Using Participatory Action Research to Improve Development Practice

Monday 22 January 2018 - Friday 26 January 2018
Convening Space, Institute of Development Studies

This is the image for the IDS short course, 'Using Participatory Action Research to Improve Development Practice'.

Why attend?

Participatory Action Research (PAR) engages people in communities as agents of change. Traditionally, development 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 supporting development and social change.

This course equips development professionals with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to design, develop and conduct context-sensitive PAR. The course draws on a range of PAR processes and methods which enable change to happen at scale both in organisations and across communities. These are of particular importance to development practitioners and researchers today, as they can help ensure interventions are relevant, appropriate and inclusive. Whether you work in the global South or North, this approach will encourage a more people-centred way of developing, delivering and assessing your projects and programmes of work.

The diversity of course participants from a wide array of development organisations has supported rich experiential learning and has led to the emergence of a network of participatory action researchers who have continued to learn from each other.  We are excited to be running this course for the third year. (Danny Burns, IDS Fellow and course co-convenor)

Course aims

To equip development professionals and change agents with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to design, develop and conduct context-sensitive participatory action research (PAR).

Who should attend?

NGO practitioners, facilitators and change agents as well as donors developing evidence-based programmes. We also welcome researchers and postgraduate students wishing to orient their work within the PAR paradigm.

How will participants learn?

The course is interactive, inclusive, participatory and applied. Sessions blend theoretical and conceptual learning with experiential learning and sharing. Case studies are used to help deepen understanding.

Prior to the course, you will be asked to think of a critical question relating to your work or your organisation’s practice. Over the week you will explore this question, identify an appropriate PAR process to address it, and learn how to manage this process (including facilitation, recording, analysis, planning and monitoring). This will result in a detailed plan that you can operationalise on returning to your organisation.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you will:

  • Understand how the contribution of the PAR process can improve your own and your organisation’s practice
  • Know about a range of PAR methods, key concepts and theories, and understand their appropriate application within your own work
  • Understand the ethical, political and practical challenges of using PAR approaches
  • Understand how to effectively facilitate, record and reflect on PAR processes
  • Be able to identify further training and resources that you or your organisation may need
  • Have designed a PAR process to address a key issue relating to your organisational and/or independent professional practice

Teaching Team

Danny Burns - Danny leads the IDS Participation Cluster and his work focuses on participatory learning for social change with a strong emphasis on systems thinking and complexity.

Jo Howard - Jo is a Research Fellow with the Participation Cluster, and uses a range of participatory action research and learning processes to work with marginalised groups, civil society and governmental organisations across the UK social policy field and the international development arena.


'The course provided a supportive learning space, informed teaching and a rich diversity of participants all willing to share and listen – a wonderful opportunity to learn and reflect. Thank you'. (Donna Hurford, University of Southern Denmark)

'It was a wonderful learning experience, well-shaped and considered, offering moments to be challenged, to introspect and to plan. I leave with much to bring to my work and my colleagues'. (Patrick Higdon, World Connect)

'I really appreciate the training which gave me an opportunity to rethink how I could do my own work'. (Satoko Horiuchi, International Labour Organisation, Switzerland)

Entry requirements

The course will be taught in English. To derive the maximum benefit from the course, participants should be proficient in English and able to take an active part in discussions. Your English needs to be of an intermediate standard or higher; participants must have an International English Language Test System (IELTS) score of 6.5 or above, or a Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR) score of B2 or above. 

Participants should have at least three year’s practical experience in development-related work, as well as an active interest in participatory practice and an intention to use participatory methodologies.

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.

How to Apply

Before applying please read our terms and condtions (pdf).

The application procedure is a three-stage process:

  • Stage 1: Apply by completing the online application form. Deadline for applications is 5 November 2017.
  • Stage 2: You will be notified by 19 November as to whether your application has been approved or not. Successful applicants will receive a booking form and an invoice for the course fee. Places on the course are not guaranteed until fees have been received.
  • Stage 3: Once fees have been received, you will be sent confirmation of your place on the course and a letter to support your visa application (if required).

You are responsible for organising your own travel and visas (where needed). If travelling from overseas, you must arrive in the UK ready to begin the course at 9:00 on Monday 22 January, and depart no earlier than the evening of Friday 26 January. The course will run from 9:00 to 17:00 each day.

Information about local accommodation will be provided by the course coordinator once your fees have been processed. A limited number of study bedrooms at IDS are available for rent on a first come first served basis.

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

Image credit: Taylor Spicer (CCAFS) on Flickr

Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 9RE, UK.