Chapati diagrams

This tool can be useful for exploring relationships between things - particularly the relative importance, influence or power of people, organisations or groups.



Why?  The analysis of power is central to Reflect. Chapati (or Venn) diagrams can be very helpful in structuring the analysis of complex dynamics or relationships between people, groups or organisations. They can also be used to explore the relative importance of different influences on a person or process.

When? At any time.

How?  Chapati diagrams are made up of a variety of circles, each representing a different actor or influence in a situation and sized and placed accordingly. Similar processes need to be followed as with the construction of other graphics: using movable objects for an initial, large scale version developed by the whole group; negotiating actors, sizes of circles and relationships between the group; and facilitating full discussion of the resulting graphic.

The following examples show how this type of graphic can be used to analyse power relations at family, community and national levels.

Personal power:  One powerful use of the chapati diagram (used for example in the Basque Country) involves individual participants drawing diagrams of power relations within their family when they were children. Each person in the family is represented by a circle, including the participant, and the relative power of each person is represented by the size of their circle.

The circles are then placed at different distances from each other to show the nature of relations between them, and lines or symbols added accordingly. Alternatively, the figures can be placed only in relation to the person making the diagram. When this is complete, each participant goes on to construct a second diagram illustrating power relations in their present home environment.  Discussion and sharing of stories might focus on why certain people were attributed significant power, how it felt to be powerless or powerful, whether patterns change across generations, and whether similarities can be drawn between families.

This same process can be used to analyse relationships between people in many other contexts, including the Reflect group itself, or the community in which it operates. In some Reflect training workshops a chapati diagram is constructed as part of the evaluation process to show the inter-personal power relations among participants and facilitators. These can be constructed individually and then shared/ analysed or a single diagram may seek to capture the consensus of the whole group (though conflict should not be avoided in the process).

Influences within the community:  Chapati diagrams can also be used to look at different power dynamics within and between groups and organisations. This type is constructed collectively by a group, starting with a large circle that represents the whole community. Circles of different sizes are then added: inside the main one to represent the relative importance of different organisations or groups within the community; and outside the main circle to represent external organisations with a presence or influence on the community.

This mapping of organisations can yield a rich analysis, helping participants to share information and opinions in a structured way and enabling them to see gaps or identify opportunities for change. The visualisation can be extended, for example to add different "values" to each organisation - indicating which are allies, which neutral and which are enemies - or by developing 'ideal' versions and exploring how to get there. As always there will be systematic discussion and analysis in the process of constructing such a graphic, and a further layer of discussion and analysis once it is complete and the whole picture can be seen.

Examples from practice: Reflect workshops have often included the construction of diagrams to analyse institutional power relations or the practice of power at national or international levels. The process of constructing these diagrams is often a useful way for participants with different perspectives to exchange views and achieve some form of understanding. The act of visualisation can help to crystallise key points of difference and encourage people towards common ground. 

Chapatis have also been used:

  • to analyse power relations between different castes in Indian villages;
  • to analyse changing power dynamics in Ireland at national level, looking at the roles of important players such as the church, the media, the government and the European Union.
  • to develop a campaign strategy for ActionAid's education campaign, where different influences on education at international level, or at the level of participating countries, were mapped out to inform choice of advocacy targets and allies.

If you have an interesting or innovative experience of working with this tool please add your comments here.