Professional development course

Using Participatory Action Research to Improve Development Practice

Course details

From 21 January 2019 until 25 January 2019
Institute of Development Studies

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Develop your knowledge and skills in a range of participatory action research (PAR) methods for social change.

Participatory Action Research is a way of engaging people living in poverty as agents of change. It is of particular importance to development practitioners and researchers today, as it can ensure their interventions are relevant, appropriate and inclusive. It is increasingly relevant for NGOs working in the global South or North, as they shift towards a more people-centred way of developing, delivering and assessing their projects and programmes of work.

Traditionally, 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 that are trying to support development and social change. This happens through a process of participatory evidence gathering and collective analysis. This in turn leads to actions which support mutual aid and collective action at the grassroots, inform NGO programme change and enable evidence based contributions to policy development. IDS has been developing processes and methods to enable this to happen at scale both in organisations and across communities.

Course aim

To equip you with the conceptual and practical tools to design and carry out PAR in your own organisations and with your partners. You’ll also gain a practical understanding of how to achieve rigour using participatory methods.

Who should attend?

This course is ideal for NGO practitioners, facilitators and change agents as well as donors developing evidence-based programmes. It is also open to researchers and postgraduate students wishing to orient their work within the PAR paradigm.

How you’ll learn

This course is interactive, inclusive, participatory and applied. Prior to the course, you’ll be asked to think of a critical question that you are dealing with in your work, or relating to your organisation’s practice. Over the week you and your facilitators will explore this question, identify a PAR process appropriate for addressing their question, and learn how to manage this process. You’ll learn about a range of methods, and develop their ideas into a detailed plan that they will be able to operationalize on returning to their organisation.

The course comprises a series of interactive sessions, blending some theoretical and conceptual learning with experiential learning and sharing.

Course directors will provide one post-course coaching session via Skype to assist participants in embedding their learning.

Session 1: Introduction to the theories and key approaches of PAR; analysis of the key concepts (in particular, participation, complexity, change); introduction to ethics and care in PAR. We will relate these concepts to your own practice.

Session 2: Discussions of case studies using action research in international development. This will include work on: disability in Bangladesh and Uganda; citizenship in Nicaragua and the UK; peace in Myanmar; slavery and bonded labour in India, and the role of volunteers in Philippines, Mozambique, Nepal and Kenya.

Session 3: You’ll present and discuss your own question in small groups. This will be followed by training in action research design. You’ll begin to design your own inquiry process with the support of peers and facilitators.

Session 4: Further training in managing the participatory research process including facilitation, recording, analysis, planning and monitoring.

Learning outcomes

After completing this course you will be able to:

  • understand how to use appropriate PAR methods within this process
  • have considered the ethical, political and practical challenges
  • have clarity about further training and resources needed
  • understand how the contribution of their PAR process can improve their own and their organisational practice.


Danny Burns is a professor at IDS and leads the IDS Participation, Inclusion and Social Change Cluster. His work focuses on participatory learning for social change with a strong emphasis on systems thinking and complexity. His work emphasises the  development of methods which allow participatory processes to be scaled while also reaching the poorest and most marginalised. Between 2002 and 2010 he was Professor of Social & Organisational Learning at the University of the West of England (UWE) where he co-directed the SOLAR action research centre. Over the past decade or so he has directed or co-directed more than twenty participatory research projects. His current work includes a major action research programme on slavery and bonded labour in India and Nepal, and an action research-based peace building programme in Mali. Danny has also worked extensively with amongst others SNV, VSO, Action Aid and the British Red Cross. He is author of Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change (2007). His recent book (with Stuart Worsley, 2015) Navigating Complexity in International Development: Facilitating Sustainable Change at Scale focuses on action research and participatory inquiry as large-scale change strategies.

Jo Howard is a Research Fellow based with the IDS Participation, Inclusion and Social Change Cluster, who also does work on cities, governance and popular politics. She has used a range of participatory action research and learning processes to work with marginalized groups, and with civil society and governmental organisations to strengthen how they work with these groups. Her work spans the UK social policy field and the international development arena, and over the last twenty years she has worked with civil society and governmental partners in the UK, Central America, Central & Eastern Europe and Africa. Her topics have ranged from women’s empowerment, through state-civil society partnership working, to participatory governance and participatory approaches to monitoring and evaluation. She currently directs a programme on participatory monitoring and accountability between citizens and duty-bearers in South Africa, Egypt and Ghana. She also works with the Swiss Development Agency on processes of action learning and reflective practice, and is conducting participatory inquiries on citizenship in Nicaragua and the UK.

Entry requirements

Prior to the course, you’ll be expected to provide a critical question that you are dealing with in your work, or relating to your organisation’s practice.  

The course is taught in English. To derive the maximum benefit from the course, you 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. Ideally you will 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.

Course Fees

Course fees are £1,500.

Fees include lunches and refreshments, two evening group dinners, and course materials. It does not include accommodation.

Once you have received confirmation that your application has been approved, the fee must be paid in full on receipt of invoice. 

Scholarships and bursaries

IDS Participatory Action Research Engagement Scholarship
One scholarship is available to an individual from a lower or middle-income country (see our country list) who is committed to sharing their participatory action research learning with other individuals and organisations that are trying to support development and social change. Selection will be based on the applicant’s ability to demonstrate their potential to achieve quality outreach and help build a sustainable network of participatory researchers.

Within 12 months of completing the course the successful applicant will be required to provide a short report to IDS on how they applied their learning and supported others to learn.

The scholarship application deadline is 8 October 2018.

IDS alumni bursary
We are pleased offer one bursary for IDS alumni. This single award, funded by IDS, is in the form of a 20 per cent course fee discount. It is subject to terms and conditions, and will be offered to one applicant on a first-come first-served basis. Please indicate on your application form that you wish to be considered for this bursary. 

How to apply

Before applying please read our short course Terms and Conditions (pdf) and Code_of_Conduct (pdf).

The application procedure is a three-stage process:

Stage 1: Apply by completing the online application form. Deadline for applications is 14 January 2019. The course code is PT17010.

Stage 2: You will be notified within one month as to whether your application has been approved or not. Successful applicants will receive the Stage 2 application 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). Please note that UK visa applications can take months to process. 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. 

Past participants said:

‘A very valuable coming together for reflection and learning to catalyse social change’

‘This is one of the most inspiring, mind-opening courses I have been in!’

‘The team demonstrated values that created an enabling environment for learning’

‘I particularly liked the human quality and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in which we discussed and exchanged views and ideas’.

Teaching staff

Image of Danny Burns
Danny Burns

Participation Research Cluster Leader

Image of Joanna Howard
Joanna Howard

Research Fellow


About this professional development course

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