Unit 4 Section 4.3: Addressing Power Inequities

Many partnerships face issues of power inequity between partners. To address these often institutionalized constructs, partners must actively discuss and seek to find methods for sharing power and control. Efforts to ensure equity and shared influence may be incorporated into principles, operating norms, polices, and procedures. For example, how will the partnership make decisions? Where will meetings be held? Will there be a shared distribution of resources?

There are also other real inequities among partners that are more difficult to erase, especially in terms of race, gender, and class. If partners acknowledge and discuss these inequities up front, they may be better able to see how they affect the work of the partnership. It may be helpful for partners to experience a cultural competency or undoing racism workshop together.

Striving for equity should include processes for addressing:

  • Power imbalances between community members and academics

  • Acknowledging and valuing the expertise and skills of community organizations

  • Lack of common language among partners

  • Politics within and between partners

  • Issues of ownership

  • “Research fatigue” amongst certain communities

Example 4.3.1: Addressing Power Inequities in a CBPR Partnership

We depict our structure as a three-legged stool. Each leg of the stool represents a different type of partner – 1) universities, 2) local government and corporate institutions, such as the health department and health care providers, and 3) community-based organizations (CBOs).  We recognized early on that our stool had unequal legs if measured by the power and resources of the different entities.  The University and other institutions wield the most power and have the most resources when compared to the community.   Therefore, much of the work of our partnership has involved “growing the community leg."

Our structure and governance shows careful attention to building organizational equity and capacity where it didn’t exist before.  Because of the nature of bureaucracies, representatives from institutions like the University and the Health Department all came with one voice.  But representatives from community-based organizations each spoke with separate voices and diminished power.  So our community-based organization partners formed an alliance—the Community-Based Organization Partners (CBOP), which meets separately to develop a common opinion.  CBOP is the main structure that has strengthened the influence of the community partners in our partnership.  CBOP also brought a “community consultant” to our deliberations. This person is grounded in methodology and theory and helps to translate the perspective of the university partners.  Because the consultant is based in the community, he also understands the community's position and has the ability to translate it to the university partners.

Adjusting to this increased influence of our CBOs has created tension between partners at times.  It can be a challenge to work with a more unified community when institutions are used to a divided voice.  It has also been difficult for CBO partners to arrive at a single position when their organizations are so different.  But CBOP also makes it easier to answer the question, “Who speaks for the community?”  Now, if a request or an issue arises that needs a CBO response, institutional partners no longer need to decide which CBO will represent our group.  We ask CBOP to decide.

Excerpted from Flint PRC proposal