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Danny Burns

Research Fellow

Danny Burns is a professorial Research Fellow. He led the Participation, Inclusion and Social Change Cluster from 2010 – 2019. 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.
  • Peace Building in Mali funded by Humanity United. Danny is co-directing this ten year commitment to a bottom-up community based approach to peacebuilding which draws on some of the participatory methods used in the more local peace building work developed in Kachin in Myanmar and the large scale participatory processes developed in our current slavery and bonded labour programme in India and Nepal. We are also exploring with them how to layer complexity based monitoring, evaluation and learning processes into the programme.

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

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:

Google Scholar



Participate: Participatory Monitoring and Accountability

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.


Market Based Solutions for the Extreme Poor

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?


Modern Slavery in India and Nepal

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.




The Modern Slavery Trap: Bonded Labour

IDS Modern Slavery Briefing;

International enterprises, sex work, organised crime groups, and exploitative recruitment agencies have dominated the discussion on modern slavery in recent years. However, while this work is important, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

15 May 2018

Journal Article

Deepening and Scaling Participatory Research

European Journal of Operational Research 268.3

This paper assesses three research projects focusing respectively on disability, peace building and slavery in a variety of international development contexts. It discusses the evolution of methodologies which enable meaningful and extensive participation in the research process by people living...

31 July 2017

Danny Burns’s recent work