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Empowerment in Participation Theory Part of 2004 Report "Designing Social Capital Sensitive Participation Methodologies"

Empowerment is a term frequently associated with participation that is often poorly used and conceptualized (Lyons, Smuts et al. 2001)[1]. Holcombe (1995:17)[2] identified that

‘participation and empowerment are inseparably linked, they are different but they depend on each other to give meaning and purpose. Participation represents action, or being part of an action such as a decision-making process. Empowerment represents sharing control, the entitlement and the ability to participate, to influence decisions, as on the allocation of resources’.

White (1981)[3] identified that empowerment grows out of involvement in thinking, planning, deciding, acting and evaluating. Because empowerment refers to control, words commonly found in definitions include access, control, entitlement, deciding, enabling, acting, awareness, and participation (Holcombe 1995). An example of such definitions are:

‘the idea that some can act on others to give them power or enable them to realize their own potential’ (Nelson and Wright 1995) page 7[4].

‘in simple definitional terms, the verb to empower means to enable, to allow, or to permit and can be conceived as both self-initiated and initiated by others. For social agents, empowering is an act of building, developing, increasing power through cooperation, sharing and working together. It is an interactive process based on a synergistic, not a zero-sum, assumption of power; that is, the process of empowerment changes the power in the situation as opposed to merely redistributing it’ (Vogt and Murrell 1990, cited in (Chamala 1995) page 11)[5].

Some authors identify empowerment on participation continuums (Choguill 1996)[6] due to the fact that participation is often seen as an essential ingredient of empowerment (Holcombe 1995)[2].

Citing this article

This report was prepared for Social Capital Research. You should reference this work as:

Claridge, T., 2004. Designing social capital sensitive participation methodologies. Report, Social Capital Research, Brisbane, Australia.

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  1. Lyons M, Smuts C, Stephens A (2001) Participation, empowerment and sustainability: (how) do the links work? Urban Studies 38, 1233-1251. ^
  2. Holcombe S (1995) ‘Managing to Empower: The Grameen Bank’s Experience of Poverty Alleviation.’ (Zed Books Ltd: New Jersey) ^
  3. White A (1981) ‘Community participation in water and sanitation : concepts, strategies and methods.’ (IRC: The Hague) ^
  4. Nelson N, Wright S (1995) Participation and power. In ‘Power and participatory development’. (Ed. S Wright). (Intermediate Technology Publications: London) ^
  5. Chamala S (1995) Overview of participative action approaches in Australian land and water management. In ‘Participative approaches for Landcare’. (Ed. K Keith) pp. 5-42. (Australian Academic Press: Brisbane) ^
  6. Choguill MBG (1996) A ladder of community participation for underdeveloped countries*1. Habitat International 20, 431-444. ^

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