Understanding power relationships is crucial knowledge for people engaged in social change. Analysing power dynamics in the current context can help identify where to act to have the greatest impact. An effective plan for action includes building power, demonstrating power, and undermining the power of opponents. If the project of social change is understood as being about shifting power, each campaign, each action, each new person invited to action becomes part of the process.
Quotes About Power
Power is the ability to achieve a purpose. Whether or not it is good or bad depends upon the purpose. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Social power is the capacity of different individuals or groups to determine who gets what, who does what, who decides what, and who sets the agenda. – Srilatha Batiwala
In the organizing approach, specific injustices and outrage are the immediate motivation, but the primary goal is to transfer power from the elite to the majority, from the 1 percent to the 99 percent. – Jane McAlevey
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. – Frederick Douglass
Forms of Power
- Forms of Power
A quick guide to understand the different forms of power – Power over, Power With, Power To and Power Within.
- The Little Book of Power
Outlines two kinds of power: Social Power and Personal Power.
- The Power Cube
A tool to analyse the power your targets hold in three dimensions: Faces of Power, Spaces of Power and Levels of Power.
- Power in Places Initiative
A framework for building power through community organising. It defines three kinds of power to build: Individual Power, Collective Power and Governing Power (as per the graphic above).
- All About Power: Understanding Social Power and Power Structures
An essential primer for activists to understand and explore how power impacts their work in order to design strategies from a more comprehensive, shared definition and analysis of power as it operates in society.
- It’s All About Power: A Guide to Thinking Differently about Power for Solidarity in Social Change
Power is contextual, and solidarity means different things to different people. This guide includes resources to help you think about how power is at play in your work – and to take action to transform power and build solidarity in social change. This guide is the culmination of a two-year collaborative inquiry, the Power Project, hosted by Sheila McKechnie Foundation. In all, over 300 people contributed to this inquiry in big and small ways.
- A Guide to Power Analysis in Community Organising
A power analysis tool and templates for community organisers by The National Academy of Community Organising (NACO) in the UK. Includes How to create a Power Analysis and Power Analysis templates.
There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There’s only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard. – Arundhati Roy
- Power Mapping to Design a Winning Campaign Strategy by Beautiful Trouble
Map the power dynamics at play to identify your primary target and design a winning campaign strategy.
- Pillars of Power Analysis: Identify the Institutions by Beautiful Trouble
Identify the institutions that your target relies on for support so you can weaken or disrupt their power.
- Power Mapping and Analysis by Anita Tang
This tool will guide your team through a power mapping analysis to inform your campaign strategy with a thorough picture of the players, and their power. It runs step by step through a collaborative exercise where your team can all contribute to a visual map of power holders and power relationships affecting your issue and campaign.
- Power Mapping Guide by The Change Agency
A process guide to be used in training workshops and planning sessions to develop campaign strategy.
- Power Analysis Grid
See p.32 of this report by Oxfam International – Influencing for Impact Guide: How to deliver effective influencing strategies, 2020
- Power Framework Activity Sheet
The Power Framework can also be used to map the current reality of how your organisation is working alongside people with first-hand experience and create a strategy for change. From It’s All About Power: A Guide to Thinking Differently about Power for Solidarity in Social Change.
- System Map Template
Identify who and what upholds the system underlying your chosen problem and surface leverage points to target in your campaign with this System Map from Mobilisation Lab. This template can help you think through the key relationships that uphold the current system, which in turn upholds the problem that your campaign aims to target. By mapping these relationships, you can identify possible leverage points to target in your campaign.
- The Power Matrix
This matrix presents how different dimensions of power interact to shape the problem and the possibility of citizen participation and action.
Movements and Power
Politicians are like a balloon tied to a rock. If we swat at them, they may sway to the left or the right. But, tied down, they can only go so far. Instead of batting at them, we should move the rock: people’s activated social values. When we move the rock, it automatically pulls all the politicians towards us — without having to pressure each one separately. – Daniel Hunter, Strategy and Soul, p184.
- Moving the rock: Shifting power for sustained change
This article explores the ‘moving the rock’ concept put forward by Daniel Hunter in his book Strategy and Soul. The concept has been valuable for campaigners and organisations reassessing their theory of change and particularly how they engage politicians and the supporters.
- Time to Move the Rock: Activating Social Values to Bring About Change
Includes information about Bill Moyer’s two models of power – the Power Elite and People Power Models.
- Making Change: What Works? Institute for Public Policy Research IPPR, Runnymede, 2021
Too many movements believe that the best way to achieve this is by evidencing the need for change. In this view of the world, people with power (or the public) simply lack evidence of the problem and how to solve it. This is what we call the ‘information deficit’ approach. This is fundamentally flawed. Instead, successful movements seek to close what we call the ‘salience deficit’, where the public or power-holders do not think the issue is important or see it through a different frame, and the ‘power deficit’, where the people wanting change are not in positions of power or have limited influence on those who are. To do this, movements build a campaigning infrastructure to tell compelling stories that speak to people’s values and identities in order to shift the debate, and seek to capture existing sources of power (eg political parties, media) or build alternatives (such as new coalitions or institutions).
- Turning Grassroots Activism Into Durable Political Power, PowerLabs
Watch this webinar to learn the basics of social movement theory and how those insights can be applied to building durable political power.
- Evaluating Power Building: Concepts and Considerations for Advocacy Evaluators
Power is a fundamental dimension of social change that evaluators regularly overlook. Four considerations can reorient evaluations to the role of power: (1) grounding power evaluations in equitable evaluation, (2) expanding the scope of evaluations beyond a focus on policy wins to examine individual and collective liberation, (3) incorporating frameworks that acknowledge and assess the iterative and cyclical nature of power building, and (4) clarifying the unit of analysis to consider how a wide array of actors build and wield power.
- All About Movements: Why Building Movements Creates Deeper Change
Movements matter because the people most affected by injustice join hands, organize themselves and act together for the change they seek – and through their collective power and passionate vision of a better world, they create deep and sustainable change.
The best way to eradicate inequality and injustice is when oppressed people build strong movements that shift the structures of power. – Srilatha Batliwala
- Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan and Four Roles of Activism
- Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power
- Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change (Book)
- Campaign Strategy: Start Here
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