Three examples of power imbalances in program design & delivery

This tool shares examples of power imbalances that can come up when you are designing and delivering financial capability  or money management programs, and what we can do to address them.

About this tool

This tool is from a resource called ‘Lens on, hands on: An Intersectional Guide to Financial Capability Program Development,’ created by Good Shepherd Australia & New Zealand, WIRE and Women with Disabilities Victoria, as part of the Women’s Financial Capabilities Project. This content in this resource was led by a co-design process which engaged First Nations women, women from migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker backgrounds and women with disabilities.

3 power imbalances to be aware of:

1. Dominant paradigms and structures

Powerful forces always act in parallel to systems of oppression, directly, or indirectly maintaining them. The paradigms and social structures currently dominant in Australia are white, patriarchal, and capitalist, and are built on historically accumulated power and stolen First Nations land. Power imbalances in this category run deep. They are entrenched in our realities and social norms and translate into rules and processes we follow. See Fernando (2018)’s definition of Intersectional Power Analysis in Terms we use (in the Guide).

2. Decision-making power

Many of our organisational models are designed for top-down decision-making. People who are directly impacted by our programs may be consulted, but seldom lead the design and decision-making process.15 Power imbalances in this area can also show up relationally, when we “unknowingly take positions of power and assume that [a person’s] difference makes them less capable of making decisions.

3. Power differentials in a group

Power imbalances in groups are different every time, as they depend on group dynamics, and factors like who’s in the room, what is being discussed, unspoken norms, who is leading the discussion. Power imbalances in groups can be internalised, and because they are highly contextual and relational. Power imbalances in groups can be internalised. Because they are highly contextual and relational, what can feel relatively harmless or normal to one person, can be highly uncomfortable, or at the expense of someone else.

What you can do about them

Addressing dominant paradigms and structures


  • Remember, being insulated by our positions of privilege can mean it’s easier to brush off demands, or make it hard to notice imbalances.
  • Be open to disturbance, going against the flow, or questioning norms.
  • Find strength in numbers. Work with active change agents. Help keep each other in check.
  • Look out for deficit-based framing and othering.
  • Keep speaking to and nurturing new paradigms and practices that promote equity and justice.

Addressing decision-making power


  • Ask: How can we redefine who the ‘right’ people are to make decisions?
  • Apply co-design models that share power (See McKercher model as example)
  • Cultivate power to, power with and power within (See principles: Promote autonomy and choice and Challenge fixed mindsets)
  • Increase the visibility and legitimacy of grassroots issues, voice and demands.


  • Use token representation.
  • Fail to compensate co-design participants for their time and efforts.

Addressing power differentials in a group


  • Work together to address racist, ableist, sexist, ageist, and heteronormative assumptions.
  • Establish group agreements and anti-discrimination strategies.
  • Be clear about decision-making processes.
  • Prioritise safety and doing no harm over the what might appear to be the perceived normal comforts of the group.


  • Minimise a person’s experience.
  • Single people out based stereotypes.

Learn more about the Intersectional Guide to Financial Capability Program Development

Learn more

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