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Considering power relationships in co-design

Alysha Baratta writes on the InWithForward blog, about the balance of power in a co-design process:

Power isn’t some quantifiable unit that can be split 50/50. First, our positionality means we wield power in ways beyond our control. As a trained human geographer, I think about how my fixed or culturally ascribed attributes (race, class, gender) situate me in the world and next to people I co-design with. I also think about life experiences that I have or have not had as a lens through which I view the world; it’s impossible to divorce myself from, well, myself. (Chiseri-Strater, 1996; Milner 2007). I know I can’t extricate myself or the people I’m co-designing with from these webs of power and authority. I don’t know if people respond to our invitations to co-design out of a sense of coercion, genuine desire, or both until we’ve developed a stronger relational basis with them.

What does this mean for us? It means not to make assumptions. Our positions of power, relative to one another, don’t mean we know more or less about what settlement supports are best for newcomers. It means it’s something to consider before we enter the room, in the design of the process. It’s something to acknowledge throughout building relationships. And it’s something to keep at the core of our interactions, asking ourselves: How do I make myself vulnerable so that my positional power can be questioned, reinterpreted, and eventually appropriated by those we interact with?

“Shared power” isn’t a status to be achieved – it’s a constant consideration of each moment of every interaction. It’s a stance of humility and a commitment to iteration. There’s no such thing as reaching a final destination of power balance, because it’s constantly being negotiated with each exchange.

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