Joanna Wheeler is the Research Manager of Participation Power and Social Change Team

Joanna Wheeler - Research Fellow


Richard Douglass

Joanna no longer works at IDS.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked consistently with a commitment to increasing the voice of those less heard—whether women’s roles as citizens in Rio de Janeiro or the perspectives of children and young people on violence. In my view, participatory ways of working, for researchers, development practitioners, and citizens, themselves, are crucial to eventual outcomes of greater social justice, democracy and development.

Much of my experience is in Latin America, however as research manager of the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Citizenship DRC) from 2003 to 2010, I have worked closely with other researchers in a very broad range of contexts (including Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, South Africa, India and Bangladesh).

My current research is on local power and violence in Cape Town, the relationship between citizens and informal governance; and, on the role of participatory visual methodologies in citizen action. Other central research interests include agency and citizenship in contexts of violence, accountability and power, participatory research methodologies, communication for social change, and global collaborative knowledge networks.

My interest in citizenship and violence builds on over 10 years of research in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, focussing on how violence and insecurity shift the basis for citizen engagement in both formal and informal political processes, and how violence also fragments and undermines state authority.

I have developed an approach to issues of violence and conflict that takes a citizens’ perspective. That is, I think it is important to ask how citizens experience insecurity and violent conflict and what these experiences imply for their ability to engage with political institutions.

Much of my current research focuses on interplay between forms of ‘parallel’ governance and the more formal processes of security sector reform, democratisation, and political settlements. I am also the co-director of Participate: Knowledge from the margins for post 2015, a collaboration between Beyond 2015 and the Institute of Development Studies.

Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development (MAVC) is a four-year $45 million fund to support innovation, scaling-up, and research that will deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.

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A new partnership between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and IDS has been formed with the aim of supporting SDC’s ‘Democratisation, Decentralisation and Local Governance Network’ (DLGN) between 2012 and 2014. IDS’ contribution will seek to improve DLGN’s effectiveness and impact of policy strategies and operations.

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This collaboration between IDS and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) aims to bring appropriate participatory methods into quality assurance within SDC. It will also bring new levels of rigour to the principles of participation, poverty orientation and empowerment in the work of SDC and its partners.

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Analysing how the relationship between populations living in contexts of violence and armed non-state actors controlling or contesting those areas results in forms of local governance and order, and how this affects people's livelihoods.

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Image of cover of Participate Policy Brief Issue 03

Using Knowledge from the Margins to Meet the SDGs: The Real Data Revolution

Participate Policy Briefing 3 (2017)

As efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gain momentum, we need to consider the inclusiveness of the data revolution. Knowledge from people living on the margins of society needs to be recognized, valued and embedded in the data to make visible the complex realities of their lives. More details

PB71 Front Cover

Tackling Urban Violence in Mumbai and Cape Town through Citizen Engagement and Community Action

IDS Policy Briefing 71 (2014)

Urban violence is an urgent and growing problem in many cities across the world. It comes in a multitude of forms such as gender-based violence, gangs and drug-related violence, police violence, religious riots, vigilante groups, and others. More details

This is the cover to 'Knowledge from the Margins: An Anthology from a Global Network on Participatory Practice and Policy Influence'.

Knowledge from the Margins: An Anthology from a Global Network on Participatory Practice and Policy Influence

Report (2014)

This anthology is an account of the activities carried out by the Participatory Research Group (PRG) within the Participate initiative between 2012 and 2014, and also a reflection on the methods and processes created and utilised during that time. More details

ER73 Front Cover

Agency and Citizenship in a Context of Gender-based Violence

IDS Evidence Report 73 (2014)

This pilot evaluation explores how citizenship and agency among social activists can be fostered in contexts of urban violence at the local level. More details

This is the cover for 'Work with us: How people and
organisations can catalyse sustainable change.

Work With Us: How People and Organisations can Catalyse Sustainable Change

This report provides a synthesis of studies conducted by the Participate Participatory Research Group (PRG) in 29 countries, and attempts to identify and draw out the patterns of change that emerge across them from people's accounts of their own experiences of moving in or out of poverty and marginalisation. More details

Thematic Expertise:
Citizenship; Gender; Sustainable Development Goals; Post MDGs; Unruly Politics; Rights.

Related Programmes and Centres:
Addressing and Mitigating Violence.

Geographic Expertise:
Central and South Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; Sub Saharan Africa.