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Sources and Positions of Power

Aim of the tool
To help reflect on different sources of power, and who holds power, in an MSP

When to use it?
This tool can be used in all stages of an MSP. Often it works best when done with a specific group of stakeholders (such as civil society representatives)

Sources of power

This framework is about the different sources people can draw on to gain personal power. Power is gained by drawing on various sources which include capital (financial, natural, physical, social, human)
, labour and consumer power, culture, location and geography, information, knowledge, networks, technology, physicality (e.g. age, sex, health or physicality ability) and personality (e.g. charisma). This understanding challenges the view of power as limited to a zero-sum game – in other words, a finite resource that needs to be taken away from others.


Positions of Power

When thinking about positions of power – and about ‘who has’ power – it is helpful to think of power as contextual. In other words where power lies and who has power will always change according to the context and setting. Someone can be in a dominating position on one issue and be relatively weak on another matter. Similarly, someone who appears marginalised from national decision-making can be the most influential person in his/her local area.


Discussion questions

  • Try to think about times when you have drawn on your own personal sources of power to help you to achieve something. When might these same sources of power have been an obstacle to achieving change?
  • Try to think about people who you would describe as powerful, and then think about the contexts in which these people might be powerless and why.