Power Dynamics in Cooperatives (Longer Activities)

From Cultivate.Coop

These are longer activities to help co-ops and other groups explore and learn about power dynamics.

Power Dynamics Role Play


Everyone gets in groups of 4. Each person in the group gets a card with a secret number: 1, 2, 3, or 4 (no one has the same number).

Take turns having the rest of the groups be an audience, with one group 'performing' at a time. The performing group is a family, 2 parents, 2 kids. Each person has/ exerts as much power as they've got on their number. 1 is the most, 2 second most, etc down to 4, which has the least amount of power/ control/ authority/ charisma. Each person should only know their own number! We're gonna guess later...

Groups perform for about 1 1/2- 2 minutes. The less bold a group is the more cues you can give them: the kids are just getting home from school, or you need to decide what to have for dinner, or what to watch on TV, or who does the dishes etc. It helps to have kids of different ages (a 5 year old can get a lot of attention and have a lot of power, a dad can be super submissive, a teenager can be bratty and get their way, or be bratty and be ignored... age and personality don't determine power, only the numbers do).

Have groups freeze in the middle of the role play, turn in their numbers, and pick new ones, so that they have different power dynamics. It’s okay if someone gets the same number twice. Resume the conversation where it left off and observe how it shifts with different power dynamics.

Depending on how sophisticated the group is, you can have them start with their 'drama' levels at 3 out of 10 (how intense are they BEING their numbers) and then crank it up to 8 or 9 to see how people use their power. I usually only do this option with folks who have a deeper analysis of power dynamics. The point would be to show how you can be a 1 in a group, but still keep it under control and not totally take up all the space and control how a group functions.

Then the 'audience' tries to guess who had what number, before, and then after the switch. The 'actors' reveal their true numbers.

Repeat for each group of 4!

Where Does Power Come From? Activity

1. In groups of two or three, discuss for 5-10 minutes:
Think about what influences the decisions made in your house or community, as well as decisions made in the rest of society. What has persuaded you in group decisions? What kept you from influencing decisions that were made without your input?
2. Go around the circle or "popcorn" as people have something to contribute. Record ideas on a large sheet of paper or chalkboard. Answer the question:
What are the forms of power in our house or community?
Some examples might be: ability to add something to the agenda; knowledge that a particular decision may be made at a particular meeting, economic resources to purchase something; the ability to make a persuasive argument; habits, language, training, socialization that are useful to achieving the ends we seek, either because they are inherently useful or because they match the dominant culture; having thought carefully about an issue before a conversation about it comes up; having time to engage in community decision making; choosing to engage in community decision making instead of other social or recreational pursuits; knowledge about the history of the organization; having a friendly personality; having a dominant personality; being seen as vulnerable or needing help; internal resources that allow us to stay calm when somebody is angry; internalized oppressions that tell us we are supposed to stay calm when somebody is angry, or that we are supposed to rise to their challenge;
3. Now group these forms of power by where they come from. Use different colored pens to circle power that comes from: the Community as a Whole, Outside the Community, Within Individuals, Socialization or Mental Oppression. Everybody doesn't have to agree, and each form of power may belong to more than one source.  Create you own classifications if they seem more useful to you.

Potential Discussion Questions

  • Do we have equal access to these different forms of power? If not, is there a way to address that?
  • Do our decision making process (voting, consensus, values-based consensus, etc) and the way we practice it help everybody have equal access to power?
  • Do we want equal access to these forms of power, or do we want equal amounts of power? What are the pros and cons of each of those?

Power Dynamics Thermometer Activity

1. Print up two lists of the names of all the members of your house or community.
2. Label one list: amount of power each person has. Label the other list: amount each person uses their power for the good of the community.
3. Copy these lists and give each member of the community one of each list.
4. Have each person rate all the members of the community, including themselves, on a scale of 1-10 for each of the two items: amount of power each person has, and amount they use their power for the good of the community. (1 means no power, 10 means a LOT of power).
5. It is important people’s ratings remain anonymous!
6. Tally up the resulting numbers for each person and post them for the house to see, preferably in the form of a thermometer (each person has two bars after their name, each bar representing their total number based on the opinions of all the community members).
7. Discuss the results as a group.

Potential Discussion Questions

  • Who has the most power?
  • How is the power people have related to gender? Race? (ie: Are those with the most power mostly white? Mostly male?) If there is a correlation between power and race or gender, why is that?
  • Does the group want the power to be stratified? Do we want hierarchical relationships in the house?
  • If not, what can we do to more evenly distribute the power?
  • If yes, do we feel confident those with the most power are using to the good of the group?

See Also

This page was originally adapted with permission from NASCO. The activities/discussions on this page come from the same general resource as other anti-oppression teaching materials on Cultivate.Coop. The following are other teaching tools from this resource: