Empowerment is regarded by Mulder, Pucci, and Havenaar as a crucial construct that by "connecting individual well-being with a larger environment links individual capabilities, competences and proactive behaviors to social policy and social change (Rappaport, 1987)" (2018, p. 120). It is a concept strongly tied with Ryan and Deci's conception of Self-Determination Theory.
Empirical studies in promoting Empowerment
Mulder, Pucci, and Havenaar (2018) attempted to increase empowerment by developing makerspaces in The Hague and Rotterdam, using a Design-Research methodology in a Social Living Lab framework. They cooperated with the Wijkschool in The Hague, a local solution offering education to drop-outs (years 9-19). During workshops these youth were engaged in interest-based development of 3D models, including presenting these to the local community. Digital platforms (such as Facebook) were used to accommodate a ubiquitous community space. Many of these themes are also present in the Connected Learning paradigm.
One mechanic the researchers used was a hierarchical "level-up" system where students could gradually grow from new recruit to chief in charge. This latter category of participants also takes on organisational responsibilities; the teacher acts as a coach.
Design solutions emerged from the context, rather than be pre-determined. This was part of the participatory methodology, with the aim of giving shared ownership of the initiative. Likewise, they searched for "local champions" (p. 133) to act as ambassadors and to build Social Capital.
"Designing 'for' someone is not the most fortunate route to take" (p. 122)The authors report on a failure to gain an ally. Meaning to enthuse members of a youth organisation the researchers distributed 3D-printed personalised key chains of a local football team. Following this the founder of the youth organisations broke all contact.
"Lack of a full-time available designer [...] has shown a great loss for keeping the momentum" (p. 137)Losing the central point of contact in the makerspace created a threshold for participation for the youth. It appeared the situation was reverting to the prior status quo. The challenge: to "design the designer out while sustaining the social impact" (p. 137).
Alsop and Heinsohn (2005) have focussed on the issue of operationalising empowerment.
- Alsop, R., & Heinsohn, N. (2005). Measuring Empowerment in Practice: Structuring Analysis and Framing Indicators. World Bank Publications.
- Mulder, I., Pucci, E. L., & Havenaar, Y. (2018). Chapter 7 - Empowerment Through Making: Lessons for Sustaining and Scaling Community Practices. In Digital Participation through Social Living Labs (pp. 117–140). Chandos Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102059-3.00007-1