IFAS Community Development: Identifying Local Power Structures, The Decision-Making Approach

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IFAS Community Development: Identifying Local Power Structures, The Decision-Making Approach
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Fact sheet
Brennan, Mark A.
University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS
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Gainesville, Fla.
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Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Melanie Mercer.
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General Note:
"Original publication date July 2006. Reviewed: January 2009."
General Note:
"FCS 9258"

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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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M. A. Brennan2 1. This document is FCS 9258, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date July 2006. Reviewed: January 2009. Visit the EDIS Web Site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. 2. M. A. Brennan, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611. This paper is part of a series of discussions on community development. This series includes specialized papers on leadership development, civic engagement, community action, and other topics important to the development of community. In the process of community development, it is important to identify positions, organizations, and individuals of power. All types of power can serve as a source of empowerment for local collective action or in more negative settings as a significant obstacle to the emergence of community agency, or the capacity for local of communities to act (Hyman, et al., 2001; Brennan, 2006). There are several ways that extension and other change agents can identify these power structures. One useful method is the decision-making approach. Another method for identifying community power structures is the decision-making approach. This decision-making or event analysis method traces the history of a collective decision on one or a series of issues. Power holders are those identified as actually having participated in the concrete decision. These can be in the form of officials, lobbyists, activists, and others who shape policy and related decisions at the local level. This method for identifying power is based on the assumption that the social power to affect decisions is evident through participation in the decision-making process. This decision making process is most often seen through formal government, business, or other established channels. As with other methods, a series of steps can be taken to identify leaders and power holders. Included are: 1. Determine the process and actions of community decision making;


IFAS Community Development: Identifying Local Power Structures, The Decision-Making.... 2 2. Select areas of decision making that are relevant to community development or any other aspect of local life that you are concerned about. To better facilitate this, you might seek advice from key informants or others who are knowledgeable of local decision making; 3. Trace the decision-making process from its initiation stages to the actions completion stages. This can often be easily accomplished through a review of minutes and proceedings from formal meetings (i.e., city council, community forums). These minutes are increasingly available to the public through the Internet, but can also be obtained directly from the sources you are focusing on; and 4. Identify action-oriented leaders. These are often characterized by individuals who are frequently presenting issues, calling for action, and pushing particular agendas. Such people can also be identified through interviews, speeches, proceedings, newspapers, and other such sources of information. Utilizing this method, power holders who are active or instrumental in the resolution of issues or problems are identified. Similarly, when multiple issues/topics are studied more general or specialized power holders can be identified. Overall, these tend to be visible leaders. As with all methods for assessing local power, this method has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages to consider when using this method are: 1. This method can determine actual documented behavior rather than reputation; 2. It can identify general power holders who exhibit power in relation to a variety of topics/issues. By identifying overlapping activeness or power from one issue to another, people who hold power in a variety of settings can be identified; 3. This method can identify specialized power holders (people who hold particularly strong sway over a single issue); and 4. It is very effective in determining the roles people play in various phases of a decision making process. Similarly, it often allows us to see how power holders behave in the presence of other power holders. Correspondingly some of the disadvantages of this method are: 1. Depending on the issue and complexity of the decision making process, this method can be very time consuming and costly. This is particularly true when multiple issues/topics, that are interrelated, are studied; 2. This method assumes that actual behavior is a measure of leadership and power. As a result, it may miss hidden or behind the scenes power holders; and 3. Using this method, we may miss those who exhibit power in other ways. Power holders who keep issues from emerging into open controversy are often overlooked with this method. Brennan, M. A. (2006). Identifying Local Power Structures to Facilitate Leadership and Community Development. Gainesville, FL: Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. EDIS. Publication number: FCS 9238/FY816. Boulding, K. (1989). The Three Faces of Power. Sage Publications. Hyman, D., J. McKnight, and F. Higdon. (2001). Doing Democracy: Conflict and Consensus Strategies for Citizens, Organizations, and Communities. Erudition Press.