Voices of Cerebration: Unpacking Agency

Participants coming together to unbundle restoring agency at scale

Agency, by definition, is  the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices . Exercising agency takes different forms in our day-to-day lives. It could be us attending a learning session that we have long been wanting to do,  or it could be us being able to mute our social media to focus on work and mental matter what shape or form it takes, having the ability to say a yes or a no to what we feel will help us to reach a better state is what agency essentially boils down to. You might agree with me that whenever decisions and actions are driven by agency, and not fear, there is a lot more ownership towards the actions and the results are a lot better.  

In reality however there are a lot of factors that affect a person’s ability to exercise their agency. And for everyone to equally be able to exercise their agency is also a challenge because of the unique power dynamics that exist at the level of every individual.

ShikshaLokam as a societal platform mission aims to enable education leadership at scale. One of the core values of this thinking is the value of restoring agency of all our stakeholders, as it is only then that every stakeholder will be able to emerge as a leader. However, what does restoring agency at scale look like, how can we design for restoring agency… These were some of the questions that we attempted to answer together with our participant learners in the second session of the Cerebration Series.

The prompt to delve deeper into this was a case study on the need for running a state-wide school leadership development program in Kerala and the participants were asked to reflect on the following prompts:

  1. Who are the stakeholders whose agency should be restored in the process
  2. What are the barriers to the agency of these stakeholders
  3. What are the solutions and the program that will be designed towards leadership development, how will these enable restoring the agency of the stakeholders

Reflections from the group

Stakeholders in focus identified

The participants called out stakeholders right from the level of the schools to the senior-most layer of the education system including the school headmasters, cluster resource persons, block and district-level officials, and the state level institutions that focus on leadership development in the system. The thought as shared by all participants being that since one actor is connected to and influenced by the other, they all play key roles in a state-wide school leadership development program.

Barriers to agency

When planning for a state-wide initiative, there could be several factors that become a barrier to the agency of the stakeholders. Some of these factors as called out by the participants were lack of clarity of what is expected, lack of match between the actual needs of the leaders and what is being assumed as the need, the newness of the program and lack of open channels to communicate the needs and challenges to name a few.

Barriers to the agency of the stakeholders identified (A)

Barriers to the agency of the stakeholders identified (B)

How do we design our program such that it restores agency?

Once the stakeholders and the barriers to their agency were called out, it was important to take into account these barriers in designing the solutions that will enable agency within the boundaries of the program. One of the key points that stood out across teams was the need to involve the stakeholders in the design process right from the stage of vision-setting, and create open channels of communication to share experiences, expectations and challenges so that there is cross learning and co-creation as a whole. The experience of coming together to design in a small group would lead to authentic voices being heard and will see higher ownership among the actors.

From the discussion that followed this activity, it was evident that agency to be restored at scale cannot be a one-size fits all model, the only way agency can be restored at scale is when different contexts are taken into consideration and the system is capacitated to handle the surge of asks and expectations that will come once agency is restored.

In the programs that you design for your stakeholders, have you factored in how the new process enables their agency? Share with us your experience of having conversations around agency with your stakeholders!

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