Stasia Crickley: Head of Applied Social Studies,NUI Maynooth
I’ve been stretching the elastic I feel. This is what we have been given, now how can we make it work. In work, structures, funding, deadlines, communication difficulties etc all combine to make thinking creatively or radically difficult. Time for reflection, criticism, clarifying purpose or direction is limited. Yet to be an agent of empowerment of oneself or a resource of others is what I set out on this life path for.
Even in my own community I struggle. Work time, personal time, family time, educational time for the children, crisis time with family, voluntary work, relationship time. Where to make the time? How to create the space? Where to find the courage?
Although I have practiced and experienced both capacity building and empowerment in my life and work, I know that empowerment leads to lasting change. But it’s the most difficult, to experience or to support. It comes at a price.
For me it can be broken down into two particular areas conscientisation and participation.
Conscientisation is the term used by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Through it local communities become aware of the impacts on them. Via his action/reflection cycle community participants:
- Think about their problem
- Plan what steps to take
- Act on their plan
- Reflect on the outcomes and think and plan the next steps.
The next rung is community consultation. Here the information is circulated in a controlling manner, the community or participants are asked for their opinion but have no real control on how their feedback is used.
The third rung is community representation. Here members of the community get to sit on the respective decision making bodies and have a say. There are numerous issues with this representation from deficits in resources, capacity, skills, experience and the access to power brokers.
Finally community participation. This builds on the previous three rungs but here the local community is centrally involved in the decisions and are there for the implementation and evaluation of such decisions also.
Empowerment for me is about both these elements working with people where they are at, reducing or removing the barriers to a minimum and essentially actioning the issues most relevant to a community as defined by the community. But it comes at a cost. Time. Commitment. Energy. Gradual change which flies in the face of many people’s yearning for instant results. Ultimately it challenges the existing power holders in a community or society. Who wants to lose control? It’s a scary place for anyone. Thus effective empowerment is a struggle, a hard slog, potentially frightening and difficult to deliver.