Academic department structures and governance tend to reflect university–wide structures and governance that are typically characterized as hierarchical, competitive, and power-over/power as control. The decision to revise a department of nursing by-laws provided an opportunity to transition to adopt a more egalitarian structure with shared governance between the department faculty and the department and college administrators.
Consequently, during Academic Year (AY) 2017-2018, the faculty of a department of nursing agreed to a new governance structure that involved development of by-laws for the department. Three faculty members then agreed to serve on a committee to revise our department by-laws. The By-Laws Committee members first considered our previous traditional use of Robert’s Rules of Order for department meetings and recognized those rules as a patriarchal power-over/power as control structure. As we questioned assumptions and traditions, we determined that Robert’s Rules no longer served us and did not support our desire for a more progressive, egalitarian structure of group process and shared governance. We therefore suggested using the Peace and Power process .
The purpose of the Peace and Power process is to guide group process “in cooperative and peaceful ways, and in ways that challenge the status quo and lead to social and political change in the direction of equality and justice for all . . . . the process . . . also [is] . . . .a means of creating healthy group interactions and promoting health by reducing stress and distress created by hostile conflict” (Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2015, p. 62). The theory of Peace and Power “provides a framework for individuals and groups to shape their actions and interactions to promote health and well being for the group and for each individual, using processes based on values of cooperation and inclusion of all points of view in making decisions and in addressing conflicts. Based on the processes . . . individuals and groups can make thoughtful choices about the ways they work together to promote healthy, growthful interactions and avoid harmful, damaging interactions” (Chinn, 2018).
Perhaps most important is that the Peace and Power process is a way to operationalize power-as-freedom, that is, freedom to knowingly participate in change (Barrett, 2010) instead of power-over/power as control. Thus, the emphasis is on the solidarity of our department learners (aka faculty, staff, and students) rather than power held over the group by any one individual or authoritative body.
Following successive drafts and revisions based on faculty feedback, the department by-laws were approved by the department faculty in Spring 2019 and were implemented in Fall 2019. The by-laws included the stipulation that department meetings would be conducted using the Peace and Power process. Faculty also recognized their need to engage in new learning about this innovative method .
The faculty agreed that the Peace and Power process reflects the shared values and commitments formed by the group. Specifically, the faculty agreed that the Peace and Power process is consistent with our department values (Integrity, Inclusion, Diversity, Transparency, Transformation, Resilience, Relationships, Accountability, Collaboration, Equity, and Excellence) and a department goal to implement the department by-laws. Noteworthy is that the department values are consistent with two of the university-wide values–transformation and engagement. The Peace and Power process also supports the initial implementation efforts within the department and the entire university to eliminate structural racism and to promote diversity and inclusion. Incidentally, the transition to Peace and Power process as a means to shared governance and a healthy work environment is supported by the recent release of the Future of Nursing Report 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity (National Academy of Medicine, 2021). Specifically, among the 54 sub-recommendations is an emphasis on improved nursologist well-being through healthy work environments that include structural, socio-emotional, justice, and policy foci.
During the first department meeting of Fall 2019, faculty were intentionally reminded of the new by-laws and the Peace and Power process by members of the By-Laws Committee. Implementing the Peace and Power process in the department involves rotating leadership of monthly department meetings. This means that the department chair does not chair each department meeting; instead, after a slow start in AY 19-20, by AY 20-21, a different faculty member volunteers to convene and lead each meeting. Furthermore, the department meetings operate within values-based decision-making and mutual agreement of best options by means of consensus building discussions during department meetings and anonymous online voting as needed, such as elections to committees and final decisions about curriculum and programs. Moving critical voting decisions to the anonymous online format extended over a short period of time, ensures that all voices are included and that votes are not potentially coerced by peer pressure.
