Class 2 engaging client voice power
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Class 2: Engaging Client Voice & Power. August 20, 2012. Objectives for today. To understand how privilege & oppression manifest in organizational practices

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Class 2: Engaging Client Voice & Power

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Class 2 engaging client voice power

Class 2: Engaging Client Voice & Power

August 20, 2012

Objectives for today

Objectives for today

To understand how privilege & oppression manifest in organizational practices

To build methods to rework power relationships with principles of transparency, voice, accountability and empowerment at all levels of organizational practices

Core competencies

Core Competencies

  • Understand professionals (ourselves) as dangerous and unreliable allies

  • Methods to increase client/community voice in the organization

    • Assessment of current practices

    • Strategies to increase client voice and influence

      • Increased power for service users

      • Improved research practices… knowing our strengths and areas for improvement… for whom

Overview of content

Overview of content

  • Review learning from sensitivity tools from last week

  • What is wrong with the status quo?

  • What benefits could result from change?

    • For the organization

    • For service users & community members

  • Quick review of own organization’s practices in engaging the client and centering their experiences

  • Introduction to Arnstein’s ladder of power

  • Review “client satisfaction tool” & research practices together

  • Small groups to develop structures to expand client voice

  • Presentations back on suggested modifications

Reflections on sensitivity tools

Reflections on Sensitivity Tools

New learnings?

Contentious items?

What s wrong with the balance of power now

What’s wrong with the balance of power now?

  • Positional privilege – as service providers we hold privilege and power over our clients

    • Human services thus becomes a site of oppression & privilege

    • We become implicated as agents of domination

  • Our “goodwill” to equalize power is not enough to redress these inequities… why?

    • We (collectively as service professionals) have been doing a terrible job at remedying disparities

    • We don’t have same identities as service users

      • We, and others more privileged than us, designed services for “them” even while ignorant of the challenges they face in their lives

    • We don’t have a lived connection to their experiences (mostly)

    • We are arrogant in our expertise, believing we have the solutions to other people’s problems

    • We can notice injustices, remain silent, and no repercussions exist

  • Services have line staff at the bottom of the organization – vulnerable to cuts, poor working conditions, absence of voice & inclusion… and service users are below that level! And vulnerable to our dissatisfaction

What is wrong with relying on our goodwill to deliver change

What is wrong with relying on our goodwill to deliver change?

  • Such an emphasis relies on our voluntary transformation into allies

    • “Slow, bourgeois journey of [white] discovery” (Allen, 2004)

      • “But our children are waiting” (Akande, 2008)

      • “Hunger is in a hurry”

    • Service professionals are “dangerous allies” (Lopes & Thomas, 2006)

      • Typically need/want recognition

      • We want to see ourselves as “exceptional” rather than implicated & complicit

      • Our stature traditionally depends on NOT rocking the boat

      • Might turn our attention elsewhere next year

      • We cannot be trusted to have durable commitments to this work…

        • ”If I don’t have an embodied experience whereby the fibers and neurons in my body resist and scream in the face of oppression and privilege, then I am an unreliable ally” (Curry-Stevens, 2010)

  • We can’t ever “know” the experience of oppression of service users

    • “Building expertise about the ‘other,’ is ripe with arrogance and error” (Curry-Stevens, 2010)

Resolution to create structures to provide service users more power

Resolution? To create structures to provide service users more power

  • Our premise is that by increasing the formal power of service users, we will improve the following:

    • Less social distance between decision makers (top of hierarchy) with service users (bottom of hierarchy)

      • This improves the knowledge base for decision making

    • Those with deeper investment in disparity reduction will press for change better than staff/managers do

      • They will advocate for better addressing of disparities

      • They won’t accept “window dressing” responses

      • They have better wisdom to understand the causes of the problems and the solutions likely to work

    • And, ideally, “they” should become “we” as the organization provides real power to service users and community members

Or said differently

Or said differently…

“…successful accountability practices need to be rooted institutionally within bodies that have the lived experiences of oppression and who have durable commitments to its eradication. It is within those communities that the imperative for change is urgent, for they hold the investments in the future of their children who are waiting for an end to racism and other forms of oppression. They should hold the power to enforce change.” (Curry-Stevens, 2010, p.68)


Concrete benefits for the organization

Concrete benefits for the organization


Watchdog functions

Legitimacy – as we are informed/led by constituents who depend on our services

Urgency & action – getting in front of disparity work

Benefits for community members

Benefits for community members

  • Reducing disparities means improving the future for their children

  • Other service effectiveness improvements

  • Leadership development

  • Increased community capacity & social capital

    • Networks, knowledge, skills, engagement, heightened expectations

      • All are developed through such involvement

  • Self-efficacy (= both confidence to act and skills to act increases likelihood of future action)

  • Visibility (much better than invisibility!)

  • Reduced alienation

  • Empowerment (building real power)

Overall best features

Overall best features?

1. Rejection of “client-hood” stature for service users (from Hardina, 2003)

  • By increasing consumer voice and power inside the organization, we build shared investments in services

    • Replaced by reciprocity and mutuality

      2. Increased likelihood of systemic advocacy engagement

      3. Improved prospects for disparity reduction

Situating our own practice reviewing client voice power

Situating our own practice:Reviewing client voice & power

  • What practices does your organization use?

    • Consultation during strategic planning?

    • Representation (how many?) on Board of Directors? And how does one get such nomination?

