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What is a Power Tool?

“Power tool” conjures up an image of ear-splitting drills and grinders. But this work is concerned with other sorts of tools: instruments, approaches, schemes, devices and methods (among many other synonyms) for tackling the differences in power that impede policies and institutions from achieving equitable natural resource management. A policy tool can be defined as a mechanism for influencing decisions and decision-making about natural resource management. Power tools are policy tools that address power asymmetries between marginalised and marginalisers.

Ways of understanding and effecting change in governance and policy range from broad visions to very specific procedures for dealing with particular problems. A simple hierarchy might include:

The essential feature of a tool is that it is transferable, able to be taken from one context and utilised elsewhere. This does not mean that every tool is an ideal blueprint, appropriate to every challenge. Policy tools are instead sets of ideas that can be discovered and developed in one setting and then extracted and adapted to other contexts. A premise of this work is that tools can be usefully transferred across apparent gulfs between sectors or between countries. Fisheries might have a lot to teach forestry for example, or lessons from India might be highly relevant in southern Africa. A broad mix of tools of varied types and multiple contexts should encourage cross-fertilisation and experimentation.

Types of policy tools are as varied as people’s imaginations, but there is no point in designing tools for their own sake – tools are responses to particular tasks that need to be done. Some fairly formal policy tools are well known and easy to recognise, such as stakeholder analysis, but unorthodox or ad hoc tools could be equally useful, such as cooking a feast to entice officials into discussing community grievances, or calling a surprise sit-in on a boiling hot day to draw attention to a protest march.

Though the range of methods and what we include under the umbrella term “tool” is wide, there are a few important principles for a good tool:

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