Power dynamics within international development and global health are often hidden. This is particularly true in partnerships between organisations in high- middle- and low-income countries. Uncovering and analysing these relations is at the heart of much of our ethics work. In research, relationships between universities and communities face similar challenges.
Highlighting and challenging abuses in power can be uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous work.
Luckily many in the sector are working for change. Analysis and action aimed at decolonising development are increasingly popular. This aims to disrupt and destroy systemic and institutional relations of power that keep some people perpetually down and safeguard the security and stability of others. Also, tackling inequity in the wider world and within our own organisations and networks is the mainstay of feminist approaches to development. There’s a long history of participatory tools to act on asymmetries in relationships of knowledge generation and the creation of evidence.
Many of the projects that Pamoja supports are use research and communications to understand and act on injustice and inequity. For example, RinGs has done ground-breaking thinking and training on how gender pervades health systems. ARISE uses participatory methods to improve accountability mechanisms in informal urban areas.
The Power Awareness Tool
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of doing some editing work for Partos – the Dutch membership body for organisations working in international development.
They have produced a new tool for looking at power in partnerships. Here’s their rationale:
There is widespread consensus that in partnerships for development, donors, and international NGOs have too much power, and local NGOs in the Global South too little. Despite this consensus, the power imbalances persist. Apparently, it is hard to put the principles into practice. Those with the most power, usually the donors, and to a lesser extent the INGOs, are not always the most knowledgeable about the local situation or about the change needed and how. While there is broad consensus on this, power imbalances persist. We believe this is partly because power is in many ways elusive. Therefore, the Lab decided to develop a tool to make power more visible, enabling partners to analyse and reflect on their power relations.
I think there are many people who will find this tool useful. Maybe you want to check the health of your partnerships but you’re not sure how. Are you entering into a new organisational relationship and you want to get off on the right foot? Or maybe you feel like your partnerships are not properly balanced but you can’t identify how. The tool is simple, easy to use and freely available. Why don’t you check it out?