A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

“What if every piece of journalism helped the public understand whether old or new power dynamics and values were at play?”

Last year for Nieman Lab’s 2020 predictions, I received and published an auspicious article from the future — from the year 2073, to be exact.

After revealing that missive, I heard from many journalists and newsroom folk of today that the journalists in the future seem to have discovered inspired answers to many of the gnarly questions we’re grappling with now. They longed to live in that future reality. And the most exciting aspect for many was the idea of “power mapping.”

To summarize, here’s what the missive from the future says is going to happen: Some feminist cartographers (most of whom have yet to be born, not all of whom will identify as women) will generate a new visual language to help people quickly understand how power flows in any given system. They will develop an intuitive iconography that can be universally understood and applied, and which doesn’t require written or verbal language skills for the viewer to understand what’s happening and what power dynamics are at play.

Storytellers of all kinds in 2073, especially journalists, see this power lexicon as an indispensable and productive method to increase people’s interest in “the news” and to participate in shaping society. Why? Because it’s only when people understand the power dynamics of any given situation that they can shape how that situation resolves or evolves. Knowledge is power; maps are a knowledge format.

Over the course of this past year, I’ve been trying in a variety of mystical and mundane fashions to tap into and download more details about how this whole field of power fluency/power literacy comes to take shape.

The good news: I have some updates!

But to make it happen, newsrooms must start now to make power part of every storyline, to set the foundation for these cartographers to begin developing this language. I’m sorry to add that responsibility to all of your overflowing plates.

What I’ve been tasked to do is provide a few starting points for inspiration for you, dear reader, to begin experimenting with making power the central character and the animating force of your reporting. I hope this helps. <deep breath>

The three rules of power

Eric Liu is a Taiwanese-American civic innovator, who started and runs an organization called Citizen University. He wrote a book in 2018 entitled You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. I have read and reread it, and bookmarked the page that outlines the three rules of power. Now that I know them, I see them at play everywhere.

  1. “Power concentrates. That is, it feeds on itself and compounds (as does powerlessness).”
  2. “Power justifies itself. People invent stories to legitimize the power they have (or lack).”
  3. “Power is infinite. There is no inherent limit on the amount of power people can create.”

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What would it take for these rules to become common knowledge? How might stories in the news call out which laws of power are at play?

With a solutions lens to reporting, how might journalists also share knowledge of where the leverage points are in the system? (This would no doubt help the public see what’s happening underneath the plotline of names and details, and give them a shorthand for doing their job as citizens in a democracy.)

What if every news story, no matter the form, helped people understand the foundational and systemic structures that are keeping things as is, creating conflict, or enabling new power to flow and, therefore, create new realities?

If journalism’s theory of change is that, by providing updates on “what’s happening,” people are enabled to form opinions and take action — wouldn’t revealing the storylines of power supercharge that ability?

How might newsrooms report equally on the power that already exists, to the infinite new power that’s being created? (E.g., who is starting to gather people, ideas and energy to do something differently?)

Old power and new power

The book New Power: How Power Works In Our Interconnected World and How to Make it Work For You, by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, is dedicated to unpacking how old/traditional forms of power differ from the types of new power made possible by this digitally connected world. The following two charts in the book show some of the key differences:

Old power values:

  • Formal, governance, managerialism, institutionalism
  • Competition, exclusivity, resource consolidation
  • Confidentiality, discretion, separation between private and public spheres
  • Expertise, professionalism, specialization
  • Long-term affiliation and loyalty, less overall participation

New power values:

  • Informal (networked) governance, opt-in decision-making, self-organization
  • Collaboration, crowd wisdom, sharing, open-sourcing
  • Radical transparency
  • Maker culture, “do-it ourselves” ethic
  • Short-term conditional affiliation, more overall participation

Old power: Currency. New power: Current.
Old power: Held by few. New power: Made by many.
Old power: Download. New power: Upload.
Old power: Leader-driven. New power: Peer-driven.
Old power: Closed. New power: Open.

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What if every piece of journalism helped the public understand whether old or new power dynamics and values were at play? How might using this framing help generations better understand one another and why some approaches just will not work anymore?

What if reporters made explicit the values systems that are driving the sources in their stories to make the decisions they do? What might happen if newsrooms examined their own values, and whether they aligned more with old power or new power?

Hard and soft power

You may be familiar with the idea of “hard” and “soft” power. Soft power is the ability to use influence and attraction — rather than force, threat, or rules (hard power) — to make change happen.

You’ve definitely seen it at play in your life and work. That colleague of yours who doesn’t have a leadership title, but somehow manages to get their ideas heard and acted upon? They’re masters of soft power. That boss who gives orders and uses threats as their main way of making things happen? They use hard power as their instrument.

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What could it look like if every news story explained the soft and hard powers at play?

How would our journalistic narratives around gender change if we paid more attention to soft power, and the advantages it has in uniting and bringing people along with change? (Note: Many people who do not identify as women excel at soft power, so don’t reduce hard and soft power to the sex or gender identity of a person.)

