Shift-the-Power Lab

Working on a practical tool to shift the power balance

Anne-Marie Heemskerk
Anne-Marie Heemskerk

amh@partos.nl
Posted in: New Ways of Working Together
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About

There is widespread consensus that in partnerships for development, donors, and international NGOs have too much power, and NGOs in the South too little. Despite this consensus, the power imbalances persist. Apparently, it is hard to put the principles into practice. Why is this the case, and what can be done about it? These are the core questions addressed in the Shift-the-Power Lab

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

The idea of establishing the Shift-the-Power Lab and to develop a tool for analysing power in partnerships for development emerged from a series of workshops organised by Partos, Wilde Ganzen, CIVICUS, and facilitated by The Spindle. The initiative is considered timely against the backdrop of new partnerships being formed in the framework of the Power of Voices Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Power relations in partnerships
Power is 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. However, the distribution of power in current partnerships is often very uneven. 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. 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 there is broad consensus on this, 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 decided to develop a tool to make power more visible, enabling partners to analyse and reflect on their power relations. The idea is that 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.

A tool for analysing power in partnership
A group of frontrunning organisations has been looking at the complexity of power in partnership relations and the opportunities and blockages to shift the power. Since this group wanted to avoid re-inventing the wheel, an extensive review of existing methods and tools for analysing power in partnerships was conducted. We found that none of the existing tools met our predefined requirements at an acceptable level. Therefore, the group started developing a new tool. The tool builds on the best ideas identified in the review.

Recently, six organisations tested a prototype of the tool including Amref, Cordaid, ICCO, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, Mercy Corps and Oxfam Novib. Preliminary findings indicate that the prototype is performing to expectations. The findings of the tests will be shared in a workshop on 6 February. Before the end of February, an updated and improved version will be developed and presented in this space. Also. the tool has been translated into Spanish and French.

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 (amh@partos.nl).

Team members

Anne-Marie Heemskerk
Anne-Marie Heemskerk
The Spindle
Heinz Greijn
Heinz Greijn

heinz@partos.nl

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