JICA Research Institute


Working Papers

No.129 Empowerment through Enhancing Agency: Bridging Practice and Theory through Crystallizing Wisdom of a Third-Country Expert

This paper tries to identify factors and understand dynamics on enhancing agency (will and ability to pursuit for personal or social goals), commonly understood also as empowerment. Specifically, the question asked is if the ‘black boxes' existing in current theoretical explanations in the field of empowerment and agency development can be opened up by connecting practice and research, with clarifying context specific factors.

For this purpose, the author first reviews the literature relating to empowerment and agency development to reach a common understanding and to identify the discrepancies between the two schools, as well as to extract a theoretical model of agency development. Second, the paper identifies two dimensions and three factors for analyzing a case study to understand what is unclear from theory can be understood in reality. These are the initial context for developing the project, the actual development of an agency development project, and possible mechanisms of agency development for community members. Subsequently, a case study of the development of a training program called MMO (Metodologia de Motivacion y Organizacion) in Nicaragua is reported on, and the processes of its inspiration, development, execution and diffusion are documented in detail. Finally, the possible dynamics of each process of agency development, which are black boxes of the reviewed theories, are to be extracted through analyzing the case. The author also clarifies context specific factors which may have influenced the agency development process as described in the case study.

The major findings are as follows: first, the context specific factors that influence the whole process of agency development of people (both community members as well as support members), such as the upbringing and experiences of the key person and the socio-cultural and economic features of Nicaragua are identified; second, the process of agency development experienced by the aid providers/supporters (core facilitators and village level facilitators), which can be explained by self-determination theory as well as by explanatory frameworks related to social communication such as concientizacion (a Brazilian consciousness-raising methodologies and movement) and storytelling, is outlined; and, finally, the plausible mechanisms of agency development perhaps experienced by the community members is explained. This final outcome is divided into four categories relating to discussions on agency development, to promote the understanding of what is actually done on the ground beyond theoretical explanations. In other words, what is actually done in practice to foster the four types of power in relation to agency: "power from within," "power with," "power to" and "power over."

Keywords: agency development, empowerment, third-country expert, process documentation, Nicaragua

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