To understand the power dynamics between dominant (power up) and subordinate (power down) group membership and the effects these dynamics have on experiences and relations.


This exercise allows participants to learn about power dynamics in communities.


Part I: Explaining Power and Privilege

The facilitator explains that power dynamics are very real in the communities in which we work and in our workplace. We will now explore how these dynamics can impact us personally and our workplace effectiveness.
Start with an easy illustration. For example, ask who in the group is left-handed? Ask them what it was like growing up left-handed. Did they have to make any adjustments? Elicit several responses from them. In most cases they will illustrate how their teachers would insist on them using their right hand or in some cultures it would be taboo to eat using the left hand. With these illustrations, ask the question, “Who is the world made for?” or “Who is dominant? Who is subordinate?”
Present the Dominant-Subordinate posters and make a brief presentation about the dynamics and behaviors of dominant and subordinate group membership. Discuss behavioral patterns in Dominant and Subordinate Groups. The facilitator also notes that:
  • Subordinate does not mean being submissive, rather it speaks to a group membership that does not have power;
  • Subordinate does not have to be smaller in numbers – for example the rich are few in number but often dominant.
  • In each of our identities we can have different levels of power.

Part II: Reflecting on Power and Privilege in Context

This leads to the privilege exercise. The facilitator places flip-charts around the room with each flip-chart marked by a category representing a dominant group membership. For example, in the Tipping Point training, facilitators spread six flip-charts out throughout the room representing a mix of the following categories: Male, Adult, HQ Staff, English-Speaking, Urban, Well-educated, Dominant Caste Ethnicity, and Married.
The facilitator asks participants to select one group/flip-chart in which they hold membership based on their identity. This is an opportunity to explore further and think about the privileges associated with the identified dominant group membership.
After all participants have found their place, the facilitator asks people to talk with those in the same spot about why they chose to come to the particular dominant group. Instruct them to talk about the privileges [benefits, advantages] they have by virtue of holding this group membership. They should write these privileges down on the blank flip-charts underneath the titles. Guiding questions for discussion include:
  • — Why did you come to this group?
  • — What privileges in society does this group have?
After all groups are finished, participants are invited to do a 'gallery walk' and look at all lists and add anything they think is significant and missing from the list in a different colored marker.
After they have finished, plenary discussion questions include:
  • How did it feel to think about privilege in a group you belong to?
  • Did you notice anything as you made your lists?
  • Did anyone realize you had privilege you were not previously aware of?
  • What do you lose by having dominant group characteristics?
  • What did you learn about privilege and power?
  • Why is this relevant for our work and the Tipping Point project?


This exercise may feel comfortable for people to think about areas where they have privilege. Through this process, it is important to support open dialogue but also ensure no group feels particularly targeted in naming their privilege. The facilitator can stress that people hold multiple identities – some that offer privilege and others that do not.

Also, in both cases, “HQ Staff” was presented as a privileged identity and at first no group chose to focus on this. In Bangladesh, this paper was on the floor following the first phase of this exercise. When participants were encouraged to look at all identities and write what privileges they see, however, a number of participants quickly added their perceptions of privilege that HQ staff hold. This led to a discussion about some of the privilege field staff and partners view as well as HQ staff views on these ideas, some of which they felt were misconceptions.


Source: CARE Gender, Equity, and Diversity 201 Facilitator's Manual, Activity 3 (updated)