This is an Eval Central archive copy, find the original at medium.com/innovationnetwork.
Written by Alissa Marchant and Cory Georgopolous
Current Knowledge on Collective Power
Advocacy evaluation is a rapidly growing field that has seen the emergence of several frameworks for building power for social change, measuring equity, coalition effectiveness, collective impact and creating communities of practice.
However, none of these pieces speak to each other or address measuring collective power specifically centered on equity. This wasn’t a total surprise: funders and evaluators have only recently begun to talk about coalitions in terms of collective power or seen as places to cultivate equity.
Because there are no existing frameworks for collective power that centers equity, we looked to the advocates who are building collective power as part of their regular practice. In the past two years, we followed two collectives who brought together traditional policy organizations with equity and grassroots organizations. They are changing the ways in which policies are created and advocated for, starting first with their internal structures. These collectives have helped us understand what it takes to center equity in groups who want to build collective power.
Learning from Two Collectives
Since 2021, Innovation Network worked with two collectives: Towards Equity in Electric Mobility (TEEM) organized by the Greenlining Institute and Forth Mobility, and Child Care Next (CC Next) organized by the Alliance for Early Success.
As their names suggest, these two groups focus on very different issue areas. TEEM was formed through recruitment and invitations, while CC NEXT had a competitive process with detailed proposals and states forming groups before they applied. But they have many similarities: TEEM and CC NEXT are both new, founded in 2021. They both have a national gathering, and state cohorts in 6 states. They both have Foundation support.
Most importantly, both are trying to build collective power rooted in equity among their members. They do this by bringing together grassroots, community representatives with expertise in centering equity and grasstops organizations with research and legislative expertise. These groups are able to learn from each other, build relationships, and take action together while centering grassroots voices in spaces that have typically been the domain of grasstops organizations.
Draft Framework for Collective Power
We decided to look across TEEM and CC Next to see if the beginnings of a framework could be pieced together from what we knew of these coalitions, how they operated, and how they aspired to operate. Taking into account their similarities and differences, we identified three intersecting components that make up our draft framework for collective power (Figure 1):
The recognition that everyone at the table holds different levels of power, and there needs to be a concerted, intentional effort to shift and build the power of members who come in with less. While all these components are important, co-creation and transformation rest upon the presence of equity in a group and would not be possible without it.
- A commitment and vision for equity is at the heart.
- Members respect, appreciate, and leverage the different strengths other members bring. There’s acknowledgment that each member brings their own unique value.
- The coalition openly addresses and strives to mitigate inequitable power dynamics.
- Whatever the issue, those most impacted have power and weight over the coalition and its work equal to other groups or more. Within the coalition, this can mean active elevation of grassroots voices and leadership.
- Participants have the resources to engage in the coalition.
The space is owned, shaped, and created by members in collaboration with each other.
- Members feel like they have a voice to share their honest opinion and that it is valued.
- The coalition strives for group-based decision-making that reaches for or achieves consensus.
- There’s a spirit of collaboration in how members approach realizing their shared vision rather than competition.
Not only are members of the group striving to affect their chosen issue (i.e., electric mobility, childcare), they are changing the way the work is done and looking at long-term social change.
- Members are not only valued for their unique skills and the constituency they bring to the group, but for their perspective. The goals created by the group are bigger, more comprehensive, and visionary.
- Members can see their work and contributions make an impact. This impact could be concrete policy change but is often a transformational change in perspective as well.
These three components underpinned how the coalitions were facilitated and how members showed up in relationship with each other: not as a competition but as a place where each member has decision-making power and differences of perspective are valued rather than erased.
Continuing Refinement of the Framework
While we hope this framework is useful to other evaluators, it is still a draft with many missing parts and remaining questions, and our intention in sharing it is not to provide answers but to spark discussion. What other components are integral to collective power? How does this framework resonate with other coalitions? We hope to explore these questions — and revisit and revise the framework — as we continue to partner with these groups and others, but we also want to hear from you: what has your experience been in measuring and building collective power?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!