Principle 3 – Work with Power

Social change involves understanding, working with and shifting power structures. These power structures can be related to political influence, economic wealth, cultural status and personal influence. Power should not be seen as a negative force but rather the means by which any change is both brought about and resisted. It is what enables anybody to get anything done. As a result, empowering particular stakeholder groups is often key to equitable multi-stakeholder change processes.

The issue of power is relevant both in the wider context as well as in the dynamics of specific MSPs. Besides analyzing how the wider context (e.g. formal and informal rules) shapes change, one needs to acknowledge that the issues of power, conflict and politics are at the heart of any MSP. As MSPs aspire to create constructive ways of political engagement, there is nothing neutral about them. Moreover, if you bring people together in an MSP without understanding the power dynamics, you might even exacerbate differences instead of creating positive change.

In the different stages of a multi-stakeholder partnership, it is however possible to stimulate constructive political engagement of different stakeholders. In the early stage of an MSP, a careful analysis of the power dynamics may help to identify the available spaces for negotiation. Besides, additional support for disadvantaged groups prior to their engagement with more powerful actors can contribute to the creation of a level playing field.  Also the identification of how different types of power can be mobilised can benefit the collective process.

Throughout the entire process, a critical eye might help anticipating the risk of powerful groups trying to capture the change process, which would otherwise further disadvantage marginalized and disempowered groups