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:
- Can We Know Better? : Reflections for Development
- Whose Reality Counts? : Putting the First Last
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed
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