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Intervening in Power Dynamics: Introducing a new tool for talking about, analyzing, and shifting power

Format: Workshops, RSD9, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Policy & Governance

Facilitators: Lyndon Valicenti and Rae Perez, Daylight

Country: USA Format: 2-hour online workshop This is a virtual workshop setting using a Miro dashboard.


Systems change on our most complex and challenging issues — from racial inequity to homelessness, to climate change — requires that we “design deeply, disruptively, collaboratively, and hopefully to shift power, purpose, resources, and relationships,” as Jennie Winhall of The Point People and ALT/NOW Group so eloquently states. This, we believe, represents the highest potential and greatest need of the 21st-century design practice. Putting a finer point on it, cyberneticist Paul Pangaro stated at RSD5, “the heart of the design practice is designing conversations.”

In our view, shaped by years of practicing systemic design in the social impact sector, conversations about power are the most transformative, yet also the most difficult. Re-designing these conversations will be key to intervening in the most wicked of challenges.

By “power,” we are referring to both (1) decision-making power that reinforces or perpetuates the status quo, and (2) people power that can be mobilized to fight the status quo. We know that stayed power dynamics can prohibit progress on many of the issues that society faces. And while we often name power dynamics as forces maintaining the status quo, we rarely delve deeper to ask questions like:

  • How do we identify different forms of power?
  • How do we analyze it for patterns and flow?
  • How and when should we shift its distribution?
  • How do we make a strong case for examining power?
  • Who should be at the conversation table?
  • What should these difficult conversations look and feel like?


We have developed a practical tool for having critical conversations around analyzing and shifting power. This tool is to be used in contexts where there are asymmetrical power dynamics in the room, in order to have more open and explicit conversations about how different forms of power can be more equitably leveraged and shared across a collaborative project timeline.


At RSD9, we are excited to introduce, test, and garner critical feedback on this tool with our systemic design peers. After a brief introduction to the theory and research on power that has informed the tool development, we will present the tool’s multidimensional components and invite breakout groups to apply the tool in practical, real-world scenarios. The workshop will culminate in a full group discussion on participants’ insights, takeaways, and feedback on the tool. All participants will get access to the tool, once it is further refined and published.

Workshop participants will leave with the following:

  • A working framework of how to think about power in your life and work.
  • A better understanding of how power dynamics show up in every project and context that systemic designers engage on.
  • Practical power mapping tools that can be immediately applied in their own work.
  • Experience using meditations and scripts for having more productive and explicit conversations around power dynamics.
  • Access to activities for more deeply reflecting on the power they each hold and considering new ways to grow, amplify, share, and wield that power.




Citation Data

Author(s): Lyndon Valicenti and Rae Perez, Daylight
Title: Intervening in Power Dynamics: Introducing a new tool for talking about, analyzing, and shifting power
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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Symposium Dates:
First published: 6 October 2020
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