Visual tool for power analysis

February 26, 2014 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere, Let's Talk Visual, Methods & Tools |


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The word power has more than 15 different meanings in the dictionary and is used in various disciplines, from social science to physics, to mathematics, to philosophy, etc. This blog is about forms of power that bring about social changes. It describes an example of using visual methods for analysis of power relations among actors in stories about democracy.

By Snezana Mišić Mihajlović, Centre for Management, Development and Planning, Doboj, Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the project for capitalizing decentralization and local governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina we used different expressions of power adapted from the Powercube website that was created by the Participation, Power and Social Change team at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex:

Power To is the unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world.

Power With is about finding common ground among different interests and building collective strength. It is the power of individuals coming together to achieve change.

Power Over in politics, those who control resources and decision making have power over those without.

Power Within has to do with a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge; it includes an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others. Power within is the capacity to imagine and have hope; it affirms the common human search for dignity and fulfilment.

The power of visualisation ….

 Visual methods can boost the ‘Power Within’ people who articulate messages and present them to target audiences. In the earlier blog on visual methods, I described the digital storytelling and participatory video methods as powerful ways to illustrate the unsayable things about good governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as: space for diversities, informal powers which influence decision-making, weak power of citizens to articulate problems and advocate for solutions, etc. The video materials incite emotions and members of audience are more likely to remember visual messages.

… and visualisation of the power

Each digital story is a personal story that describes a moment of change and is characterized by complex forms of power. Authors of digital stories analysed power relations in their stories by using drama, visual icons and mapping exercise. This was an innovative way to address the underlying issues in each story. Through dramatization of selected digital stories participants understood forms of power. For example, participants defined a number of breaks and drivers for development of democracy in BiH that they decided to address in the participatory videos.

visual tool for power analysis_2.png

Photo from the power analysis exercise (shows part of participants inputs)

  • The most important breaks: manipulation, fear, passiveness, aggression/ violence.
  • The most important drivers: information, education, decision to react, new knowledge and experience, activism.

Time-power chart

 The expressions of power can be effectively presented by using illustrations. The following icons were used in the project on visual methods, to understand power in different situations.

Power over

power chart_1

Power to

power to

Power within

power with

Power with

power within

Power icons produced by Tessa Lewin and Joanna Wheeler from the Institute of Development Studies UK

Results of the mapping exercise were time-power graphs for each of the four expressions of power: ‘power over’ (yellow), ‘power to’ (violet), ‘power within’ (red), and ‘power with’ (green). This was an interesting way of describing what really happened in their situations.

visual tool for power analysis_3.png

 Darjan Bilić, trainer, shows his time-power graph (result of the exercise on power analysis by means of visual methods)


  • Project partners learned about forms, spaces and levels of power,
  • People got assured that individuals do have the power to initiate changes
  • Successful changes are more likely to happen if collective action takes place!





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