for Social Change to try to find out answers to questions like:
- What kind of power dynamics we see most frequently in groups we work with
- How IISC trainers/facilitators “diagnose” power dynamics in a group
- What responsibility we feel to address power dynamics – and which kinds
- How we address power dynamics
- What tools are most helpful in addressing power dynamics
- What individuals bring to this work
- What backgrounds/experiences support our ability to address power issues in a room
- Our greatest challenges related to addressing power dynamics
- How much we should make explicit about power
- What we wish we knew more about
One thing that woke me up at two in the morning – one of those notorious “aha” moments – was that when doing an extensive literature review of group facilitation literature and conflict resolution literature at that time (2005), I found that conflict resolution/engagement literature is packed full of discussions about addressing power dynamics – while group facilitation literature rarely (if ever) talks about power.? I only found a very small handful of references to power (as in two or three) anywhere in the very extensive group facilitation literature – and only in reference to people with positional power.? There is, in fact, an assumption built into group facilitation methodology that collaboration on its own somehow balances power dynamics.
I’m hoping to write over the next few weeks (or longer – we’ll see how long it takes) about what I found and some questions or ideas that came from it.? But before I launch full steam into it, I wondered what you might find helpful to discuss.? What about how power dynamics show up in how a group process is designed or facilitated would you find most useful to discuss?? Let’s get to it!