UPS - Spaces of power: closed, invited and created
Another way of looking at power is in terms of the different types of space that exist to influence decision-making. There are many ways in which these can be classified but the three labels of closed, invited and created are perhaps the most widely used.
These are spaces where elites such as politicians, bureaucrats, experts, bosses, managers or (at the local level) village chiefs and local leaders make decisions behind closed doors with little or no consultation or involvement of others. In dictatorships almost all spaces are closed, but even in democracies many areas of decision making remain closed – for example around the setting of macro-economic, trade or military policies. Many global institutions, notably the World Bank and IMF have very closed decision-making processes.
Change is likely to focus on opening up these closed spaces: to argue for greater transparency, the right to information and disclosure and public accountability for what goes on behind closed doors.
These are spaces that are opened up by institutions for consultation with sectors of the population who have historically been excluded. This may be in response to demand or in response to the need to appear more democratic. The boundaries of these invited spaces are defined by the institution that is doing the inviting. They may be one off or ongoing but the parameters for discussion, the regularity of contact, the style and tone or what is acceptable is usually pre-defined by the most powerful. Consultation in these spaces is rarely a guarantee of meaningful input to actual decision-making.
Changes may involve using these spaces to gain access to information, to network or to build our capacity for policy dialogue and negotiation. We may seek to extend the boundaries of what can be discussed or open up these spaces further – to include other voices that are not present.
Claimed and self-created spaces
Through the process of conscientisation and mobilisation we may succeed in opening up new spaces that focus on citizen action and active participation. Claimed spaces should be genuinely democratic and offer a different way of working than the closed or invited spaces. These claimed or self-created spaces may be at local level (e.g. a Reflection-Action circle), national level (e.g. an Occupy movement in a particular city) or international level (e.g. the World Social Forum). They may be based on a common identity (e.g. dalits, migrant workers, indigenous peoples) or on a shared issue (e.g. advancing land rights or challenging corporate tax dodging). The focus is very much on citizen action and active participation.
These spaces are a change in themselves as they have to be claimed and created. However, it is important to remember that they are usually a means to an end and should be used to help groups claim their rights. We need to ensure that these spaces are genuinely democratic and offer an alternative way of working to the closed or invited spaces.
Questions for discussion:
- What are the key closed or invited spaces that exist?
- What spaces could be created?
- What other labels would you use to classify spaces you encounter?
- Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis, J Gaventa, IDS Bulletin 37:6, November 2006.
- Ven Klassen and Miller 2002 “A new weave of power, people & politics: the action guide for advocacy and citizen participation”
- People’s Action in Practice, ActionAid, 2012
- www.reflect-action.org - Reflect website.
- www.policy-powertools.org - International Institute of Environment and Development website.
- www.powercube.net – Powerpack: Understanding Power for social change, Institute of Development Studies.
- Introduction to Spaces for Change by Andrea Cornwall and Vera Schattan P. Coelho.
- ActionAid’s Framework for Gender Equality (p. 72-73 AAI Gender & RBA Resource Kit)
- Power- Elite Capture and Hidden Influence, ActionAid, 2012
- Communication & Power, ActionAid, 2003.
- Critical Webs of Power and Change by Jennifer Chapman and Antonella Mancini, ActionAid 2005.
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