“You only get as much justice as you have the power to compel.”

To read Katie’s interview with Luminare, click here.

August Guest Editor of Be Lumin-Us: Katie Fox

Katie Fox is an evaluator of the social sector and social movements and works as a Senior Associate with Innovation Network. Katie has over ten years of experience in social justice philanthropy, organizing, advocacy, and evaluation. Her passion lies in assessing complex social change initiatives, and she is skilled in evaluating civic engagement, grassroots social movements and organizing, and leadership development initiatives.

Twelve years ago, when I began training as a community organizer in New England, I heard the following saying: 

“You only get as much justice as you have the power to compel.” 

While my community organizing career was short-lived, during those years, power was a constant reality of my day-to-day work. As I knocked on doors, recruited volunteers, and lobbied legislators, I found my conversations frequently revolving around power - who has it, who doesn’t, and how we can get more of it. 

It was at that time I learned that proactively building long-term power in communities and movements is critical to achieving and maintaining structural change. It usually wasn’t enough to just pass good policy and get supportive people elected. We needed to sustain a base of power that could take us past legislative sessions and elections to ensure that policies were implemented, elected officials were held accountable, and an affirmative narrative about equity and justice was cultivated and maintained.

But as I’ve transitioned from organizer to funder to evaluator, I’ve found that in the philanthropic and evaluation sectors, power building is too often missing from discussions about structural and systemic change. As a result, there is a fundamental disconnect between our aspirations for social change and what we fund and measure. 

Momentum, a social movement incubator and training organization, teaches a theory of power that helps clarify this disconnect. They explain that most of us have been taught to believe a monolithic view of power – “that power lies in the hands of the appointed few.”

It’s a view that leads people to believe they are powerless or that the path to change necessarily runs through powerful decision-makers. Traditional approaches to power mapping, like those I learned during my organizing training, embrace this view of monolithic power by centering decision-makers and their interests. As a result, campaigns and movements are frequently organized around theories of change that make influencing traditional power holders their ultimate goal.

In recent years at Innovation Network, we’ve observed an uptick in funders and organizers who are starting to shift from a monolithic view of power to a social view.

They are asking questions like: 

  • How can we proactively build long-term community power?

  • How can our communities become the powerholders?

  • How will we know if we have built power?

  • How can we benchmark our progress in power building?

As more funders, organizers, and advocates start asking these questions, knowing how power shows up in change ecosystems, how it is built, and how to appropriately measure it will become an increasingly important competency for evaluators who assess structural change efforts.

Over the next year, I’ll be working with my colleagues at Innovation Network and others to develop a set of resources, including tips and principles for evaluating power building. It is a bit of a daunting task, because we’ve discovered in our research how everyone has their own unique definitions and categories for power. But given the centrality of power to structural change, it’s a critical challenge to overcome.

Are you integrating power building into your funding and evaluation practice?

If so, shoot me an email, I would love to hear what’s working (or not) for you.

-Katie Fox
Senior Associate, Innovation Network
Contact → 
Website → 

Get LitKatie Fox