Participatory Social Action

Spring 2022 TBC

Applying participatory methods and systems thinking

In migrant solidarity, climate justice and the work of creating alternatives to the current oppressive and growth hungry system; we are faced with increasingly complex and interconnected problems that require a systemic view and most crucially the participation of all involved to increase our understanding of the plural realities involved. Participation is not only central to create inclusive movements, but also to achieve innovative, adaptive and pertinent solutions coming from minority communities as well as the mainstream. This training is hosted as part of the Ulex South Project

Participation is sometimes experienced as an added extra to enhance a programme or project, or a burden that slows down development, however, it is not participation itself that should be questioned but the approaches, methods, skills and moments in which it is used that we need to consider and get better at. This course aims to share theories, approaches and methodologies to integrate systemic and participatory processes into all stages of our work from research and analysis of the problem to project design and undertaking actions or campaigns capable of adapting to changes in an inclusive quick and efficient manner. One central line of work we will base our week on is Participatory Action Research. A body of work that encapsulates, learning in and about action in iterative and participatory ways designed by participants themselves.

Everyone in a complex system has a slightly different interpretation. The more interpretations we gather, the easier it becomes to gain a sense of the whole. (Meg Wheatley)

We will present those approaches and methodologies that today are innovating and proposing new ways of doing. We will analyze the structural models, theories of change that have been developed by participatory and systems thinking lenses. We will apply these theories, methodologies and tools in our fields of work, our projects and campaigns, to practice, test and reflect on the practice of participatory and systemic change.


We will explore three main approaches and methodologies:

  • Participatory Action Research, Dialogical Practice, Theatre of the Oppressed, The Art of Invitation and many other creative and collaborative processes to ensure ways in which our communities, groups and partners are at the heart of the analysis and the development of plans and actions. Participation, play and conversation will be at the centre of the exploration throughout our week. We will model a variety of participatory and co-created ways to explore questions key to this area such as “Whose Reality Counts?” We will look at the different ways of participating, learn and practice skills to facilitate participatory spaces, what a culture of collaboration entails and use participatory action research as a frame for engagement with groups.
  • Together we will look at methods to use a systems lens to reflect on, analyse and make better strategic decisions. This holistic approach helps us to think of relations, map and identify connections and interdependencies of different elements within the context and people we work with. Some of the methodologies that support systems thinking are: Human scale needs, the iceberg of systems thinking, actors mapping, systems thinking mapping and modeling, outcome mapping, Collective impact, causal loop diagrams, prototyping and 4D mapping.
  • The old paradigm of activism and social development views society from the perspective of problems, needs, and lacks. And still it is from these perspectives that we define our actions, activities, campaigns. The problem solving mentality sort to speak. What if we also look at what is working, the strengths and the areas to celebrate? Appreciative inquiry offers another view also present in that same reality, the capacities, opportunities and strengths of that particular group or situation. From this perspective we plan and develop actions based on those potentialities as well. Tools such as positive deviance, Open Space Technology, world cafe, SOAR, visioning, the oasis game, would be explored throughout the week.


Key elements:

  1. To incorporate a systemic view on the realities and problems in which we intervene.
  2. Learning and practicing participatory, appreciative and systemic processes and methodologies.
  3. Applying tools to specific projects and situations to reflect on them and learn from our own experience in context.
  4. Using concrete examples of Participatory Action Research from within La Bolina as a case study to better understand how this takes place in other projects.


This training is hosted as part of the Ulex South Project


  • Chambers, R (1997) Whose reality counts. Putting the first last. Warwickshire, ITDG.
  • Pretty.J (1995). Participatory Learning for sustainable agriculture. World             Development, Vol. 23, No 8. pp 1247-1263.
  • Cleaver (1999). Paradoxes of participation: questioning participatory approaches in development. Journal of International Development. J. Int. Dev. 11, 597-612
  • Cooke, B. & Kothari, U. (2001). Participation: The New Tyranny? Zed Books. London.
  • McNamee, S. (2014). Research as relational practice: Exploring modes of inquiry. In G. Simon & A. Chard (Eds.), Systemic inquiry: Innovations in reflexive practice research (pp. 74–94). London: Everything is Connected Press.
  • Chambers, R Participatory workshops: A sourcebook of 21 Set of ideas and activities.
  • Ways of Seeing Encounters Book 1: Ways of Seeing Encounters 2003 – 2020  (Encounters Arts, UK)
  • Systems mapping and modelling:
  • Asset Based Community Development.
  • Positive deviance:
  • Warriors without weapons:
Suggested Contribution
In the solidarity economy: €400/€600/€1100
(see the details of our approach to Solidarity Economics for details)

The Team

Our Name

Ulex: Latin (argelaga Catalan, gorse English) noun:

1. A thorny-evergreen flowering shrub, with a high capacity for regeneration and resilience. Its seedpods open in contact with fire and it reshoots from charred stumps. A successionary plant that grows well under challenging conditions. It improves soil fertility through nitrogen fixing, preparing the way for renewed biodiversity.

2. A traditional choice for igniting fires. Burns hot and bright.

3. A networked project adding nutrition and fertility to European social movements through training and capacity building. It kindles the realisation of social justice, ecological intelligence, and cognitive vitality.