As project 8 is well and truly underway I have collated the data we have generated over the past three years and I’m working hard with my colleagues to establish connections, similarities and differences within the findings. Reading the published papers and delving into the raw data a common theme is emerging, around what might generally be considered ‘empowerment’. With this, I am starting to explore some of the different ways that empowerment is conceptualised both in the wider literature and within our data.
It is a word that has been growing in use in some circles since it featured as a key aspect of the Christie Commission and is of course the main feature of the Community Empowerment Act.
According to the Scottish Government website:
The Community Empowerment Act will help to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings, and by strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them. It will also improve outcomes for communities by improving the process of community planning, ensuring that local service providers work together even more closely with communities to meet the needs of the people who use them.
Another definition of empowerment, which was central to my PhD research, was that from Kabeer who defines empowerment as:
‘the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire the ability to do so’
In the context of the research we have carried out so far there are a range of experiences that individuals described which may be considered empowerment; improved confidence, sense of self-worth, personal pride and dignity. This is often coupled with an increased sense of purpose, meaning and motivation. While I continue to explore this data in more detail I will also consider the relationship between empowerment, health and wellbeing. Does one lead to the other? Which comes first? Or is empowerment a key component of health and wellbeing?
In their briefing on power and health NHS Health Scotland conceptualise power as one of the preconditions that are necessary to access healthcare, and exercise control over factors that determine health. In the simplest terms:
However, another option is that there may be a level of health and wellbeing that is required in order for a person to be empowered. For example, if a person is experiencing high levels of stress or physical pain they may not have the resources to enact their power. So here we have a situation in which:
This can lead to a chicken and egg situation (and finally the picture at the top of the post makes sense!) in terms of empowerment, health and wellbeing:
Another option in the relationship is that empowerment could be conceived of as a key component of health and wellbeing. Work has been done to capture what it means to live a ‘good life’ or ‘flourish’ and the power to make decisions is an important aspect of that. Does this mean it is a key component of health and wellbeing? Another consideration is a person’s ‘capabilities’ which reflect their freedom to lead the type of life that they want to, in which case empowerment can be seen as a key aspect of health and wellbeing and the ability to live a good life. Nussbaum developed a list of 10 capabilities which have been used to explore the impact of social enterprises working to support homeless people. My hunch at the moment is that there are aspects of empowerment which are inextricably linked to some of these capabilities and thus empowerment may be considered as a key component of health and wellbeing.
So now it’s back to the data to check out which option plays out in our data, whether it is a combination of all three, or if it is different depending on context and circumstance.
Clementine Hill O’Connor