Power Mapping Tools
Participatory action research (PAR), and other participatory and community-based research methods, ask us to (re)consider how power and roles are distributed on our research teams. When community-based researchers are on our teams, we are often asked to reconsider many aspects of research that have become norms in the academy. But there is little guidance on how to put this inquiry into action.
Our participatory reserach team, comprised of 3 DU and 4 community-based researchers, has worked together for over three years to study how peer support staff (providers with shared lived experiences employed to provide support) engage with young people experiencing homelessness. You can learn more about our research here. When I joined the research team in Summer 2019, I decided to interview the members of our research team (as an insider/outsider) to dig into how our PAR team uniquely navigated power. Based on these interviews, I found that navigating roles and power on our PAR team went much deeper than tangible things like who takes on what tasks, who writes manuscripts and presents at conferences, and who facilitates meetings. Team members were reflecting on things like how our intersectional identities impact our work, what our relationship is to instutitions of education and learning, and how our lived experiences bring us closer to, or distance us, from our research.
Through these interviews, there were a couple of clear takeaways: (1) that values help team members navigate through moments of uncertainty, and (2) when things are left ambiguous, there are likely to be missteps (often harming those with the least positional power). We need to make power explicit if we want to equitably redistribute power. The findings from this study can be found in a manuscript here.
We also wanted to develop a tool that could help other PAR teams - and our own - (1) name our values, and (2) make power explicit on our team. We have piloted this tool with our original PAR team, as well as a second research team, using these teams' feedback to revise and improve upon the tool. You can find view and download our tools below:
Editable Word version: Power-Mapping_list-flow_.docx
Notes on using the Power Mapping tool:
- We have found it useful for team members to take time to answer the questions on p. 2 on their own time, on a shared document where you can read over one another's answers (which is why we have included an editable Word version of the tool). Then we have come together to read one another's answers, and discussed the questions on p. 3.
- In considering when to use the tool with your team, it may be best to first engage it early on in your collaboration, and revisit it as new members join or roles shift. That said, we don't think it is ever too late to use this tool.
- While any team who is interested in reconceptualizing power outside of traditional hierarchical norms may find this tool useful, we think that PAR teams are uniquely positioned to make use of a tool like this one when thinking about how to navigate power.
We'd love to hear how engaging with this tool goes on your teams! For comments or questions, please contact me at Danielle.Littman@du.edu