Empowerment, Choice and Agency: Please identify literature which discusses the concepts of empowerment, choice and agency.
Key findings: Empowerment has been understood and operationalised in a variety of ways. There are over 30 definitions of ‘empowerment’ in current use amongst development scholars and organisations, with a similar tendency for ‘agency’. While some organisations leave the term undefined, other organisations lack a clear centralised definition, with different departments interpreting empowerment in various ways.
Scrutton and Luttrell’s analysis of the differing approaches to empowerment and agency by donor organisations and NGOs is a useful summary of the differing interpretations. The main similarities and differences that the authors observe are:
- Process vs. outcome – some organisations view empowerment as both an outcome and a process (SDC, CIDA, DFID, Oxfam), whereas others focus more narrowly on empowerment as a process (USAID, UNDP). Some organisations also prioritise processes that lead people to perceive themselves to be able and entitled to make decision (CARE International).
- The scope of empowerment – empowerment is limited to gender issues in some organisations (Sida, CIDA and USAID), whereas other organisations use empowerment for all marginalised groups (DFID and SDC).
- Agency vs. structure – some organisations focus on agency (SDC, CIDA and CARE International), whereas others emphasise the importance of reforming structures and political institutions (DFID).
- The role of outsiders in empowerment – while some organisations believe outsiders should bring about empowerment (UNDP, USAID), others promote self-help approaches to empowerment (Oxfam, Concern).
Full response: http://www.gsdrc.org/docs/open/HD705.pdf
Date query received by the Helpdesk
: 30 July 2010
DFID Equity and Rights Team