Episode 8

Published on:

27th Jun 2023

More on Systemic Action Research with Dr. Danny Burns and Dr. Marina Apgar

In this episode, our team follows up with Dr. Danny Burns and Dr. Marina Apgar who first joined us in Episode 4 to discuss systemic action research. Danny Burns is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) a think tank affiliated with the University of Sussex in England. He has directed more than 25 action research projects and programmes. His work focuses on participatory learning for social change with a strong emphasis on systems thinking and complexity. Marina Apgar is Research Fellow in the Participation, Inclusion and Social Change cluster at IDS. She is a human ecologist with 20 years experience working in the research-practice divide with marginalized communities in international development supporting learning and change in complex systems.

[02:38] Marina reminds listeners about their large-scale system-changing project called Child Labour: Action-Research-Innovation in South and South-Eastern Asia [CLARISSA]. Started in 2016, CLARISSA has a team of more than 150 members. In this episode, [06:13] Joe asks our guests to update on developments and any changes in light of shifts in pandemic policies. Danny and Marina describe in further depth the first phase of their work with children in the worst forms of child labor. They share experience of the team working with stakeholders in the adult entertainment sector in Nepal and leather supply chain in Bangladesh (such as the employers of the children, business owners, parents and guardians). For Marina and Danny, action research can be an implementation modality that can help co-researchers respond to complex problems such as these. Our guests describe some of the ways the project went about understanding issues based on the lived experience of the children—starting with an extensive life story collection and analysis project. Through this process “the children actually themselves do a causal analysis of their experience, building a systemic picture of the issue of child labor. And then they decide what the intervention points are in the system.” [09:44] Danny describes children’s involvement in mapping the streets and identifying where the businesses were, through a process called A Day in the Life. This work provided an important “evidential base” because it allowed them to challenge a lot of assumptions which proved to be critical to the starting point of 13 action research groups. In fact, [17:45] this process evidenced “ how children actually reflecting on an issue from their own experience can create a different narrative.” [20:19] Reflecting on procedural knowledge, Marina discusses how the work in this first phase is also providing evidence for other important and central questions in this program: How is trust built? How does participation work, and how can it be sustained? [25:57] Danny offers some thoughts on safeguarding and relevance, and [29:29] Marina reflects on the evolution of expected outputs in the process of this research. [32:37] Danny picks up on these points and talks about policy work, in the context of generalizable vs transferable knowledge. [35:17] Marina is thankful that “even in the evaluation community, we're moving much more to transferability as being a core criteria. And action research, like a lot of qualitative and case-based kind of methods, is really well placed to do that.” Towards the end of the podcast, [37:19] Danny and Marina reflect on the need for a participatory management to go with any large-scale participatory process.

After some discussion among the podcast team, we were curious to follow up on some of the ethics approval process and finer details in some of the methods used in the Clarissa project. We look forward to continuing our discussion with Danny and Marina, and we encourage you to keep an eye on further resources we hope to add below.

**If you have your own questions about Action Research or want to share any feedback, contact us at ActionResearchPod@gmail.com.


Apgar, J. M., Allen, W., Albert, J., Douthwaite, B., Paz Ybarnegaray, R., & Lunda, J. (2017). Getting beneath the surface in program planning, monitoring and evaluation: Learning from use of participatory action research and theory of change in the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems. Action Research, 15(1), 15–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476750316673879

Zimowski, P. F., Perry, D., Bales, D. K., Davis, D. T., Mattar, D. M. Y., Burrows, H., Moore, H., Ochen, V., Christopher, E., Jewell, S., Smiragina-Ingelström, P., Cockayne, D. J., Setter, C., Ariyo, D., Kumar, V., Otiende, S., Trodd, D. Z., McQuade, D. A., Greer, B. T., … Liwanga, R.-C. (2021). Child Labour Special Edition: JOURNAL OF MODERN SLAVERY A multidisciplinary exploration of human trafficking solutions. Publisher: SlaveFree Today. 6(4), 152.

Other links




Show artwork for The Action Research Podcast

About the Podcast

The Action Research Podcast
Somehow, the first podcast dedicated solely to Action Research.
In the first podcast dedicated solely to Action Research, Adam and Joe do a deep dive into the lives, experiences, philosophies, and - of course - investigations of the most well respected action researchers in the field. Hear about their greatest successes and failures, and learn about what makes Action Research unique. If you are passionate about social change, engage in research, or are a budding scholar then this is the perfect podcast for you.

Intended mostly for those interested in research and social change, The Action Research Podcast aims to offer unique and valuable insights for the field through accessible and engaging conversations about the “what” “why” and “how” of Action Research.

The Action Research Team:
Adam Stieglitz, Co-host
Joe Levitan, Co-host
Shikha Diwakar, Production Manager
Vanessa Gold, Sound technician and voice-over specialist

About your host

Profile picture for Adam Stieglitz & Joe Levitan

Adam Stieglitz & Joe Levitan

Adam is the Co-Founder and Director of the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development. He holds a PhD from the University of Louisville

Joe is the Co-founder and Director of the Pallata Community Education Center and an Assistant Professor at McGill University