How useful would it have been to understand the 2020 election through the lens of soft and hard power? At one point or another, we all wondered: Is he actually allowed to do that? Having an explanation of hard power would have helped people make sense of, and perhaps ease some anxieties about the many ways things could unfold.

So what will power maps look like?

In short, there will be a plethora of formats. The maps may show up as a sidebar in a story that names the players and gives bullet points on the types and qualities of the power at play. There will be “layers” you can turn on in a story to see the chronological poetry of power-shifting playing out over some period of time.

There will arise a handful of common patterns — shapes of power — that are used to give a shorthand visual for the dynamics at play. And, of course, there will be videos that accompany stories that give people the simplified overview of where power is being exerted, where it’s stuck, and what the outcomes are.

That’s all I know for now — and I’m excited to see what you visual thinkers come up with.

A warning about power maps and people

Humans are, of course, storytelling animals. When see a pattern, we unconsciously lock into it and then jump to conclusions in an effort to minimize confusion and maximize sense. This proclivity is a nuance-killer, a compassion-stripper, a destroyer of the ability to hold two competing narratives in one’s head simultaneously and recognize when a false dichotomy is at play.

In short: Power maps can also be dangerous.

What do I mean? Take a brief 1:32 to watch this video produced by two researchers, Heider and Simmel, in the 1940s.

What did you see? Was this a story of abuse? Was this a love triangle narrative? Or some kind of alien invasion? Reasonable people can and will disagree. They will locate a pattern and depending on their life experience, and skip straight to one of a handful of conclusions. (Credit here to the brilliant scholar and writer Jonathan Gottschall for giving this talk that inspired these realizations.)

Okay — so then what? We need to be sure we make power maps editable and iterative. Power, like the stuff that flows through our home’s electric circuits, is not static. These visualizations and explanations must be positioned as a snapshot in time and not a marker of the current reality. They should come with an expiration date and be able to be updated over time when dynamics shift.

And just as we fact-check stories (or at least one hopes we do), and just as we give people an opportunity to share their side of the story (or at least one hopes we do), reporters and fact-checkers are going to need to share their power maps with the folks they involve to be sure there’s a common reality to work from. And if there’s not, they’ll need to be prepared for people to create multiple versions and multiple POVs of any given map.

As I said in last year’s prediction, power maps will take time to develop. Which means there’s a lot of cultural cleanup to do between now and then in order to re-establish some semblance of a shared set of facts and a shared reality. And starting to shine a light on power, I’m told, will be a critically important part of enabling that change and healing.

Jennifer Brandel is co-founder and senior vice president of global partnerships at Hearken.

Last year for Nieman Lab’s 2020 predictions, I received and published an auspicious article from the future — from the year 2073, to be exact.

After revealing that missive, I heard from many journalists and newsroom folk of today that the journalists in the future seem to have discovered inspired answers to many of the gnarly questions we’re grappling with now. They longed to live in that future reality. And the most exciting aspect for many was the idea of “power mapping.”

To summarize, here’s what the missive from the future says is going to happen: Some feminist cartographers (most of whom have yet to be born, not all of whom will identify as women) will generate a new visual language to help people quickly understand how power flows in any given system. They will develop an intuitive iconography that can be universally understood and applied, and which doesn’t require written or verbal language skills for the viewer to understand what’s happening and what power dynamics are at play.

Storytellers of all kinds in 2073, especially journalists, see this power lexicon as an indispensable and productive method to increase people’s interest in “the news” and to participate in shaping society. Why? Because it’s only when people understand the power dynamics of any given situation that they can shape how that situation resolves or evolves. Knowledge is power; maps are a knowledge format.

Over the course of this past year, I’ve been trying in a variety of mystical and mundane fashions to tap into and download more details about how this whole field of power fluency/power literacy comes to take shape.

The good news: I have some updates!

But to make it happen, newsrooms must start now to make power part of every storyline, to set the foundation for these cartographers to begin developing this language. I’m sorry to add that responsibility to all of your overflowing plates.

What I’ve been tasked to do is provide a few starting points for inspiration for you, dear reader, to begin experimenting with making power the central character and the animating force of your reporting. I hope this helps. <deep breath>

The three rules of power

Eric Liu is a Taiwanese-American civic innovator, who started and runs an organization called Citizen University. He wrote a book in 2018 entitled You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. I have read and reread it, and bookmarked the page that outlines the three rules of power. Now that I know them, I see them at play everywhere.

  1. “Power concentrates. That is, it feeds on itself and compounds (as does powerlessness).”
  2. “Power justifies itself. People invent stories to legitimize the power they have (or lack).”
  3. “Power is infinite. There is no inherent limit on the amount of power people can create.”

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What would it take for these rules to become common knowledge? How might stories in the news call out which laws of power are at play?

With a solutions lens to reporting, how might journalists also share knowledge of where the leverage points are in the system? (This would no doubt help the public see what’s happening underneath the plotline of names and details, and give them a shorthand for doing their job as citizens in a democracy.)

What if every news story, no matter the form, helped people understand the foundational and systemic structures that are keeping things as is, creating conflict, or enabling new power to flow and, therefore, create new realities?

