Measuring Empowerment: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

By Deepa Narayan | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Applying Q Methodology
to Empowerment

Steven R. Brown

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …”

—Piper, The Little Engine That Could

A disparity exists between the conceptualization of empowerment on the one hand and its measurement on the other. Conceptually, we are challenged “to look at the world through the eyes and spirit of the poor, to start with poor people’s realities” (Narayan, Patel, et al. 2000, 274), but implementation typically falls short of this worthy goal. For instance, most of the thinking about poverty reduction appears to have gone into creating empowering opportunities—for example, providing basic services, improving local and national governance, developing pro-poor markets, and establishing access to justice (Narayan 2002, xxi). These are no doubt necessary prerequisites: after all, it is fruitless to empower people if they are not also given opportunities to better themselves.

However, opportunities are external to the impoverished person. Although providing such opportunities may alter the person’s potential reality, they are not empowering in and of themselves unless they enter into that person’s actual reality. That is, external actions may “create the conditions in which poor people … make decisions” (Narayan 2002, xix). But objective opportunities, while necessary, are insufficient for empowerment. It is also necessary that they become a functional part of the person’s perspective.

The World Bank has tried to incorporate the perspectives of those to be empowered through its Voices of the Poor project, which included 60,000 interviews with poor people in 60 countries.1 While the project’s intent is to “let the data speak” (Narayan, Patel, et al. 2000, 295), it falls somewhat short

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