Build Your Library’s Influence in the Community with Power Mapping

This post is the third in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

A power map is a visual tool used by many political campaigns, activists, and community organizers and it helps them understand their relational power structures in their communities and to map the power structures of local influencers and organizations. By working through a power mapping exercise a campaigner can visually see relationships that exist in a community making it easier to understand those relationships. Once these relationships are understood it becomes easier to see who should be targeted in a campaign and where a campaigner can exert pressure to influence the target. Likewise, visualizing these relational lines of influence in a community can help a library understand how to influence the local politics and power structures. It can also use a power map to identify potential coalition partners and donors as well as persuade local individuals of influence to take a favorable stand for the library. Not only can a power map be used to map the power of an outside organization or individual, but it can also map the power of the library in order to better understand the library’s power structure in the community.

Step 1. Identify the Target

An organizer begins power mapping by identifying a specific person or an organization that they are going to engage or influence. The target for the campaign is the person or organization in power that can address the issue that the library is working on. For example, if the library were interested in convincing the mayor to keep from cutting library funding, then the target would be the mayor or if the library was looking to get a big donation from an organization, then the influential members of the organization like the Executive Board or the CEO would be the targets.

Step 2: Plan Their Action

Once an activist knows who their target is, they are going to need to know very specifically what action they are going to ask the target to take. Since the target might have other ideas about how to or why they should help the library achieve its goals its important to make it clear what is being asked of them. It’s also important that the action that take is specific and actionable. This means that a campaigner is going to ask them to go beyond just saying that they like or support the library. Instead, they are going to be asked to vote for your library at the May 2nd Council Meeting or they are going to be asked to write an editorial in support of the library bond measure to be published before the November Election. An activist would think about this as an opportunity to ask only one question of a person of influence in the community. Don’t want to waste it by asking for something that the target doesn’t have to give a solid commitment to or won’t lead to an action.

Step 3. Identify Relationships of the Target

Here the activist would brainstorm as many of the relationships that are associated with the target. It’s important to think as broadly as possible in this step. These relationships can include work, family, religious, neighbors, social groups and society’s, or political organizations. It’s important to not leave anyone off the list. Even if the library is not going to use family members to get to the target, simply listing them helps the brainstorming process and could lead to other potential lines of influence. It’s important to take the time to thoroughly research the target by looking up political or charitable donations and any volunteer activities that they may have participated in. Once you have this list, its important to start thinking about who and what these associations are connected to. Occasionally, in order to reach the target, the starting point may be 2-3 degrees of separation from the target.

Step 4. Draw the Relationships

Once the relationships are identified they need to be mapped to the target. This is a process of drawing the relational lines between each person on the list to the target. Some of these lines will interconnect and show that there are strong connections between the target one or two relational nodes. For example, if the target is a member of a local social club and there are multiple connections between the club and target then the social club is a much stronger influencer on the target. Also, many times there are nodes of power that aren’t directly connected to the target. For example, if the target was not a member of a local social club but many of the people of influence around him are connected to it, then it may still be a strong node of influence on the map.

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Step 5. Target the Relationships

Now it’s time to take a few moments and analyze the connections in the map and decide how to use them. Look at who or what has the most lines of influence between the target and the library or the organizer’s own networks of influence. For example, if there is someone in the library that connected to this example target’s social club, then the best initial step may just be working within that social group to influence the target’s wife, neighbor, and business associate. Or, finding some way to put pressure on the social group to take a pro-library stance may have a positive affect on the target since there are so many connections between the target and the social group even though the target is not directly connected to the social group. Or, it might be most beneficial to put pressure on local big donors to entice the mayor to take action to influence the target. Of course, it may be as simple as taking the time to talk to the wife of the target about how important libraries are to young or new mothers and letting her put pressure on the target to take some kind of pro-library stance or take action on behalf of the library.

Step 6. Make sure it happens

While all of this planning and power mapping is great, someone has to make sure that it happens. A good activist always puts someone in charge of an action and gives a deadline for that action. Instead of saying that “We should do this activity” they would say that a specific person would get an action done by a specific date.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

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