If journalism’s theory of change is that, by providing updates on “what’s happening,” people are enabled to form opinions and take action — wouldn’t revealing the storylines of power supercharge that ability?

How might newsrooms report equally on the power that already exists, to the infinite new power that’s being created? (E.g., who is starting to gather people, ideas and energy to do something differently?)

Old power and new power

The book New Power: How Power Works In Our Interconnected World and How to Make it Work For You, by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, is dedicated to unpacking how old/traditional forms of power differ from the types of new power made possible by this digitally connected world. The following two charts in the book show some of the key differences:

Old power values:

  • Formal, governance, managerialism, institutionalism
  • Competition, exclusivity, resource consolidation
  • Confidentiality, discretion, separation between private and public spheres
  • Expertise, professionalism, specialization
  • Long-term affiliation and loyalty, less overall participation

New power values:

  • Informal (networked) governance, opt-in decision-making, self-organization
  • Collaboration, crowd wisdom, sharing, open-sourcing
  • Radical transparency
  • Maker culture, “do-it ourselves” ethic
  • Short-term conditional affiliation, more overall participation

Old power: Currency. New power: Current.
Old power: Held by few. New power: Made by many.
Old power: Download. New power: Upload.
Old power: Leader-driven. New power: Peer-driven.
Old power: Closed. New power: Open.

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What if every piece of journalism helped the public understand whether old or new power dynamics and values were at play? How might using this framing help generations better understand one another and why some approaches just will not work anymore?

What if reporters made explicit the values systems that are driving the sources in their stories to make the decisions they do? What might happen if newsrooms examined their own values, and whether they aligned more with old power or new power?

Hard and soft power

You may be familiar with the idea of “hard” and “soft” power. Soft power is the ability to use influence and attraction — rather than force, threat, or rules (hard power) — to make change happen.

You’ve definitely seen it at play in your life and work. That colleague of yours who doesn’t have a leadership title, but somehow manages to get their ideas heard and acted upon? They’re masters of soft power. That boss who gives orders and uses threats as their main way of making things happen? They use hard power as their instrument.

My challenge to you is to consider the following: What could it look like if every news story explained the soft and hard powers at play?

How would our journalistic narratives around gender change if we paid more attention to soft power, and the advantages it has in uniting and bringing people along with change? (Note: Many people who do not identify as women excel at soft power, so don’t reduce hard and soft power to the sex or gender identity of a person.)

How useful would it have been to understand the 2020 election through the lens of soft and hard power? At one point or another, we all wondered: Is he actually allowed to do that? Having an explanation of hard power would have helped people make sense of, and perhaps ease some anxieties about the many ways things could unfold.

So what will power maps look like?

In short, there will be a plethora of formats. The maps may show up as a sidebar in a story that names the players and gives bullet points on the types and qualities of the power at play. There will be “layers” you can turn on in a story to see the chronological poetry of power-shifting playing out over some period of time.

There will arise a handful of common patterns — shapes of power — that are used to give a shorthand visual for the dynamics at play. And, of course, there will be videos that accompany stories that give people the simplified overview of where power is being exerted, where it’s stuck, and what the outcomes are.

That’s all I know for now — and I’m excited to see what you visual thinkers come up with.

A warning about power maps and people

Humans are, of course, storytelling animals. When see a pattern, we unconsciously lock into it and then jump to conclusions in an effort to minimize confusion and maximize sense. This proclivity is a nuance-killer, a compassion-stripper, a destroyer of the ability to hold two competing narratives in one’s head simultaneously and recognize when a false dichotomy is at play.

In short: Power maps can also be dangerous.

What do I mean? Take a brief 1:32 to watch this video produced by two researchers, Heider and Simmel, in the 1940s.

What did you see? Was this a story of abuse? Was this a love triangle narrative? Or some kind of alien invasion? Reasonable people can and will disagree. They will locate a pattern and depending on their life experience, and skip straight to one of a handful of conclusions. (Credit here to the brilliant scholar and writer Jonathan Gottschall for giving this talk that inspired these realizations.)

Okay — so then what? We need to be sure we make power maps editable and iterative. Power, like the stuff that flows through our home’s electric circuits, is not static. These visualizations and explanations must be positioned as a snapshot in time and not a marker of the current reality. They should come with an expiration date and be able to be updated over time when dynamics shift.

And just as we fact-check stories (or at least one hopes we do), and just as we give people an opportunity to share their side of the story (or at least one hopes we do), reporters and fact-checkers are going to need to share their power maps with the folks they involve to be sure there’s a common reality to work from. And if there’s not, they’ll need to be prepared for people to create multiple versions and multiple POVs of any given map.

As I said in last year’s prediction, power maps will take time to develop. Which means there’s a lot of cultural cleanup to do between now and then in order to re-establish some semblance of a shared set of facts and a shared reality. And starting to shine a light on power, I’m told, will be a critically important part of enabling that change and healing.

Jennifer Brandel is co-founder and senior vice president of global partnerships at Hearken.

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