Thematic Areas


E 5 - Measuring empowerment

E 5 - Measuring empowerment

Empowerment is a complex and non-linear process, embracing values, knowledge, behaviour and relationships as well as more tangible elements of basic conditions (for example, how much food, water and income is available). To measure empowerment, it is important to privilege people’s own experience, their perceptions and realities. Indicators should be derived from their own analysis of change.

Areas to address in the monitoring of empowerment include:

Individual consciousness and capacity

Changes to consciousness and capacity may relate to how people see themselves and their position; how they understand the causes of poverty; what they know about their rights and about government policies and benefits; and the types of actions they are taking. They may also relate to changes in the skills that people have for critical analysis, leadership or communication. You should finalise indicators and baselines in strategic planning and collect gender-disaggregated data. For example, how much decision-making power do women have in households? What ideas do men have about women? What communication capacities do people have (literacy/language/access to different media)?

Understanding the current situation, thinking about what needs to change, setting indicators for change and establishing baselines may in itself cause a shift in understanding, particularly in cases where oppression is very internalised, or where people take unequal relations between women and men for granted. You can monitor these types of changes through diaries, interviews and observation. One challenge is that people with low consciousness will set a very low bar for empowerment because their life experiences have given them low expectations. What a woman living in poverty in a very patriarchal context thinks is empowerment may not be the same as what an NGO considers it to be. As people’s consciousness and capacity increase, so their expectations and indicators of empowerment will increase. You should not see this as a problem, but rather as another indicator of empowerment!


These are the actual tangible changes in people’s lives, such as school enrolment levels, walking distance to water, amount of income and level of access to services. These are often the most straightforward to monitor, but we do need to think carefully about what capacity we have to gather, store and use information as we make our choices. You can measure tangible changes by gathering statistics (for example, government information on schools and clinics) or through participatory tools (mapping who has what livestock, for example). You should have gathered some of the baseline information for these changes during the appraisal, and refined it through your strategic planning.

Collective capacity

This is about the level of skill and organisation groups have to take collective action. Indicators for positive change in this area will change over time. For example, in the first year an outcome may be that an organisation is set up, and in the second year a positive indicator could be increased membership. But over time we need to move away from strictly process indicators (the signs of an organisation growing and developing skills or political cohesiveness) and start moving towards indicators of impact. Indicators need to tell us whether an organisation is contributing towards a higher level change, or achieving impact in people’s lives. For example, has the organisation started to capture a greater following behind an identity (homelessness, landlessness or being gay)? Or has it brought about a concrete change, for example, by supporting HIV-positive people to demand state-supported treatment? The appropriate indicators and “milestones” (indicators set annually) should be established with people and their organisations. 



Here you can download some useful resources.

Tools in this toolbox

3Ps power circles

To deepen analysis about how power relationships work at 3 different levels related to how we interact with the world: :personal …

Body map - power within and power to

To facilitate critical analysis about shifts in ‘power within and power to’ with a focus on sensitive subjects such as sexual aut…


To develop or evaluate an action plan.The image of a bridge over a river (or road) is used to show the steps taken from the past …

Chapatti diagram

To explore relationships between things – particularly the relative importance, influence or power of people, organisations or gr…

Cobweb for rights analysis

To help understand the rights situation and of different groups in a community.In the example below the focus is on women's right…

Community power map

To map spaces of power in a clear, visual way and presenting local information, problems and opportunities. A community map can b…

Focus group discussion

To bring together a group of individuals with similar interests or experiences to explore a particular issue in a structured way.…

Peeling the onion

To uncover and facilitate a process of deeper analysis about different forms of power related to specific issue.Visible power: ob…