Under the shade of a large tree, a group of people sit on benches in a circle. Oni Abimbola / Shutterstock

Specialist short course

Using ParticipatOry Action Research to Improve Development Practice

Develop your knowledge and skills to bring participatory action research into your social change work.

Please note, we are also running a Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation for Learning course, which is for project and programme staff, and academics whose focus is evaluation. The Using Participatory Action Research to Improve Development Practice course looks at participatory research more broadly – its principles, design and facilitation – and does not go in depth into evaluation.

Participatory action research (PAR) is a way of engaging and working with people who are living in poverty or experience other forms of marginalisation, as agents of change.

Interest in PAR has surged recently in the international development sector, as it challenges the power dynamic inherent in traditional research approaches. This is why it is key that professionals and practitioners in the sector engage with the latest thinking and address any skills gap within their organisations.

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.

The people who are affected by issues are rarely have rarely been included in researching them, finding solutions, designing indicators or assessing change. This approach has been problematic, as it not only disempowers communities, but ignores the first-hand knowledge the possess about barriers to change, and potential solutions.

PAR provides a way of changing this, offering an inclusive community-led approach to development. This can empower communities and ensure that the suggested solutions are realistic, and able to be managed by local actors once infrastructure has been set up.

It is also an effective way of building participatory learning into the processes of organisations that are trying to support development and social change. This is critical for organisations who want to provide the resources and knowledge to put community members in control.

A facilitated process of participatory evidence gathering, and collective analysis can lead to actions in different arenas: actions at the grassroots which support mutual aid and collective action; actions at the organisational level which inform NGO programme change and enable evidence-based contributions to policy development.

Through a range of programmes and over many years, IDS has been developing processes and methods to enable this to happen at scale both in organisations and across communities. This is why we are in the strongest position to be able to offer the most up to date theory and best practice on PAR in this short course.

‘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.’

Course aims

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

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 will explore this question and, with the support of the facilitators, identify a PAR process appropriate for addressing your question, and learn how to develop and manage this process, and reflect on the ethical challenges.

You’ll learn about a range of methods, and develop your ideas into a detailed plan that you will be able to operationalize on returning to your organisation. This will enable you to bring fresh perspectives back to your workplace on how to address this question.

The course comprises a series of interactive sessions, blending some theoretical and conceptual learning with practical sessions which enable experiential learning and sharing. These interactive sessions allow participants to knowledge share with other international development professionals, which provides space for the generation of new ideas and solutions.

As an additional benefit, course directors will provide a post-course webinar to assist participants in embedding their learning within their organisation.

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 and in the UK context. These are likely to draw on: dialogic cooperative inquiry to build inclusion and accountability in Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Uganda and India; participatory video processes and PAR in India and Kenya; systemic action research to address slavery and bonded labour in India, and to address marginalisation in the UK.

Session 3: You’ll present and discuss your own question in small groups. This will be followed by training and practical sessions for designing your own action research process, with the support of peers and facilitators.

Session 4: Further practical 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 a research or organisational learning process
  • have considered the ethical, political and practical challenges
  • have clarity about further training and resources needed within your team or organisation
  • understand how PAR processes can improve your own and your organisational practice, taking back new practical knowledge and participatory methods to innovate in your organisation.

Who should attend?

This course is ideal for NGO practitioners, facilitators, and persons involved in processes of social change as well as donors developing evidence-based programmes. It is also valuable to researchers and postgraduate students wishing to orient their work within the PAR paradigm.

Why study this course with IDS ?

  • Our course facilitators for Participatory Action Research edited a landmark and highly acclaimed handbook on participatory research and are regionally renown for their work on particpatory methods. They are therefore best-placed to provide the latest thinking from the forefront of Participatory Action Research.
  • The course is interactive and will allow time for peer knowledge sharing and ideas generation in discussion groups comprised of professionals and practitioners in international development.
  • Learn with the number 1 ranking institute in the world for development studies – ensuring the highest quality of teaching, as well as impact and range of international development research.
  • IDS’ partnerships ensure our research has real-world impact. This means that our courses are designed to be applied and implemented in practical settings. This guarantees that you will acquire solutions to your organisation’s challenges that can be implemented practically.

Building accessibility

This is an in-person short course, so please visit our contact page for information on how to get to IDS. Please also check the building accessibility information if required.

Contact us

Key information

From 13 May 2024 until 17 May 2024
Institute of Development Studies Library Road Brighton BN1 9RE UK

Apply now

Secure your place in this course

Complete the online application form

Key contacts

Course facilitators

Joanna Howard

Research Fellow and Cluster Leader

Danny Burns

Professorial Research Fellow

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