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Power Mapping


In order to make policy change in a government institution or even at your own University, you first have to map the institution.  This involves learning to navigate the bureaucracy, locating and putting pressure on key players and building an institutional calendar. Different institutions will have different structures, but for the sake of this guide we are focusing on three areas of policy change: Campus, State, and Local. 

See the powerpoint attached to the files tab to view in Powerpoint form (relevant slides for this training: 1-17).

After you complete this training, please complete this survey. 


The goal of this section is to map out key organizations and people necessary to move your policy and to fully understand the different processes you need to influence in order to make policy change. You will use that understanding to create a power map that maps the different branches of power and how they interact.  Your power map should be a living breathing document that you continue to update as you move through the process. 


 When conducting power mapping, you should start by asking a basic vision question: What does success on this policy initiative look like for us? Asking and answering this question will be vital to choosing whom to target and what approaches you would like to use. 

Before you read through the training below, open up a copy of a blank power map and the Institutional map handout attached to the files tab below. Ideally, you should print out the power map and fill by hand. Now that you're all set up, start with the following questions: 

1.Who is institution responsible for the change? And, what are important institutional processes that you should be aware of? Add answers to these questions on the Institutional map handout. For example, for a state government, the budget process and period is a key thing to understand. For now, just make a note of what you need to know. 

2. What are our strengths & Weaknesses? Add answers to these questions on the Institutional map handout. It's important to understand how powerful you and your group of policy change advocates are. Even more important is to get a sense of your weaknesses. Example: Strength- we have a substantially large chapter, weakness- we don't have a large degree of leverage over our administration. 

3.Who are the individuals or groups that you are targeting? Place each individual or group on the physical power-map you have printed making an appropriate assumption about their level of power and support. This will include both primary and secondary targets. Ideally, these should be individuals rather than groups- name the five city council members rather than just placing 'City Council'. But, if you're in an early stage of your campaign, you can also start by just naming such larger groups. 

4. Who are our allies (coalitions/organizations) working on this? Who are organizations against this (opposition)? Place each individual or group on the physical power-map you have printed making an appropriate assumption about their level of power and support. Similar to above- these may be individuals or groups, though individuals are preferred. 

5. Connect the Dots- make connections between different individuals and groups on your map to each other. The easiest way to do so can be to make one way arrows depicting that one individual may have influence or leverage over another. Return to your power map now and add these connections. 

You are now ready to move to Roosevelt's Coalitions training here


Terms and ideas to know: 

  1. Power Map: A power map is a way of identifying stakeholders and differentiate between the different groups.  A complete power map will identify primary targets as the people who can make a change to your policy, secondary targets that have influence over primary targets, and supportive organizations or allies. Finally, you should look to connect (via arrows) these groups and people with each other. 
  2.  Identify Stakeholders: If you think of a power map as defining people’s relationship to power, then each of these categories are a different question:

    Primary Targets: People/groups with the power to make the actual change?
    Secondary Targets: People/groups with influence over Primary Targets?
    Allies: People/groups supportive of your policy change? You will be looking to form a coalition with these folks in the following training. 
    Opponents: People/groups that will fight to prevent your policy change from being enacted?  

  3. Institutional Process & Bureaucracy: Each institution has different processes that govern how policy is proposed, debated, enacted, implemented, and regulated. You will need to identify how your institution works to be effective and develop a strategy. This means knowing what committees a bill needs to go through and who chairs those committees and who can introduce legislation, etc.      

  4. Institutional Calendar: Find out the timeline of the institution you are working with and base your game plan off of it.  Depending on which institution (state or city government, universities, etc.) and the key players your policy seeks to change, you need to identify the calendar it works off of and build your timeline around it.   

  5. Key Players: People who have tremendous power in the institution or the ability to introduce or advocate for a bill. In a state legislator this might be a governor, majority leader or committee head.  At a college this might be your board of trustees, big donors, alumni, professors or whoever has influence over key players.


  • It's often helpful to use different colors for targets and allies on your power map to ensure it's easier to navigate in the future. 

  • Before conducting deep research into the inner-workings of an institution, reach out to your allies to see if they can help. 

  • The budget is among the most important responsibilities public institutions have and will dictate a lot of the process and politics. No two budget processes are the same. They are different in format and presentation. It’s important to look at a budget as a political living document that is an estimation based on last years spending habits and the next year’s projections and political priorities.

  • Leverage the systems that exist on campus. This includes faculty senate, faculty unions, student government, campus clubs, dorms, faculty senate, departments, schools and centers, and much more. Be visible, have co-sponsored events, and develop an online presence.


  • Every state and city has a web page on their homepage that outlines the legislative and budget process. Some organizations in your state/city like the NYSSBA Guide to the Budget Process do a great job explaining some of the inner workings of the process. Also, every state/city should have some type of Citizen Budget Guide that will help outline the general process and the various moving parts.

  • State Scape has every state legislative session outlined and is a good place to start. The NY State Legislative Session Calendar and the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing Schedule are good examples of what you are looking for (try a Google search).

  • Your School's Website.

  • The Midwest Academy has a set of trainings on how to build a good powermaps, identifying the primary and secondary targets.  Uploaded in the files section of this website, you will find some examples that Roosevelt groups have filled out together.


State and Local Government:
If you are looking to get a bill passed in your state house, you first need to learn the bureaucracy: find out how a bill becomes a law in your state. In many states, this begins with a public hearing or open comment period to officially jumpstart the public policy process.

Second, you will need to know the institutional timeline for how to change laws.  In this case, the we are thinking about the official state-wide legislative calendar (usually January to April/May/June) that includes public hearings, committee meetings, in-district budget forums, legislative session days, official breaks and more. If your policy idea has a concrete budget, you might be able to get it passed as a part of the state budget.  When the executive introduces their budget, the process usually has a 30 day window for amendments and then it is legally due to be voted on by the legislature.

Once you know the timeline, you will need to target the key players in charge of these legislative bodies.  If the governor has recently introduced a budget to the legislature you should try and get in contact with someone from the governor's office and petition them to add your bill as an amendment, or at least get a conversation started about your bill with someone who has the power to introduce it.  Targeting the right windows in the legislative process and finding the right voices will maximize your influence.

University and Campus:

Students from Roosevelt @ American wanted to implement a Food Swipe donation fund that would allow freshman with extra meal swipes to donate into a communal pool which low income students could use to purchase meals from the dining hall.

To get their project off the ground, they: 

  • Met with administrators in the Housing and Dining Office to ask questions about Aramark, the company that provides all food services on campus.
  • Through conversations with folks in the Housing and Dining Office, they learned that the Aramark contract did not end until 2018. Any adjustments to the way meal swipes were used had to wait until the new contract was negotiated.
  • Administrators told them that three bodies controlled decisions around that contract: the Board of Trustees, the Budget Committee, and the Housing and Dining office. 
  • Knowing the timeline for the contract, and the key power players involved, the chapter built out a 4 year plan for how they would get their idea implemented: 
      • Year 1: Build the Plan. This included power mapping, having initial conversations with decision-makers on campus, researching, and drafting their idea proposal.
      • Year 2: Build a Coalition. This included brining together students and student groups who cared about the issue of food security. 
      • Year 3: Grow Awareness. They planned to build public awareness around the issue of food security through events, rallies, speakers, and social media. 
      • Year 4: Yield Influence. They planned to use their coalition and public support to influence negotiations and have the Food Swipe program implemented.