    • Client satisfaction surveys?

    • Annual reports that are available to clients?

    • Annual general meetings, that invite community members to attend?

Arnstein s ladder of citizenship participation

Arnstein’sLadder of Citizenship Participation

Characteristics of each power level

Characteristics of each power level

Non-participation = When clients are compliant with the organization and its rules & practices. The service staff are the experts and they make decisions for the organization.

Characteristics of each power level cont d

Characteristics of each power level (Cont’d)

  • Tokenism = Participants have a voice but no power to ensure their voice has influence.

    • Informing: Important first step, but too often one-way communication is the norm. There is no channel for feedback to the organization.

    • Consultation: Exists through surveys, meetings and focus groups. But this is usually just a “window dressing” ritual with no mandate to consider these voices. Typically these data are used when they confirm the organization’s existing beliefs.

    • Placation: Organization retains power to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice provided. Co-optation of “exceptional” community members is one such example, as is selecting 1-2 spaces on boards of directors for community members & service users.

Characteristics of each power level cont d1

Characteristics of each power level (Cont’d)

  • Citizen Power = Negotiation is enabled and decision making responsibility is shared. Works best when clients & community members have organized and resourced networks

    • Partnership: When communities and clients join tables to make decisions on key issues.

    • Delegated power: Clients and communities hold majority of power on committees to make decisions. The grassroots base now has the power to assure accountability of the organization to them.

    • Citizen control: This is the highest level of empowerment. Here the community handles all decisions.

What terms fit for your organization

What terms fit for your organization?

  • Discussion: Diagnose your organization overall

    • What have you seen in your organization that reflects efforts to involve the community & clients in the organization?

    • Where do these fit on the ladder?

  • How could you move further up the ladder?

    • Consider issues such as:

      • Transparency

      • Voice

      • Accountability

      • Authority

      • Control

      • Empowerment (building real community power)

More on client voice power

More on client voice & power

  • Board membership

    • How is one selected?

    • How is one confirmed/elected?

    • By whom?

    • If voted by members – how does one become a member?

  • What research & evaluation practices do you use?

    • Client outcomes

      • What data is available by race – client base? outcome data? Satisfaction levels?

    • Who is such data available to? How is it made available?

  • What disparities exist in your organization?

    • If this is not known – why?

    • For staff? What barriers exist for equity within the organization?

What about watchdog functions outside your organization

What about “watchdog” functions outside your organization?

  • We can’t be trusted to police ourselves nor hold ourselves accountable… this is a step beyond building consumer power inside the organization

    • Who “watches” your accomplishments?

    • What is your role in this? Do you welcome it? Are you defended against it?

  • If none exist – how can you catalyze this?

  • If one exists – how can you strengthen it?

Routine input from service users client satisfaction surveys

Routine Input from Service Users: Client Satisfaction Surveys

  • Generally, RF has solid practice here

  • Consider adding probing questions about the following:

    • Did they have a staff who understood their experiences of poverty, LGBTQ, age and/or racism? [more on this in our next class on AOP counseling]

    • If they held a marginalized identity – would they have preferred to have staff and other service professionals who had the same identity?

    • And probes about specific AOP practices contained within this course

Sample satisfaction survey

Sample Satisfaction Survey


Use the following scale to grade this program, the way teachers grade students.


Excellent Above Average Average Poor Failing Cannot Grade On This Question

Section 1: Program Staff. Please circle the grade you would give the program staff on:

How they treated you. A B C D F N/A

How much interest they had in helping you. A B C D F N/A

Amount of time you had to wait in the waiting area for them. A B C D F N/A

The efforts they made to answer your questions. A B C D FN/A

How fair they were. A B C D F N/A

How well they explained what you had to do to meet the program requirements. A B C D F N/A

Overall, how would you grade program staff? A B C D F N/A

Additional research issues

Additional Research Issues

  • Tool itself

    • What racial identifiers are asked?

      • Ideally, we ask questions about race & ethnicity and income.

      • Allow people to select multiple racial identifiers

      • And ask people to select the race that identifies them best

      • Include Hispanic/Latino as a race, please… or else you get some Latinos identifying themselves as White and some who do not – which places them in the terrible place of having to say they are “some other race”

    • What class identifiers are asked?

      • If you want to begin to understand how poorer clients fare, you have to ask for income levels (can use 5 categories)

      • This would let you disaggregate by income, and eliminate the chance that richer clients “pull up” your results

  • Who is surveyed?

    • Usually only those who complete intervention

    • How can you capture insights from people who attend only once or twice?

More on client satisfaction surveys through aop lens

More on client satisfaction surveys (through AOP lens)

  • Analysis

    • What analysis of the data occurs? Are the results disaggregated by race, ethnicity and/or income?

  • Representation

    • If shared at all… how are the results reported? What degree of detail? What diverging or marginal experiences exist?

  • Sharing the results

    • Are the results public?

    • How are results made available to those who complete the forms?

  • Implementing changes

    • What accountability exists to make changes?

Additional concept

Additional concept

Marginality and inclusion

How are marginal voices understood in your organization?

Usually only norms included



Identify possible structural improvements for client voice and power in your organization

Which hold potential to reduce disparities in your organization?



Find an example in your own community of an organization that works to improve the power of clients and community members in relationship to the organization?

Present details of these innovations back to the group at our next meeting

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