Trickster on NPR

Eileen Kane was featured on NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge. Click here for the full programme.

Click here to listen to the Eileen Kane segment.

You are here


This list of readings is not intended to be comprehensive; it contains works for those who would like to find out more about the practical applications of participatory research. Many of the readings, particularly the early ones, relate to international development issues, including poverty, health, education, environment, equity, conflict, good governance, and others, because some of the earliest formative participatory research came from authors and practitioners working on Third World issues.


Some online resources

NOTE: In the early days, "PRA" stood for "participatory rural appraisal" but many now use it for "participatory research and action", as I do.

It's useful to do your own searches on PRA and a specific topic that interests you, such as "PRA + child labor" or "environment." But also try "PLA"-participatory learning and action-if you want to go beyond some of the earlier work that concentrates more on rural studies.  Here are some other resources:

The Resource Centre for Participatory Learning and Action (RSCPLA) network: an alliance of various organizations from around the world, many in developing countries, that helps researchers and practitioners to share information and experience about Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approaches.

IDS (Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex: general site for all aspects of participation:

Specific links to networks, organizations, and manuals: IDS (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex): - orgs

Robert Chambers's website: Chambers, probably most influential figure in the various forms of participatory research, presents online readings, links to other sources, etc.  A good place to start. a global, online space for sharing ideas about the participation of people in development, citizenship, governance and rights for researchers, practitioners, activists, educators, policy makers and others:

Participatory Learning and Action (formerly PLA Notes). This is an invaluable journal resource, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. The first 50 issues of PLA Notes (1988-2004) can be accessed free at the following site:, Of particular interest is Issue 50,  "Critical Reflections, Future Directions."

Goshen College: An action research resource with links to useful materials for both students and practitioners:

PARTALK-L: a participatory action research network. To join, send an email to, and send the message: SUBSCRIBE PARTALK-L Your Name.

World Bank Participation Sourcebook. If you want to see how participatory approaches have been applied occasionally in a large organization's work, look at

Online QDA is a set of training support materials that help with common problems of using Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) methods and various Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) packages. It is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its Research Methods Programme. (Click on "List of Resources", and you will also get a number of useful web addresses for "Action Research".)

There are many more useful sites. Some focus specifically on one approach, such as action research, participatory learning and action, appreciative inquiry, or transformative research, among others.  As we move through the workshop and you see some of the differences among these, you can identify networks and sites that best suit your purposes.


Background Readings

Cernea, Michael, ed., 1991. Putting People First. New York: Oxford University Press. (Contains a variety of articles, of which Kottak's [below] is of particular interest. Argues for people-centered approaches to international development, which were not as common at the time.)

Chambers, Robert. 1983. Putting the Last First. London: Longmans. (The persuasive charismatic book that first brought participatory approaches to world attention; still the one most often cited.)

_____1994a. "The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal." World Development, Vol. 22, No. 7: 953-969.

_____1994b. "Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA): Analysis and Experience. " World Development, Vol. 22, No. 9: 1253-1268.

_____1994c.  "Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA): Challenges, Potential and Paradigm." World Development, Vol. 22, No. 10: 1437-1454.

_____1997. Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

_____1998. "Foreword" in Holland, Jeremy and James Blackburn, eds. Whose Voice? Participatory Research and Policy Change. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

_____ 2004. Nicole Kenton and Holly Ashley. "Critical Reflections, Future Directions." In Participatory Learning and Action, Vol. 50. London: International Institute for Environment and Development.

______2008. Revolutions in Development Inquiry. London: Earthscan and the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Coghlan, David and Teresa Brannick. 2010. Doing Action Research in your Own Organization. 3rd. ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.  This is the situation that may be most accessible to many beginners: studying issues that affect fellow students or colleagues where you work or study.

Cooke, Bill, and Julie Wolfram Cox, eds. Fundamentals of Action Research. 2005. London: Sage.  (A four-volume reference work. Topics include the foundations, classics, development of action research, action research and the workplace, action research and social change, emergent varieties of action research, action research in the 21st century and the limits of action research. Suitable for institutions; individuals might have to choose between this and a small car, since it costs hundreds in hardcover.)

Cooke, Bill and Uma Kothari, eds.  2001. Participation: the New Tyranny. London: Zed Books. (Many of the articles in the book are shaped by the argument that in some cases,  "participation" has taken a "theological" turn, with sanctimonious practitioners using it more for their own therapeutic ends rather than for its practical benefits for those in need. Some, such as Cooke's "The Social Psychological Limits of Participation" are very useful; a few others are written in unparticipatory post-modernist  "discourse".

Gardner, Katy and David Lewis. 2004. Anthropology, Development and the Post-Modern Challenge. London: Pluto Press. An excellent book on anthropology, development and participatory approaches.

Gatenby, Bev, and Humphries, Maria. Jan/Feb 2000. Feminist participatory action research: Methodological and ethical issues. Women's Studies International Forum: Oxford.

Guijt, Irene and Meera Kaul Shah (eds). 1998. The Myth of Community: Gender Issues in Participatory Development. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Greenwood, Davydd J.and Morten Levin. 1998. Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage. (This covers a variety of approaches and applications.)