During AY 2020-2021, the By-Laws Committee members engaged in a series of micro-learning sessions to raise awareness about the content and meaning of the by-laws, including a more thorough explanation of PEACE powers (Chinn, 2013). A Fall 2020 micro-leaning session focused on differences between discussions that could be characterized as diversity or divisiveness. This session was added to the meeting agenda and presented by the department chair. The Spring 2021 micro-learning sessions focused on familiarizing faculty more thoroughly with the content of and more fully operationalizing the Peace and Power process. One micro-learning session focused on the outcome of the Peace and Power process as “movement that is ever shifting to the direction of peace” (Chinn, 2013, p. 10), along with the meaning of the word, PEACE, which is the acronym for five powers:
- Praxis—synchronous reflection and action to transform the world
- Empowerment—growth of personal ability to enact one’s will in the context of love and respect for others
- Awareness—growing knowledge of self and others
- Cooperation—commitment to group solidarity and integrity
- Evolvement–commitment to deliberate growth and change (Chinn 2013, p 10 ).
The PEACE powers are operationalized when values and commitments are formed by the group (i.e., the faculty), when department meeting leadership rotates among the faculty, and when values-based decision making and mutual agreement of best options occurs.
During the Spring 2021 semester, each department meeting concluded with a request for reflections. Examples of reflection prompts, which were meant to prompt reflections about the process of Peace and Power during department meetings, are:
- Please share an appreciation for someone or something that has happened during this meeting today.
- What could have been different in today’s meeting and how would future meetings be shaped?
Faculty were asked to place their answers/reflections in the zoom chat box (department meetings throughout the pandemic were held via zoom technology). Examples of responses are:
- I appreciate the discussions today which were very civil and constructive.
- I appreciate the discussions [of] awareness of individuals and their feelings.
- I enjoy listening to others perspectives and thoughts.
- I appreciate the open communication and problems solving about common challenges (e.g., email overload for everyone!)
- The meeting today was a very good example of the Peace and Power Process, so thank you to everyone for your contributions to our dialogue.
- Appreciate the positive communication and openness to hear all voices
- Thank you to everyone for sharing their thoughts on this topic…a good question for us to ponder further is how do we operationalize self- care and meet our department goals?
The By-Laws Committee members recognize the ongoing nature of implementation of the structural change for the department. Accordingly, future plans are to create a standing agenda item with the intention to further sustain the Peace and Power process at the monthly meetings. Two specific future actions include additional micro-learning sessions and ending each department meeting with a reflective practice.
We gratefully acknowledge the excellent contributions of undergraduate nursology learner Stephen Miller (BS, December 2021) and PhD nursology learner Julianne Mazzawi (PhD, June 2021) to the micro-learning sessions.
Barrett, E. A. M. (2010). Power as knowing participation in change: what’s new and what’s next. Nursing Science Quarterly, 23(1), 47–54. https://doi-org./10.1177/0894318409353797
Chinn, P. L. (2013). Peace and power: New direction for building community. Jones & Bartlett
Chinn, P. L. (2018, August 23). Peace & Power. https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/peace-power/ See also https://peaceandpowerblog.org/
Chinn, P. L., & Falk-Rafael, A. (2015). Peace and power: A theory of emancipatory group process, Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47(1), 62–69.. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12101
National Academy of Medicine. (2021). The future of nursing 2020-2030: Charting a path to achieve health equity. https://nam.edu/publications/the-future-of-nursing-2020-2030/ i
Co-contributors with Nursology.net team member Jacqueline Fawcett
Lisa J. Sundean, PhD, MHA, RN is an Assistant Professor at Fairfield University and formerly at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is Board Chair of the CT Center for Nursing Workforce, Board Member of the CT League for Nursing, a consultant for the Center to Champion Nursing in America, a national leader with the Nurses on Boards Coalition, and a Fellow in the New York Academy of Medicine. Her research and scholarship focus on nurses in board governance roles, health policy, and nursing workforce development. Dr. Sundean is a Daisy Foundation Award recipient for Extraordinary Nurses.
JoAnn Mulready-Shick, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Nursing, UMass Boston, and a Nurse Scientist at the Boston VA Healthcare System. Her scholarship centers on nurse educator development, student success, and clinical education innovation.