Centre for Youth Impact: Five ways to start revealing the power dynamics in how you learn

This blog first appeared on the Centre for Youth Impact website in January 2019 and was co-authored by Nusrat Faizullah and Coalition for Efficiency’s Chief Executive, Antonia Orr. 

​At their Annual Gathering in September, The Centre for Youth Impact hosted a workshop on “Equality and Equity in Evaluation: Applying an Identity Lens”. During a morning and afternoon session, we listened to writer, cultural producer and an award-winning arts educator, Farzana Khan; researcher Julie Temperley; and educational researcher and consultant Nusrat Faizullah discuss and explore their perspectives on the topic.

​The session unearthed the pressing need for us all to reflect further on how power dynamics are present in and influence our organisations’ evaluation practice – and the action that we need to take to address and eradicate underlying inequalities. We hope this blog provokes others to reflect on the power dynamics that underpin how we all learn.

1. Question everything
The first step to unveiling power dynamics is to admit and accept that they exist and are intertwined with the way you learn and evaluate. Ask yourself: what are the assumptions you have made; where do you see expertise coming from; what is the existing literature or knowledge bases that you draw from; what are the biases you, your organisation and the sector you are in are affected by? Take a fresh look at the inequality you work to address and the community you work with. Who has power and who doesn’t have power?

To learn more:

2. Passing on the power
What is the power of the communities that you are working with in your learning process?  Note that power is not the same as involvement; it is not about having a voice or being a source of knowledge. It is about being in control and information flowing to you.  How does your learning and the information you gather contribute to tackling inequalities and injustices? Are communities involved in all parts of your evaluation process such as analysis and evaluation? Does this information flow back to communities?

To learn more:

3. Proving or learning
In terms of your own evaluation process, ask yourself what the evaluation you do is for. We often get trapped into a mindset of proving our organisations or projects need to exist rather than trying to learn about the inequalities we are trying to address. This creates biases in the way we learn and measure impact. We should constantly be asking ourselves if the projects we do should exist and reflect in an open way.

To learn more:

4. Methods for all identities
We can often get trapped into using processes that work well for us. Ask yourself how well the evaluation methods you use suit the communities you are working with. Try using more creative approaches to learn about your impacts, methods that allow for emotion and different perspectives. What makes us different needs to sit at the heart of the way we learn. If it becomes a final step or add-on we further marginalise communities and entrench inequalities.

To learn more:

  • Voices that Shake uses creative approach to analyse inequalities facing young people.
  • The Listening Fund is supporting youth-focussed organisations to better listen to young people.

5) Hope for real change 
We can easily get stuck when thinking about these things or talking about them, but in order to challenge power dynamics we need to look for ways to make practical sustainable shifts that aren’t tokenistic. Change is hard, it is uneasy, it is emotional, it will involve you giving up power and unseating yourself. Reimagine what the world could look like and keep coming to the bigger vision that motivates you when things feel challenging.

As one of our speakers, Farzana, said during our session: “Unseating or shifting power is terrifying, but the vision of a different future is exciting.  This is a long game – take risks and keep the vision in mind.”

Co-authored by Nusrat Faizullah and Antonia Orr