Thematic Areas

M&E - Measuring Power Shifts

UPS - Forms of power: visible, hidden, invisible

UPS - Forms of power: visible, hidden, invisible

Visible power: observable decision making

  • Visible power relates particularly to the public or political sphere where formal decisions are taken - and involves the formal rules, structures, authorities, institutions and procedures of decision making. This may concern local, district or national government – or the governance and decision-making processes of any organisation. 
  • Changes related to visible power may include arguing for more democratic and transparent processes, looking at how we are represented by decision makers and who influences the decisions taken - and how women and excluded group can use these formal spaces more effectively.
  • Strategies may include We can influence visible power by lobbying, by monitoring, by doing shadow reports, by demonstrating, by using our vote strategically or by standing for office.

Hidden power: setting the political agenda

  • Hidden power is sometimes maintained by elite individuals or institutions by controlling who gets to the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda. Vested interests can control the backstage – whether in politics or inside organisations – excluding or devaluing the concerns of women or people living in poverty.
  • Changes relating to hidden power may be to empower organisations and movements of people living in poverty, democratising their leadership, modelling accountability, increasing the visibility and legitimacy of their issues and demands.
  • Strategies may be to expose manipulation behind the scenes, to argue for a reframing of rules or an alternative framing of debates, or to demand respect for visible processes. 

Invisible power: shaping meaning and what is acceptable

  • Invisible power shapes the way in which issues are seen, including by ourselves. This is about how we all internalise certain assumptions or accept certain constraints that are actually ideological in nature - but that we don’t see as ideological and thus don’t name or address. This is about how certain “norms” are established that shape our beliefs and our sense of self, how we are socialised in ways that define roles for us and reinforce the status quo.
  • Changes related to invisible power may include a deepening of conscientisation processes – so that people transform the way in which they see themselves and the world, recognising how certain deeply embedded attitudes and beliefs block change.
  • Strategies may be to focus on raising critical consciousness using Reflection-Action processes at different levels, we may build people’s confidence to speak out, do strategic research to expose the ideological basis of things that are present as universal truths and we should of course put forward credible alternatives.

Questions for discussion

  • Can you give 2-3 examples of these forms of power from your own context or relating to the issue that you seek to address?
  • What actions could you take in response to these?



Here you can download some useful resources.

Tools in this toolbox

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…

Gatekeeper tool

To identify people who can help you access duty bearers relevant to your advocacy or campaigning work.The processDraw up a table …

Peeling the onion

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

Pillars of power

Use pillars of power analysis tool to identify the institutions without whose support your target would collapse. It helps you st…

Power line

To help participants explore the unequal distribution of power amongst people.  It can evoke many negative emotions among partici…

Ripples of change

To assess the levels of change resulting from a programme or project. A stone dropped in water creates ripples outwards. This ima…

Spectrum of allies

Movements seldom win by overpowering the opposition; they win by shifting support out from under it. Use a spectrum-of-allies ana…