On the 5th of August, the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice convened a workshop on Rebalancing Power with the overall aim to reflect, reimagine and identify concrete steps for creating more equitable and just relationships with collaborators, partners and participants.
At the workshop, participants were invited to share their own experience in break-out groups to further reflect on the power that they hold in order to dissect how decisions can be made more horizontally, especially in terms of collaborations with external parties. Below is a summary of our discussions!
How does your organisation decide who to partner with and determine the nature of the partnership?
At a surface level, it is the usual practice that most organisations enter into partnerships based on commonalities like strategy, values and goals. However, participants noted that to truly understand the nature of power in partnerships, we must dissect what is meant by common goals, and who gets to set the commonalities in those goals.
For larger organisations, the decision to enter into long-term partnerships has traditionally been made at the top. Larger organisations have access to funding and enjoy established relationships with institutional donors, which gives them a lot of power to influence others to align to their goals. While this can have positive outcomes, it may diminish the goals of local civil society and communities. To distribute power in a more positive way, all stakeholders should be empowered to freely decide on how they can collaborate in a partnership – and for those in positions of power to enter into partnerships where goals are truly co-created and co-owned. Some participants added that co-creating policies like charters of partnership or MoUs can further enhance horizontality. However, the reality remains that at the moment, the nature of power is unbalanced and all parties still need to do more to either demand or share power.
When working with partners or communities, how are decisions made and by whom?
The groups initially described decision making in partnerships as inclusive, with communities jointly making decisions with organisation leadership, directly or through community leadership in what one participant called a “consensus building approach”. This often happens through face to face interactions. After much deliberation, however, the participants conceded that there has been a shift in the past few years in assuming this approach, as organisations make deliberate efforts to engage communities in the decision making process. In theory, spaces are made available for communities to set the agenda jointly with organisations, but in reality, final decisions fall to those with the most influence, with community, political and CSO leadership often playing a big role in this process. There was therefore the admission that the community is consulted in lower level decision making, or go along with what has already been previously decided by those with the most power.
How do you decide which indicators are used for monitoring and evaluating your activities and partnerships?
Identifying who has power in the first stages of a partnership tends to be easier since these remain more on the planning phase. The co-creation and agreement between different parties allow to state how power is shared with horizontality. The more a relationship advances, the more elusive power relations become. When it comes to monitoring and evaluating activities and partnerships, some of the practical steps are usually taken for granted and it is assumed that decision making should be better in the hands of experts/leaders. The question here is: should it be in the hands of technical experts or context/experience experts (i.e communities who are experts on their own contexts)?
Often success and how to measure it is set by donors’ priorities, ‘experts’ at headquarters or external assessors but less likely by affected people’s voices and needs. These pre-set tools, indicators, and procedures do not adjust to the project’s context. Consequently, CSOs actions can be very restrictive, less effective and not owned by the communities that organisations aim to serve. This practice is being challenged more and more and a different approach of consensus has being taken upon, where diversity, inclusion and equity are taken into consideration when developing the idea of success and how to measure it; additionally, periodic check ins to check on effectiveness of the partnership itself can be established, as well as progress towards outcomes/goals. An example from Trinidad and Tobago was highlighted, showing how the organisation has created Review Committees who are in charge of reviewing the partnership, developing the indicators, and monitoring and evaluation for long-term partnerships. They think it is crucial to have a very agile and flexible governance model.
Do communities or partners have a role in deciding which programmes are sustained and which are not?
There was consensus that communities should play a big role because they are the end-participants/users of projects, so their reception or resistance really matters. But while communities and partners are generally consulted on how a programme went, this usually focuses on their experiences of a project, rather than being directly asked whether it should be continued, or for them to have the final say. Therefore in this situation, the vast majority of the power still lies with the lead partner or donor/politicians – if they want something to continue, then it usually will, even if this hasn’t been affirmed by the affected communities and local partners. To change this, suggestions included clarifying in a partner’s contract/terms of reference that they will be involved in project succession planning, and engaging communities more directly in conversations about whether further resources are allocated to help build greater trust and ownership.
The above reflections are a snapshot of how participants at the workshop felt power is being distributed within the partnerships that they currently in. In examining where power lies, we can better understand how and where to shift it. The discussions were inspired by the Power Awareness Tool from Partos and the Spindle, with questions focusing on different phases in the partnering cycle. Please check out their tool – and we encourage you to carry out a power awareness session with your partners too.
Alongside the very interesting discussion above, participants also heard from Marie Christina Kolo (GreenNKool and co-founder of the Indian Ocean Climate Network) on how she and other youths in Madagascar have bargained for more power and Quenelda Cleggs (ChildFund New Zealand) about her organisation’s experience in shifting the power towards those who can better use it. The workshop concluded with participants reimagining together, on the one action that they would do differently after, and one thing that they would reflect on further.