Photo of Danny Burns, IDS Participation, Power and Social Change Team leader

Danny Burns - Participation Research Cluster Leader

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Richard Douglass

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Danny Burns is an IDS Research Cluster Leader and professorial Research Fellow. 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). At UWE, he co-directed the SOLAR action research centre. Prior to this he was a lecturer, then senior lecturer, at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. There he was Programme Director of the M.Sc. in Management Development and Social Responsibility. Previously, Danny worked as the Director of the Tenant Participation Advisory Service for Scotland and prior to that as Director of the Decentralisation Research and Information Centre. Over the past eight years he has directed or co-directed more than twenty participatory research projects.


Recent projects include:

  • The Participate initiative (2012-13) co-directed with Joanna Wheeler. Participate is a collaboration between IDS and the Beyond 2015 campaign. It is supporting a major global programme of participatory research which will contribute to global debates on the future of international development post 2015 as well as laying the foundations for an international participatory research network. The project was funded by the UK Department of International Development. Phase Two work is being funded by Irish Aid.
  • Voices of the Marginalised: Piloting participatory methods with people with disabilities and older people in Bangladesh (2012-13) with Katy Oswald and in Tanzania (2015). This is funded by Sightsavers HelpAge and ADD.
  • Valuing Volunteering (2011-14). Funded by VSO, this is a four country systemic action research project in the Phillipines, Nepal, Kenya and Mozambique looking at the impact of volunteering on poverty.
  • Systemic Action Research in the Myanmar Peace Process. Danny is supporting civil society organisations to facilitate community based action research as part of a programme to build community engagement in the Myanmar Peace Process. Phase One was funded by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in partnership with the University of Columbia, New York. Phase Two has been funded by USAID.
  • Contemporary Slavery and Bonded Labour in India and Nepal. Danny (with Pauline Oosterhoff) is leading a three year learning, evaluation and research programme working with 25 local NGOs to combat slavery. The India work includes the collection and anlysis of life stories and a participatory numbers exercise in 60 Indian villages which will be followed by a two year action research process and the creation of a learning architecture to support NGOs to respond effectively to emerging issues. A similar process will be carried out in Nepal. This programme is funded by the Freedom Fund.

Danny is widely published, most recently on systemic approaches to action research. Key texts include:

His new book, co-authored with Stuart Worsley, Navigating Complexity in International Development: facilitating sustainable development at scale is published October 2015 by Practical Action.

Danny's interests include participatory methods, systemic action research, community development and community action, the significance of complexity and systems thinking to development and systemic conflict transformation.


Danny currently supervises three research students:

Since 2013 Danny Burns has been working with Stephen Gray and Josephine Roos on systemic approaches to peace in Northern Myanmar. The work is rooted in community perspectives on the issues that face local people in Kachin and Northern Shan State.

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Around 15 per cent the world’s population have some form of disability, most are marginalised and experience multiple discrimination, and they have been largely invisible in mainstream development. This home page is for IDS's cross cluster research programme on disability which seeks to address these issues, and recognises that disability affects all areas of development.

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Studies have shown that it is often wealthier people in a community who benefit from market approaches to combatting poverty – men more than women, non-disabled more than disabled. So how and to what extent can market-based solutions improve the lives of extremely poor people?

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We are working on three projects in India and Nepal using participatory methods to better understand the complex dynamics of slavery and bonded labour and to generate and test community-led solutions.

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Ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalised communities have the opportunity to shape post-2015 policymaking

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The Participatory Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) programme marks a new phase of the Participate initiative. It aims to foster and support PMA learning processes that enable citizen participation for accountability to be embedded in development policy and practice.

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Four years on from Irish Aid's landmark Hunger Task Force Report, hunger reduction remains an enormous challenge. This will become more difficult in the context of resource scarcity, climate change, and an increased demand for food in the emerging economies.

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The project aims to expand our knowledge of the specific attributes of volunteering as a development mechanism and the unique ways in which volunteering impacts on poverty.

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Search and filter for all the author's publications by journal, research theme, country and much more.


Using Participatory Statistics to Examine the Impact of Interventions to Eradicate Slavery: Lessons from the Field

CDI Practice Paper 16 (2016)

This CDI Practice Paper by Pauline Oosterhoff, Sowmyaa Bharadwaj, Danny Burns, Aruna Mohan Raj, Rituu B. Nanda and Pradeep Narayanan reflects on the use of participatory statistics to assess the impact of interventions to eradicate slavery and bonded labour. More details

This is the cover to the book 'Navigating Complexity in International Development: Facilitating sustainable change at scale.

Navigating Complexity in International Development: Facilitating Sustainable Change at Scale

International development interventions often fail because development experts assume that our world is linear and straightforward when in reality it is complex, highly dynamic and unpredictable. More details

This is the front coverr to IDS Bulletin 46.5, 'What is the Unique Contribution of Volunteering to International Development?'

What is the Unique Contribution of Volunteering to International Development?

IDS Bulletin 46.5 (2015)

This IDS Bulletin is entirely based on the global action-research project Valuing Volunteering, commissioned by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a UK-based international volunteer cooperation organisation, and conducted by researchers at IDS in partnership with VSO. More details

This is the cover to Citizen participation and accountability for sustainable development.

Citizen Participation and Accountability for Sustainable Development

IDS Report (2015)

This report articulates three strategies by which the poorest and most marginalised have attempted to ensure accountability from national and global policymakers to local people. More details

Report cover for joint IDS-VSO research on the role of volunteers in sustainable development.

The role of volunteering in sustainable development

This report shares findings from the global action research project, Valuing Volunteering which explores how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors which prevent it from doing so. It reveals that volunteers can make a unique contribution towards efforts to end global poverty. More details

Thematic Expertise:
Capacity Development; Humanitarian Relief and Development; Participatory methodologies; Reducing Inequalities; Sustainable Development Goals; Post MDGs.

Geographic Expertise:
Bangladesh; India; Kenya; Myanmar; Nepal; Uganda.