MIE & La RED TIGs Week: The Cultural is Political by Satlaj Dighe

Hi there! I’m Satlaj Dighe, doctoral candidate in Evaluation Studies program at University of Minnesota. Before joining the Ph.D. program, I worked with diverse communities in India and South-east Asia as a health trainer, researcher and community mobilizer. These are my thoughts on how to navigate power and politics working with diverse and multicultural communities. I’m also sharing a community level power mapping exercise I developed with colleagues at National Center for Advocacy Studies, India.

Working with multicultural communities requires an astute knowledge of power dynamics and hierarchies within and between communities. Discounting power dynamics in evaluation has its perils — at best, it could hide diversity of experiences, and at worst, could completely omit negative outcomes. By perceiving a community as a homogenous unit, we run the risk of sidestepping questions of distributive impact — who benefited from the program, who did not, and under what circumstances.

One way of understanding community hierarchies is to do power mapping – a conceptual framework of power relations in the community.

  • Mapping the actors: evaluators can start with identifying who holds power in the community. For example, they could be village/tribe heads, tradesmen, local doctors, or religious leaders. Next step is to identify people, families, or communities who appear at the margins. Traditionally, women, low-caste, ethnicminorities, landless labor, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ community are found away from the power center. However, every community has its own power dynamics, and making assumptions could be problematic.
  • Mapping the sources of power: the second step is to identify sources of power – determine what gives power and what takes it away. There are several sources of power, such as income, land holdings, education, English speaking abilities, race, caste, gender, contacts with politicians, connections with powerful families, or remittance from family abroad.  When we know the sources of power, we can understand how the program interacts with them to achieve a desirable impact. Iquire if the families who don’t have such connections also received the intended benefits.
  • Identifying mechanisms of power: this is to understand how power operates in everyday life. For example, In India, many lower caste communities cannot access the water source located in the upper-caste neighborhood. The power in this example is executed by controlling the access to basic resources.
  • Mapping ourselves: last but perhaps the most important step involves mapping ourselves on the power paradigm. Evaluators should take note of how the power we hold affects the process and deliberations involved in evaluation. It could also be a reflective moment to understand what power affects us and our decisions.

Hot Tip: Power mapping is best done with a co-evaluator. The co-evaluator should have socio-cultural and historical knowledge of the community.

Rad Resources: To build a critical perspective on how power and politics intersect the cultural domains of social change work, explore:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Multiethnic Issues in Evaluation (MIE) and Latina/o Responsive Evaluation Discourse (La RED) TIGs Week with our colleagues in both the MIE and La RED Topical Interest Groups. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from MIE or  La RED TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


2 thoughts on “MIE & La RED TIGs Week: The Cultural is Political by Satlaj Dighe”

  1. Hi Satlaj!

    I am currently taking my Professional Masters in Education through Queens University and it is through my current course that I have come across your post. I have to say that as a secondary school teacher at a multicultural diverse school I very much appreciate the power mapping strategy that you have come up with to better understand our community that we work in. It is integral as educators to know who are teaching and we need to differentiate our teaching to accommodate the difference amoung our students to make their learning much more meaningful to them. I appreciate power mapping and the way in which it collects data on the mapping actors, the sources of power, identifying mechanisms of power and mapping our own selves in relation to the data collected. This is a wonderful way of really getting to know our students and all that encompasses their way of life. Your hot tip is also a very significant part to understanding our students. Working with someone who is from the community in which our students reside from can give us another perspective and enrich our understanding on the community.

    I took a look at the abstract from the first rad resource that you had listed, “Can We Know Better?: Reflections for Development?”, and the first two sentences really resonated with me, “This book is intended for all who are committed to human wellbeing and who want to make our world fairer, safer and more fulfilling for everyone, especially those who are ‘last’. It argues that to do better we need to know better.” I couldn’t agree with this more and it was what a base my teaching practice upon. There is so much that we can learn from our students and it is important that educators that we acknowledge that in our teaching practice. Thank you so much for sharing this resource. I look forward to checking it out.


  2. Cyriaca Castanheiro

    Thank you for sharing your power mapping process. Understanding the power dynamic within the community being evaluated can provide great insight. Potentially allowing for a deeper more holistic understanding of program dynamics not evident if power mapping or analysis was omitted.
    Your suggestion to have a co-evaluator familiar with the local community is appreciated. Creating a power map from an outsider’s perspective offers the potential to present biases or assumptions not accurate to the local community.
    I suspect, Information gained from understanding the power hierarchy could provide more reliable information about the users of the program, the political decisions affecting the programs success and the limitations available to address any program weakness or failure.
    Mapping our own power and how this power effect us can offer great insight into the findings we report.
    Lastly, I look forward to exploring your recommendation of Whose Reality Counts https://www.amazon.com/Whose-Reality-Counts-Putting-First/dp/185339386X

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