Mailing List

Sign up to receive the latest news from make:good
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


7 September 2020

When we were planning the themes and topics we wanted to talk about in 2020 we were super excited to link to London Festival of Architecture’s Power theme. It’s something we have thought and talked a lot about but as this year has flipped everything we expected upside down we didn’t take part in the digital version of the festival. However, we wanted to put down some of our thinking, in our ever simple style, to start a conversation about how the relationship with power in our work is in flux right now.

Power and influence are intrinsically linked for us; our aim is that we foster as much influence as possible in the communities in which we work. But it isn’t a perfect approach, power shifts over a project duration and we are also subject to being more or less powerful. Something I find really useful is to think about the four models of power:

Power over: where a person or institution controls or constrains what another is able to do and often what they think they can do. This can be an insipid negative influence on our view of ourselves.
Power to: where a person believes they have power, can take action and affect change. This can start with awareness of power and move into action. At the very least we want to be fostering power to.
Power with: where a group of people build a shared understanding and take collective action. This is how we intend for our work to manifest.
Power within: knowing you have power and benefitting from the confidence that comes from gaining awareness of something and knowing you have the ability to influence the outcome. An audacious aim on every project.

But power isn’t always visible, how people see their place in the world, and how the world has shown them what their place is, stops some people from using power and influence and means others feel abundantly able, or in fact entitled to exert power. These extremes feel even more obvious right now.

I’ve been thinking about the privilege of having headspace to participate in things, to have a civic voice, even more so over the last 6 months. I often talk about people being consumed by the immediacy of paying bills, caring responsibilities, health, job security, the list is endless, but this is even more acute right now. In the past we have addressed this by making the process fun, rewarding, joyful in it’s own right. Physically going to where people are, attending events they already going to, working with existing networks in an area to partner on events and activities.

So now I’ve been left thinking how we work towards power with and power within when so many of our ways of sharing power were about physical proximity which is something we can’t do right now. Yes we can move all our activities online, which we have done a fair bit of, but we all know it is different and you also don’t get the opportunity to engage people accidentally because they happen across you. It is reliant on people choosing to participate which automatically means they believe they have ‘power to’ and have the privilege of time, equipment and wifi to get involved. Meaningful participation in projects initiated by others, which is essentially the bulk of our work, feels even harder to achieve.

I, with all my privilege and sense of entitlement to share my opinions have felt more in a position of power over and have felt overwhelmed by life to engage in civic conversations in my neighbourhood.

I don’t have the answers but I have some things we have been trying out (beyond online) and am interested in what others have been trying if you would care to share!

  1. Post – good old fashioned post has been great over the last months. Making lovely workshop resources, sending children’s activity packs out, beautiful postcards to pass on and spread the word has felt like the human touch we’ve been craving.
  2. Socially distanced pop ups: much more low key, loads of sanitiser and no swapping materials so less flags and dot sticking but we have been out and it has worked.(of course the guidance on this changes all the time)
  3. Art trails: using more creative and curious facts installed around a neighbourhood to pique people’s interest. linked to a phone number this has worked for us to get some phone calls about what all this is about.
  4. Peer networks: getting people we do reach to contact their friends and networks by providing them with content to share and paying them for their time to help us do our work.

There must be more so what would you add?