Shift-the-Power Lab

Working on a practical tool to shift the power balance

Posted in: New Ways of Working Together
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Inclusive development partnerships in which power is shared are more ethical and better equipped for bringing about sustainable results. Donors and development organisations understand the importance of shifting power to Southern-based civil society to realise lasting and locally-led social change. But why is it so difficult? What are the blockages in the current development system with its complicated funding dynamics?

Shifting power to Southern-based civil society is important in order to realise lasting and locally-led social change, and to build partnerships that are effective and based on trust.

Shift-the-Power Lab

Power relations in partnerships
We understand power in partnership relations as the ability to influence decision making, to mobilise resources and to implement decisions. Power is an indispensable asset for getting things done, also in development cooperation. Current relations between development partners are, however, often characterised by a power imbalance. 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 and the change needed, or what is needed to bring about change. Shifting power to Southern-based civil society is important in order to realise lasting and locally-led social change, and to build partnerships that are effective and based on trust.

While this is widely known and understood, power imbalances persist. Apparently, it is difficult to put the principles into practice. We believe this is partly because power is in many ways elusive. Therefore, The Spindle developed a tool to make power more visible, enabling partners to analyse and reflect on their power relations. If partners have a better understanding of the way power works in the partnership, they will be in a position to shift the power in accordance with their shared principles.

Shift-the-Power labĀ 
In a series of workshops organised by Partos, Wilde Ganzen, CIVICUS, and facilitated by The Spindle, front running organisations have been looking at the complexity of power in partnership relations and the opportunities and blockages to shift the power. One of the ideas that came up in a workshop (July 2019), that included Southern-based organisations, was to develop an instrument to make power visible and address it adequately.

Since then The Spindle Shift-the-Power lab has been created. In an extensive review, the group of frontrunners gathered research, tools and best practices in order to develop such a practical instrument. The tool focuses on the relation between Northern-based, Southern-based NGOs/partners, and community-based organisations.

In practice, organisations are asked to test the first prototype when starting a new partnership or review an existing one and share their lessons and recommendations for improvement of the tool. The instrument is developed against the backdrop of new partnerships being formed for the Power of Voices Program by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A unique opportunity to test it, learn and develop it further!

Join us!
Are you a civil society organisation part of an existing or new partnership between organisations based in the Global North or in the Global South, and interested to shift power? Join the Shift-the-Power Lab!

Are you willing to test our practical tool? Let us know! Please contact Anne-Marie Heemskerk (

Team members

Anne-Marie Heemskerk
Anne-Marie Heemskerk
Heinz Greijn
Heinz Greijn
Coordinator Learningplatform

Internationally Networked NGOs

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