To make change happen, the first thing you need to ask is: who holds the power? This is because, at the end of the day knowing who is able to enact the change you want to see so that you can focus on reaching and influencing them really does matter.
Why power matters
At The Social Change Agency, we work with charities, activists and grassroots organisations to make change happen. We believe that in order to make a real difference on the issues you care about, you need to be able to answer the question: Who holds the power?
We define power as the ability to act and here’s why it’s important:
- Power relations are unequal
- Power is being exercised and there is an agenda at work
- Recognising power is being exercised and how it is being exercised is essential to making long term social impact
Who holds the power?
Power mapping is essential for anyone wanting to create lasting change. Over the past decade, we have been helping changemakers map out where power and influence is held and who they need to target in order to make change happen
The power analysis matrix is a simple but effective tool that can be used to see who the key actors are and what influences them. You can then use that knowledge to frame your agenda and plan your tactics in order to create maximum impact.
At the top of the matrix, note down your agenda and the opposing agenda. For instance, a charity’s goal could be to provide free school meals for children, while the opposing viewpoint could be that there’s not enough available funding.
Ideally, you will want to evaluate multiple opposing agendas to determine where you can have the greatest impact. However, a good place to start is to think about who the most powerful/influential person might be, and what their reason would be for not supporting your agenda.
On the matrix, the horizontal axis represents how strongly actors align with your agenda, or the opposing agenda. The actors that are further to the edges are who you would consider ‘die hard’ supporters of either agenda. Those closer to the middle are ‘inclined towards’ either agenda, but are more likely to be swayed. Those in the middle are neutral.
The vertical axis represents how much power each actor has to make the identified agenda happen. Right at the bottom of this is actors who are ‘not on the radar’ and do not have the power to make the necessary change. This goes all the way up through to ‘can get attention’ to ‘have decision-making power or influence’. This will be where those who have the ability to act and make your desired outcome happen sit.
You can separate your actors into the following:
- Organised groups
- Unorganised social groups
Decision-makers: These are the people who have direct authority to change the system and create the change you are calling for. These could include but are not limited to: MPs, Board of Directors, local council and senior staff.
Influencers: Those with the ability to highlight your issue and get people talking. Your influences might not have the power to make the change, but they do have the ability to get attention and influence your decision-makers. They could include journalists, civil servants, advisors, celebrity influencers or community leaders.
Organised groups: Organisations that have an interest in the issue you are working on. Their power varies, but they often include local groups, national groups, service-led organisations, research organisations and campaign or interest groups and can be important allies for your cause.
Unorganised social groups: These may be affected by your issue but are not yet organised. This might include parents, students, local residents or patients. On their own, unorganised social groups tend to be near the bottom of the map, with limited power.
You should also map out some contextual factors on the matrix. These could be major economic, political and/or social conditions that are impacting your actors. These can be placed at the top of the map and put either on the side of your agenda if this context might work to influence actors in your favour, or towards the opposing agenda if it might work against you.
Think about your issue: Who are the actors involved? Who out of these actors has the most power? Are they supportive of your agenda?
Using your power map to help you frame your issue
Once you have established the actors at play and who holds the power, you can begin to frame your issue. Simply put, an issue frame is the story you want to tell about your cause. It defines the problem, who’s responsible, and what needs to be done about it.
If you control the frame, you control the conversation about your issue.
Have a look at the following framings:
- The streets are not safe. Women and girls should avoid going out at night and take measures to reduce their risk of harassment.
- The streets are not safe. We need to educate boys and men on sexual harassment and stronger laws to hold perpetrators accountable.
The issue in these framings is the same. They agree that the problem is that the streets are not safe, but they tell a different story about who is responsible and how this problem should be addressed.
Think: What is the story you want to tell about your issue? What framing will best convince your decision-makers to create change?
Beyond the matrix
Filling out a power analysis matrix takes time, but once you’ve done it you can use it to shape your strategy and prioritise the tactics that will be the most effective for your campaign. This can be useful for if you are working on a specific campaign push, thinking about your marketing strategy, or even developing your general communications and refining your charity’s position, so why not give it a go?
You can download a power analysis matrix for free on The Social Change Agency website, to get you started, or you can come along to one of our Power Mapping open training sessions to give it a go with us. The Social Change Agency’s training also looks into tactics such as borrowing power, coalition building and neutralising opposition, as well as how you can use the matrix to organise around your issue.
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Check out the upcoming CharityComms Strategic Marketing Conference on 23 March where we’ll be looking at topics including how strategy can be used to understand and reach audiences.
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Banner Image: Manuel Torres Garcia