Jackson, Edward T. and Yusuf Kassam, Eds. 1998. Knowledge Shared: Participatory Evaluation in Development Cooperation. West Hartford, CT.,: The Kumarian Press.

Kane, Eileen and Mary O'Reilly deBrun.  2000. Doing your Own Research. 2nd. ed. London: Boyars. (Chapter 2 looks at various approaches to the philosophy of knowledge.  Chapter 14 shows how to do participatory research and use it to create action.)

Kottak, Conrad Phillip. 1991. "When People Don't Come First: Some Sociological Lessons from Completed Projects." In Michael Cernea, ed., Putting People First. New York: Oxford University Press. (Kottak shows, with evidence from World Bank projects, that projects that don't incorporate local perspectives cost more and are more likely to fail.)

Macguire P. Doing Participatory Research: a Feminist Approach. Center for Continuing Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1987.

McNiff, Jean and Jack Whitehead. 2006. All You Need to Know About Action Research. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.  Also their 2009 follow-up, Doing and Writing Action Research (Sage).

The National Women's Council of Ireland. July 2001. The NWCI Millennium Project: Women Mapping the New Millennium. Dublin: The National Women's Council of Ireland. (Available in various reports on the Internet, some of which contain the results of extensive participatory research with women's groups in Ireland. See the reports on Violence Against Women; Education: Knowledge is Power, Women and Poverty, Women and Health, Women and Work, Women and Local Development).

Reason, Peter, and Hilary Bradbury, Eds. 2007. Handbook of Action Research: Concise Paperback Edition: Student Edition (Comprehensive in its analytical discussion, but possibly a challenge for the novice. Part III, the "Exemplars" section, presents some actual projects.)

Salmen, Lawrence F. 1987. Listen to the People: Participant Observer Evaluation of Development Projects. New York: Oxford University Press. (One of the earliest books on international development that argued that perspectives of local people count.)

_____and Eileen Kane. 2006. Bridging Diversity: Participatory Learning for Responsive Development.  Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. (Outlines the various participatory approaches currently in use in Chapter 2; Chapter 3 shows how participatory approaches can be used to change policy; Chapter 4 shows some "divisive dichotomies" in philosophical, scientific and western thinking that prevent us from getting the best information and action. )


Examples of Methods

There are many "toolkits" adapted to various issues, and some are available online. For example, see the IDS (Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex site at - orgs.


Here are some other examples:

ActionAid. 1996. Reflect [Mother] Manual. London: ActionAid.  (This is an interesting unconventional use of participatory research techniques, not, as is usually the case, to get information in order to create action, but rather to use the techniques to teach literacy to adults. Local people form 'literacy circles' and use the techniques to produce their own learning materials, analyzing their village and their circumstances, and in the process, build literacy and numeracy.  Also interesting for the illustrations, which show some standard techniques in very clear graphics. )

Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation. (This is a UK charitable foundation that has produced two toolkits of particular interest: Planning for Real, which helps communities and groups in western societies to address issues, and Planning for Real for Development, which does the same for communities in Third World societies. The kits have been widely used, and provide both materials and guidance about the processes for using them.  The foundation also runs courses.  See for more information.)

Narayan, Deepa and Lyra Srinivasan. 1994. Participatory Development Toolkit.  Washington, D.C.: the World Bank. (Despite the general title, a toolkit that is largely oriented toward water and environment issues, but is an example of a kind of toolkit you could prepare for your own work.)

Pretty, Jules N., Irene Guijt, John Thompson and Ian Scoones. 1995. Participatory Learning and Action:  A Trainer's Guide. London: International Institute for Environment and Development. (This has been prepared by some of the most experienced practitioners.)


Qualitative and Quantitative Methods: Integration/Analysis

Bamberger, Michael. ed. 2000, Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Research in Development Projects. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.  (Bamberger, a very experienced "people-oriented" development practitioner, probably aims this at recalcitrant economists, so argues, perhaps more than necessary for social scientists, that this is possible.)

Barry, Christine, 1998. "Choosing Qualitative Data Analysis Software: Atlas/ti and Nudist Compared." Sociological Review Online, vol.3, no. 3.

Coffey, A. and Atkinson, P. 1996. Making Sense of Qualitative Data: Complementary Research Strategies. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.


Philosophy and Theory:

Guba, Egon 1990. The Paradigm Dialog. Newbury Park, CA.: Sage. (A good review of philosophical approaches to knowledge; advocates a "constructivist" approach, which is rather elusive and cumbersome to carry out.)

Patton, Michael Quinn. 1990. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods. 2nd ed. Newbury Park, CA.: Sage. (Part I contains an excellent and mercifully brief account of the various theoretical and philosophical approaches to knowledge and therefore, to research methods.)



Holland, Jeremy, with James Blackburn, Eds.  1998. Whose Voice? Participatory Research and Policy Change. London: Intermediate Technology Publications. (Contains various articles complaining about the fact that policymakers don't always listen to advocates of participatory approaches. See article by Kane, Bruce and O'Reilly-de Brun for some suggestions as to why this happens.)


McGee, Rosemary and Karen Brock. 2001. "From Poverty Assessment to Policy Change: Processes, Actors and Data." Working paper 133. Brighton, England: Institute of Development Studies.