Participation, Inclusion and Social Change

Participation is a right held by all people to engage in society and in the decisions that impact their lives. Participation is thus a political endeavour that challenges oppression and discrimination, in particular of the poorest and most marginalised people. Participatory processes enable people to see more clearly, and learn from the complexity that they are living and working amid. Through participation people can identify opportunities and strategies for action, and build solidarity to effect change.

Those whose interests are served by exclusion will seek to co-opt or pacify participation. This is not grounds for rejecting it, but for fighting harder for it, and understanding the fields of power within which meaningful participation for transformative social change lies.

Research by our Participation, Inclusion and Social cluster specializes in the development of participatory research methods with particular emphasis on systematic social exclusion facing women, people living in extreme poverty, people with disabilities, slaves and bonded labourers and others. This requires a systemic understanding of change, and an activist approach to research. We describe such an approach as participatory practice.

Through our work, we aim to:

  • Conduct and support participatory practice that is facilitative and developmental, challenging the dominance of ‘external expert’ knowledge in mainstream research approaches.
  • Use, develop and share knowledge on participatory methods, which are a key part of participatory practice. These include systemic action research, peer research, participatory mapping, collective analysis, participatory numbers, and visual and digital approaches. Our Participatory Methods website hosts a range of resources to generate ideas and action for inclusive development and social change.
  • Employ a holistic learning based approach that is ‘responsive’, ‘reflective and ‘adaptive’, recognising that reality is constantly changing, and that participatory practice means continuous engagement.

Visit our Participatory Methods website

Key contacts

Joanna Howard

Research Fellow and Cluster Leader



Recent work

Past Event

Understanding gender backlash: Southern perspectives

This event will launch the new IDS Bulletin ‘Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives’. It will address the urgent question of how we can better understand the recent swell of anti-gender backlash across different regions, exploring different types of actors, interests,...

7 March 2024


Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives

IDS Bulletin 55.1

Far from seeing continued steady progress on gender equality, we are currently witnessing significant backlash against gender and sexual rights. Limited and hard-fought gains for some are being reversed, co-opted, and dismantled – all amplified through new social media and digital...

7 March 2024



Learning support to the ALIADAS-WVL programme in Mozambique

In this project, IDS designed and delivered a 5-day workshop in Nampula, Mozambique on behalf of the ALIADAS-WVL programme in March 2023. The ALIADAS-WVL programme convenes a network of NGOs working to defend the rights of women and girls across Mozambique, and requested support from IDS to...


Healing Justice as a Framework for Feminist Activism in Africa

Healing justice is an emerging political organising framework that aims to address the systemic causes of injustice experienced by marginalised peoples due to the harmful impacts of oppressive histories, intergenerational trauma, and structural violence. It recognises that these damaging...