Healthy Waterville
 Action Team
Formed by Failing Forward

 Power Mapping: Failing Forward with Purpose

According to Jake Grindle from the Maine Health Access Foundation, "Power Analysis (Mapping) is a tool often used in community organizing that helps a group assess the broader landscape in which their efforts exists.  It requires participants to answer a series of important questions:

Who are the key individuals who have the power to make decisions that impact our goals for this project? 
Who are the other organizations that might have a stake in our issue (whether they know it or not)? 
What unorganized constituencies will be affected by our success or failure?” 

Power Mapping Facilitated the Formation of Healthy Waterville Action Team.  

The Healthy Northern Kennebec coalition held a Power Mapping exercise at its regularly scheduled meeting in November 2015. Members of the Healthy Waterville team reviewed the new tool and asked everyone present to participate in mapping out our community's power structure around the food system right then and there.  Coalition members added their thoughts on many sticky notes, which was a bit overwhelming. Some were frustrated because the topic was so broad. Some were confused because we had never used a tool like this and they had not prepared to change the way our meeting had always gone. We bit off more than we could chew in trying to Power Map the whole food system, so the “fail forward” lesson was to focus smaller.

Waterville was the first community in our state to try Power Mapping, so the Maine Health Access Foundation asked our team to share our experience at a statewide training in December 2015. This time, we focused on who had the power to increase donations of healthy food to the food bank. 

We had to bring in extra folding chairs at our January 2016 coalition meeting. Our facilitator engaged everyone, as the diverse group mapped many organizations and decision-makers.  Members of the community with lived experience of poverty asked where food bank clients fall on the Power Map.  They were upset with the answer: Without an organized effort, individuals have no power. 

People with lived experience had a voice and got on the map when the Healthy Waterville Action Team formed in February.  The agenda became “who’s not thriving?” The new team determined that Waterville needed a Food Resource Guide, so the group decided to do community surveys to collect data. The Power Map fell to the floor.  

We learned that an intentional space is necessary to build trust among participants. Those most affected by the broken system need to decide the best way to make change. We also learned that implementing too many changes simultaneously is not sustainable. We needed to focus on our culture of trust, share tools, and let participants decide what changes to make and when. 

I think the key piece of what they're doing, is that they have community members who sometimes use these resources giving them input on what they need and want and how it's best to provide that.  That's a really critical element to success. 

Barbara Leonard, President & Chief Executive Officer of Maine Health Access Foundation  


Invariably, as a group moves through this process, noting the names of individuals and organizations on a chart that indicates their level of engagement in the issue and their level of power to impact it, seemingly hidden things start to become a little more obvious.  We start to see that any successful effort to change a system must center on developing, enhancing and managing relationships with people who comprise and interact with that system.

Jake Grindle, Maine Health Access Foundation

Jake Grindle facilitates the Power Mapping session with community members at the Healthy Northern Kennebec coalition meeting in January 2016.

Left to right are: Central Maine Public Health District Liaison Paula Thomson, Faith Community Leader Reverend Andy Kane and President & Chief Executive Officer of Maine Health Access Foundation Barbara Leonard reviewing the power mapping tool.