4.7 Perspective and power in making institutional development happen
We want finally to look at two factors which shape negotiation and, more generally, how institutional development happens: perspective and power. Our perspective is the collection of attitudes and outlooks which arises from our circumstances or beliefs. Perspective is a fundamental dimension to any social interaction, and is of particular importance when people are trying to work together within and across organisations, as well as within and across different social contexts. It is closely related to the idea of meaning and the meaning we give to the elements of our worlds and the actions we take (as well as what meaning we give to the actions of others). Our perspectives will be affected by our own histories (personal and professional) and the social contexts in which we have lived them. Although organisations comprise individuals, all with their own perceptions of the world, organisations also have perspectives, expressed commonly these days through vision and mission statements, as well as in the policies developed and actions taken (which may or may not match the espoused vision and mission). Perspective will affect how the problems, processes and outcomes of institutional development are perceived, the kinds of relationships that are created, and the kinds of solutions that are negotiated.
Another key element that affects what kinds of solutions to development problems are negotiated is power. Power can take many forms. The multiple forms of power have been considered by Norman Long. Long suggests that:
Like knowledge, power is not simply possessed, accumulated and un-problematically exercised … Power implies much more than how hierarchies and hegemonic control demarcate social positions and opportunities, and restrict access to resources. It is the outcome of complex struggles and negotiations over authority, status, reputation and resources, and necessitates the enrolment of networks of actors and constituencies … Such struggles are founded upon the extent to which specific actors perceive themselves capable of manoeuvring within particular situations and developing effective strategies for doing so. Creating room for manoeuvre implies a degree of consent, a degree of negotiation and thus a degree of power, as manifested in the possibility of exerting some control, prerogative, authority and capacity for action, be it front-stage or backstage, for flickering moments or for more sustained periods … Thus, as Scott (1985) points out, power inevitably generates resistance, accommodation and strategic compliance as regular components of the politics of everyday life.
(Long, 2001, p. 71)
Perspective and power shape any approach to making institutional development happen. We will end our discussion with two radically different approaches which serve to show that institutional development, and the way to achieve it, are contested matters. They reflect two different theories of change, one individual the other more social.
Gareth Morgan is a Canadian academic who has written much about organisational development and change. Morgan is insistent on the possibility of personal empowerment and the potential for each one of us to ‘assume our personal power in rethinking and reshaping the world around us’ (Morgan, 1997, p. 292). The following summarises his position:
There are, no doubt, deep structures of power shaping the structure and logic of the global economy. We are, no doubt, caught up in all kinds of sedimented patterns of culture, ideology, and social practice that inhibit capacities for change. The power of macro global forces do encourage a sense of inevitability and powerlessness when it comes to having a significant impact on our world. Indeed, even the leaders of major countries sometimes feel that they have no power to shape things and have no option but to swim with the prevailing tide.
That's why we have to bring it all back down to the level of the individual and individual capacities for change – for change is an individual affair! Individuals can form groups, and groups can become social movements. But the process begins and ends with the commitments and actions of individuals. Certainly, it makes a big difference if one is a head of a large corporation as opposed to the average man or woman in the street. But it is the individual who has to move.
(Morgan, 1997, p. 293)
You may or may not agree with Morgan on the possibility for individuals to create change. But the approach is certainly as applicable to institutional development as to organisational change.
Trying to build support for change, in opposition to powerful interests, by working with and attempting to empower powerless groups, is in a very different tradition of radical activism from that of Morgan. One example of such an approach espoused by many activists is the idea of ‘conscientisation’ (in broad terms, ‘awareness-raising’) put forward by Paolo Freire in his famous book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire uses the notion of ‘cultural action’ (p. 146), which is quite similar to what we have called institutional development in this unit. It is a ‘systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it’ (p. 146). It serves either domination or liberation. Perhaps things are not always so clear-cut when particular institutional development interventions are considered. However, Freire's insistence on dialectical opposites in terms of standing with or against ‘the people’, especially when it comes to questions of power, can provide an important reminder of stark realities.
Freire's ideas have also contributed to a radical empowerment perspective in discussions of participation, ‘with development practitioners working with poor people to struggle actively for change …’ (Cleaver, 2001, p. 37).
One might be sceptical about the capacity of outsiders to identify with poor people's concerns. Perhaps, as Rahnema (1992) suggests, we should look to grassroots movements to bring about change. Nonetheless, the idea of the development practitioner facilitating empowerment is one that has taken hold within institutional development.