Using Participatory Action Research to Improve Development Practice

Monday 23 January 2017 - Friday 27 January 2017 09:00 to 17:00
Convening Space, IDS

We are pleased to announce that this course from the Participation Cluster will run again and is now open for applications. The course first ran in January 2016 and was very well received. Running over five days, the course is designed to develop understanding and skills in the theory and practice of a range of participatory action research (PAR) methods.

Research design & methodology valuing volunteering: global analysis workshop poster. Illustration by: kiluteo@gmail.com

Illustration by: kiluteo@gmail.com

'A very valuable coming together for reflection and learning to catalyse social change'

'This is one of the most inspiring, mind-opening courses I have been in!' (2016 Participants)

Why Participatory Action Research?

Participatory Action Research is a way of engaging people living in poverty as agents of change. It is of particular importance to development practitioners and researchers today, as it can ensure their interventions are relevant, appropriate and inclusive. It is increasingly relevant for NGOs working in the global South or North, as they shift towards a more people-centred way of developing, delivering and assessing their projects and programmes of work.

Traditionally, project ‘beneficiaries’ have rarely been included in researching issues, finding solutions, designing indicators or measuring change. PAR provides a way of changing this, offering an inclusive community-driven approach to development. It is also an effective way of building participatory learning into organisations that are trying to support development and social change. This happens through a process of participatory evidence gathering and collective analysis. This in turn leads to actions which support mutual aid and collective action at the grassroots, inform NGO programme change and enable evidence based contributions to policy development. IDS has been developing processes and methods to enable this to happen at scale both in organisations and across communities.

This course is designed to provide participants with the conceptual and practical tools to design and carry out PAR in their own organizations and with their partners. It will also provide them with a practical understanding of how to achieve rigour using participatory methods.

Course Structure and Outcomes

This course will be interactive, inclusive, participatory and applied. Prior to the course, participants will be asked to think of a critical question that they are dealing with in their work, or relating to their organisation's practice. Over the week participants and facilitators will explore this question, identify a PAR process appropriate for addressing their question, and learn how to manage this process. Participants will learn about a range of methods, and develop their ideas into a detailed plan that they will be able to operationalize on returning to their organisation.

The course will comprise a series of interactive sessions, blending some theoretical and conceptual learning with experiential learning and sharing.

Session 1: will be an introduction to the theories and key approaches of PAR; analysis of the key concepts (in particular, participation, complexity, change); introduction to ethics and care in PAR. We will relate these concepts to your own practice.

Session 2: we will share and discuss case studies of using action research in international development. This will include: work on disability in Bangladesh and Uganda; citizenship in Nicaragua and the UK; peace in Myanmar; slavery and bonded labour in India, and the role of volunteers in Philippines, Mozambique, Nepal and Kenya.

Session 3: students will present and discuss their own question in small groups. This will be followed by training in action research design. Students will begin to design their own inquiry process with the support of peers and facilitators.

Session 4: further training in managing the participatory research process including facilitation, recording, analysis, planning and monitoring.

By the end of the course, all participants will have designed a PAR process to address a key issue relating to their organisational and/or their own professional practice. They will:

  • understand how to use appropriate PAR methods within this process
  • have considered the ethical, political and practical challenges
  • have clarity about further training and resources needed
  • understand how the contribution of their PAR process can improve their own and their organisational practice.

The course directors will provide one Skype post-course coaching session to assist participants in embedding their learning.

Who is the Course Relevant For?

This course is designed for NGO practitioners, facilitators and change agents as well as donors developing evidence-based programmes. It is also open to researchers and postgraduate students wishing to orient their work within the PAR paradigm.

Course Leaders

This course has been developed by Jo Howard and Danny Burns of the Participation Research and Knowledge Cluster. The teaching team will also include other members of the Cluster. Last year, Robert Chambers and Patta Scott-Villiers each facilitated a session drawing on their practice.

'The team demonstrated values that created an enabling environment for learning'

'I particularly liked the human quality and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in which we discussed and exchanged views and ideas'.(2016 Participants)

Danny Burns leads the IDS Participation Cluster. His work focuses on participatory learning for social change with a strong emphasis on systems thinking and complexity. Between 2002 and 2010 he was Professor of Social & Organisational Learning at the University of the West of England (UWE) where he co-directed the SOLAR action research centre. Over the past eight years he has directed or co-directed more than twenty participatory research projects.

His current work includes a major action research programme on slavery and bonded labour in Nepal and a four country action research programme with VSO. Danny has also worked extensively with SNV and the British Red Cross. He is author of Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change. His recent book (with Stuart Worsley, 2015) Navigating Complexity in International Development: Facilitating Sustainable Change at Scale focuses on action research and participatory inquiry as large-scale change strategies.

Jo Howard is a Research Fellow based with the Participation Cluster, who also does work on cities, governance and popular politics. She has used a range of participatory action research and learning processes to work with marginalized groups, and with civil society and governmental organisations to strengthen how they work with these groups.

Her work spans the UK social policy field and the international development arena, and over the last twenty years she has worked with civil society and governmental partners in the UK, Central America, Central & Eastern Europe and Africa. Her topics have ranged from women's empowerment, through state-civil society partnership working, to participatory governance and participatory approaches to monitoring and evaluation. She currently directs a programme on participatory monitoring and accountability between citizens and duty-bearers in South Africa, Egypt and Ghana. She also works with the Swiss Development Agency on processes of action learning and reflective practice, and is conducting participatory inquiries on citizenship in Nicaragua and the UK.

Course Fee

The course fee is £1,500 (GBP). The fee includes the tuition fees, course materials, lunches, refreshments and one group dinner. It does not cover accommodation or travel costs.

Please contact the Course Coordinator, Richard Douglass if you have any queries.

Accredited by the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education as a Short Course Provider.

Application Procedure

All applicants should read the PAR Short Course 2017 Terms and Conditions before completing the application form below.

The application procedure is a 3-stage process:

Stage 1: Applicants need to apply by completing the online PAR short course application form.

Stage 2: Successful applicants will receive the Stage 2 form and an invoice for the course fee which needs to be paid as soon as possible. Places on the course are not guaranteed until fees have been received.

Stage 3: Once fees have been received, applicants will receive confirmation of a place on the course and a letter to support their visa application (if required). Please note: Course leaders and teachers may change at short notice.

PAR short course application form


Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 9RE UK
E:r.douglass@ids.ac.uk