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

Danny Burns - Participation Research Cluster Leader

Participation, Inclusion and Social Change
T: +44 (0)1273 915612

Mariah Cannon

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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.
  • 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:

In an attempt to make better use of what is available, IDS is leading on a pilot programme which examines sets of participatory and systemic data with a view to increase understanding of how data is collected, analysed and shared in development programming.

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In this consultancy, Danny Burns has been commissioned by the British Council to ensure high quality in the Participatory Action Research processes being applied by PROKAS and to ensure that academia is able to feed into and learn from the PROKAS approach for bringing about policy change.

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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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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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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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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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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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This is the cover to the Modern Slavery Briefing.

The Modern Slavery Trap: Bonded Labour

IDS Modern Slavery Briefing (2018)

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. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Patterns and dynamics of bonded labour, child labour and child marriage in the Nepali Eastern Terai: Findings from life story analysis

This is a report of the analysis of multiple life stories collected across the Freedom Fund slavery and bonded labour hotspot in the Eastern Terai of Nepal. Life stories were analysed by NGO fieldwork staff and community representatives at the Collective Story Analysis workshop held 5-9th March 2017. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Deepening and Scaling Participatory Research

European Journal of Operational Research (2017)
IDS publications on international development research

Participatory statistics to measure prevalence in bonded labour hotspots in Nepal: Report on findings of the baseline study

Forced labour of adults and children in the agricultural sector in Nepal is a well-documented problem. This report details a baseline study of bonded labour in three districts in South East Nepal with documented evidence of adults and children working through a system of agricultural bonded labour known as Harwa-Charwa. More details

Participatory Statistics to Measure Prevalence in Bonded Labour Hotspots in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar: Report of Preliminary Findings of the Baseline Study

The Institute of Development Studies has been carrying out a programme of research, learning and evaluation in relation to the Freedom Fund ‘hotspot’ in northern India, a project that seeks to reduce bonded labour in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. More details

Tough Shit: What's the link between diarrhoea and bonded labour?

02 Dec 2016
By Danny Burns, Pauline Oosterhoff, Rituu B. Nanda

Seeing the world through a different lens

14 Aug 2014
By Danny Burns

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

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