assessing
empowerment
What are we talking about?
 “Empowerment means that people,
especially poorer people, are enabled to
take more control over their lives”
(Chambers 1993)
 “Empowerment … refers to the expansion
in people’s ability to make strategic life
choices in a context where this ability was
previously denied to them” (Kabeer 2001)
A dichotomy
 Instrumental empowerment
 A relatively new discourse that
recognises gains in efficiency and
productivity from worker participation
 Intrinsic empowerment
 An older discourse associated with the
struggle for land and liberty
What’s the difference?
 It’s the difference between …
 people being given a role in our agenda
 and taking control of their own agenda
 It’s the difference between …
 the adoption of planned behaviour
 and the demonstration of agency
What are we looking for?
 The assessment of empowerment is
a search for signs of agency…
 Signs that people are engaged in
critical thinking, exercising choices,
taking action that gives them greater
control of livelihood assets…
 … and transforming the power
relationships in their lives
Behavioural Indicators from
Bangladesh






organizational behaviour: women in leadership roles,
active participation in group decision-making, collective
actions
planning behaviour: a combination of setting goals,
taking steps towards their achievement (e.g. savings),
and self-monitoring
entitlement behaviour: exercising rights, making
claims as individuals or groups, engaging in advocacy
economic behaviour: holding and using cash, making
sales and purchases, making leases, negotiating wage
rates
learning behaviour: seeking information, and taking
action to share knowledge with others
experimental behaviour: testing and modifying
technologies, rejection of a technology as a result of
critical thinking
How are we going to assess agency?
 The question of how cannot be divorced from
the question of who.
 Empowerment involves a challenge to, and a
change in, relationships.
 Assessment is – in itself - a manifestation of a
power relationship within or between groups
 It can be argued that the assessment of
empowerment in development programmes
can only be done by the parties involved in the
development relationship.
 Those parties can be described as ‘developers’
and ‘developees’.
Typology of methods for
development programmes
Who
A
Self-assessment by
developee
B
Developee assesses
developer
C
Negotiated assessment by
both parties
D
Developer assesses
developee
E
Self-assessment by
developer
How
Typology of methods for
development programmes
Who
How
A
Self-assessment by
developee
Participatory M&E
B
Developee assesses
developer
Accountability mechanisms
C
Negotiated assessment by
both parties
Constructivist evaluation
(‘4th generation evaluation’)
D
Developer assesses
developee
Applied anthropology
E
Self-assessment by
developer
Action research
Case studies as an assessment
method
 Case studies can be used as a method for all
5 types of assessment in the typology
 Agency entails a process that is situation
specific. Case studies are useful because
they can take account of both context and
chronology.
 By comparing the before and after situations,
and examining the sequence of events that
connects the two situations, case studies can
go some way to establishing a counterfactual,
and attributing behavioural changes to
particular interventions. This is particularly
valuable for impact assessment.
Case studies in Indonesia
 Context: a national programme to train farmers in agroecology using experiential learning techniques.
 Farmer groups in 182 sub-districts produced case
studies of their achievements
 The cases included: maps, photos, timelines, quotes, a
summary of group discussions, and financial
calculations. In total: more than 3,000 pages
 Many of the achievements were expected, but a metaanalysis identified the frequency of 62 types of
‘spontaneous behaviour’, i.e activities that had not been
planned by the government or the development
agencies
 Eg., farmers formed their own organisations in 35 subdistricts (19%), carried out protests in 33 sub-districts
(18%) and set up marketing schemes in 14 sub-districts
(8%).
Expecting the Unexpected
 If we are serious about intrinsic empowerment, we
need to pay more attention to unplanned
behaviour change
 This may be difficult for some development
planners to accept.
 In agriculture, we may find that more change is
being initiated by farmers than by the ‘experts’.
And not all of these changes are appreciated by
those is authority
 Although greater participation in officially approved
programmes is welcome, empowerment often
involves a struggle against government policies
and regulations, and a challenge to the roles and
attitudes of those in power.
The unexpected in Laos
 The landscape of Northern Laos has been transformed
in recent years by a boom in the production of rubber
and maize.
 The boom was started by farmers themselves. They
brought knowledge and planting materials from across
the border in Thailand and China, and worked with
small traders to export their produce.
 A sign of empowerment perhaps? But also a new
opportunity for exploitation.
 The Government is now promoting the idea of farmer
groups and associations, while also granting land
concessions and trading rights to large companies.
 With the benefits of rubber and maize being ‘captured’
by bigger players, some farmers are already looking for
new opportunities.
A final quote
“Delightful as the pastime of
measuring may be, it is the most
futile of all occupations, and to
submit to the decrees of the
measurers the most servile of
attitudes”
(Virginia Wolf, 1929)
Andrew Bartlett
[email protected]
Coalition for Lao Information
Communication and Knowledge