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Understanding and operationalising empowerment

Working paper

Written by Kate Bird

Working paper

This paper presents an overview of the different definitions of and conceptual approaches to empowerment. It was produced for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) following publication of an independent evaluation of SDC’s application of empowerment approaches in its development programming.

Discussions around empowerment are commonly limited to activities associated with ‘economic’, ‘social’ and ‘political’ empowerment. Transforming power relations does require intervention in these different dimensions and levels, but this paper takes the debate beyond such a sectoral approach to explore a number of conceptual issues that have practical implications for the operationalisation of empowerment. The main issues covered by the paper include:

• The recent history of the use of the term ‘empowerment’ in development;
• Different definitions and conceptual approaches to empowerment; and
• Various operational implications of these debates, including whether empowerment is viewed as a process or an outcome; how power operates; strategies for inclusion; and implications of working on empowerment with partners.

Cecilia Luttrell and Sitna Quiroz, with Claire Scrutton and Kate Bird