Power relations including participation

Last changed: 25 January 2023

Research shows that power relations are an often overlooked but hugely important factor in development projects.

Neglect of power relations in project design and implementation can significantly reduce the potential of achieving expected socio-economic benefits and increase inequality. This is because power relations influence for example if and how different people are represented when decisions are made, if and how important information is communicated to everyone affected, and if and how various laws and regulations are implemented in practice and to whose benefit.

Click on the arrow below each question to read about more concrete examples of problems that can happen.

Questions to ask

Are you describing how (not only that) key information is communicated to project participants in a way that people can understand? This is especially important when it comes to project requirements, payment mechanisms and potential risks and problems of joining, or not joining, the project.


For example, carefully explaining potential risks (related to land, livelihoods, debt) and ensuring the affected people have understood potentially complex conditions and rules for payments.


Do you present a concrete plan on how your dialogue with the people on site will be performed to make them co-creators of the plan, not solely recipients of one-way communication and information?


For example, are there important decisions regarding project design left to make, when communities are involved in the project, so that they can influence key design issues?


How do you ensure that the project does not favor elites at the cost of other less resourceful people?


For example, is it ensured that those who decide to accept the project are representative of the community and not just the local elite? If land titling takes place – how is it ensured that those with more status in the village will not benefit by using their power to claim larger areas of land? Is it ensured that offsetting payments are not captured by the local elite?



If a grievance mechanism is included in the project, does it ensure that the position of power held by you as project proponent does not negatively influence the community members´ opportunities to raise grievances or suggest changes in project design? Is the grievance mechanism designed to avoid that only people in the communities with more resources and higher status have access to it, or influence over it?


For example, are community members with low status comfortable to raise grievances to a local project representative with high status? Are grievances supposed to be written down and sent to an address in town, excluding uneducated persons or those who do not have resoures to send letters?



Have you designed mechanisms to ensure fair representation so that benefits are fairly distributed and not subject to elite capture?


For example, do you know if democratically elected local leaders are widely seen as representing the wider group’s interests?


Is the project plan transparent in the sense that it adequately reflects potential critical questions and issues raised among people in the project area?


Research shows that local communities often pose highly relevant and critical questions when new projects enter their area, but that these are often neglected or marginalised in other ways.


Have you as project proponent reflected upon your own position of power in relation to the local participants, what challenges this might entail during the course of the project and how you can solve these?


For example, is it possible to find a person from the area for whom people have respect and trust to confide if the project would cause them negative effects, who can also report these to you in a constructive and transparent manner?


Warning signs


Conflict resolution/grievance mechanisms are nonexistent or very limited and difficult for people to access without monetary, language/educational or transportation resources.


 For example, they have to complain to a person who is located at a distance requiring travel, or write letters.