Empowerment Methodology

The empowerment methodologies used are adaptations of the generic Participatory Action Learning System (PALS) methodology.

PALS is a community-led empowerment methodology that aims to give women, youth as well as men of all ages and from all backgrounds more control over their lives and catalyse and support a sustainable movement for social justice.

The PALS empowerment methodology uses participant-led facilitation and listening techniques and adapts pictorial diagram tools and to different purposes and for people from different backgrounds.

Distinctive Features

  • Community-led and multi-stakeholder: bringing together those without and those with power around a common agenda – as far as possible. The process of consensus-building also builds empathy, respect and confidence to address potentially more sensitive conflicts of interest further down the road.
  • Action Learning from day 1: All tools and sessions, right from the start, identify change goals and actions that participants themselves can take towards those goals without waiting for external assistance.
  • Everyone can be a leader of change in their own lives and the lives of those around them.
  • Gender and diversity empowerment strategies are mainstreamed as essential components of the effectiveness and sustainability of  any development intervention. Human rights are contextualised from a community-led perspective, but ultimately non-negotiable. Human rights include women’s human rights under the 1979 Convention on Elimination of ALL forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and child and minority rights under different UN Conventions.


The key task of PALS facilitation is to inspire an excitement and enthusiasm for change. As an exciting process of self-empowerment and exploration, a process of breaking barriers that prevent men as well as women of different ages and from different backgrounds from achieving their full human potential. All PALS workshops and meetings aim to help people:

  • vision how their lives, families and communities could be in a more gender equitable world
  • identify achievable steps to change that they can implement immediately and also over the longer term
  • develop partipatory, listening and leadership skills
  • build confidence and creativity in visual communication, songs and theatre
  • form new friendship networks within which women and men treat each other as equal human beings.
  • develop facilitation skills to become champions of change in their households and communities

In PALS common human rights and concepts of social justice are progressively internalised as ‘natural’ through fun processes: drawing, songs and theatre. This then transforms perceptions of men as well as women, and inspires them to share what they have learned with others. As the basis for a sustainable movement for social change, in which equal human rights of all people including those currently most disadvantaged: women, young, old, poor, people with no formal education, ethnic minorities are an integral and no longer questioned element.

For details see Facilitation Process

Visual Communication

A key part of empowerment and inspiring change is development of visual communication skills through drawing and diagramming. Drawing on ideas from information graphics, concept mapping and graphic design, PALS adapts four basic diagram types for use at all stages and all levels, adapted and sequenced in specific ways, depending on the nature of the issue and process and the needs of participants:

Drawing is not just ‘pretty pictures for illiterates’, but a way of clarifying and communicating very complex concepts. Drawing is:

  • liberating activity: freeing thought from long wordy definitions and clarifying underlying assumptions and differences in understanding of complex concepts like empowerment, gender, wealth creation and leadership. Scientific research has shown that drawing uses a different part of the brain from normal linear thought, and promotes intelligence, creativity and even seems to counter some of the effects of dementia.
  • fun collective activity – bringing people from very different backgrounds together to explore ideas and clarify concepts, identify differences and reach some sort of consensus. The outputs can be extremely attractive murals and meaningful decoration in meeting places and workshops as a form of collective memory or training aid.
  • an effective tool for learning, remembering and inspiring action. For that reason mind mapping and sketch-noting are an important part of modern higher education.
  • a good way of promoting mutual understanding and respect between people with different levels of education – people who cannot read and write are often better at drawing concepts than those with higher levels of education. Drawing also reduces the need for translation in multilingual contexts.
  • a very powerful communication of ideas and images for gender change – it is very difficult for donors and policy makers to dismiss graphic pictures of dreams and also constraints like violence drawn by women and men in poor communities as ‘feminist imperialism’.

The aim is not pretty pictures but sophisticated analysis of complex issues and identification of realisable change strategies. Participants create their own pictorial manuals and notes – not only reducing costs, but also making
it more likely they will remember and implement what they have learned.
Using drawings means that people who cannot read and write, as well as embattled CEOs of global companies and government officials, are able to put their experience and ideas on paper and communicate clearly to each other.

Action Learning System

In PALS Monitoring and Evaluation is one part of a bigger Participatory Action Learning System. PALS brings together different stakeholders in an empowering learning process, rather than simply checking boxes for donors. It combines:

  • Individual tracking of empowerment process/progress towards visions and action commitments in notebook diaries at each level: communities, private sector, organisation staff.
  • Participatory quantitative monitoring and aggregation by groups and associations for collective planning.
  • Participatory review by the stakeholders to decide what to do with the information
  • Qualitative and multimedia methods by stakeholders, NGOs and/or external agencies for deepening understanding of processes


PALS (and other adaptations like GALS and FALS) has been adapted to different cultural and organisational contexts – including communities where no organisation exists, cooperatives of varying sizes, private commercial companies and NGOs and donor agencies.

Each PALS process is unique. Both the implementation process and the specific versions of the diagram tools used are designed with women and men community ‘champions’, an experienced PALS practitioner and a core of implementing staff/local leaders. The local adaptation is then scaled up through a combination on community-level peer training, organisational capacity-building and inter-organisational replication and further adaptation.

Implementation is generally conceived in the following three phases at community and organisational levels:

  • Phase 1: Catalyst Phase 0-3 months: introducing and upscaling the core visioning, action planning and networking tools at community and organisational levels. Preliminary upscaling and sustainability plans are agreed at community and organisational levels. Participants at the different levels track their action commitments, share change experiences and strategies in groups and upscale in their own communities.
  • Phase 2: Advanced Tools and Leadership Strengthening: deepening analysis on these same tools adapted to the needs of specific types on intervention. These then continue to be upscaled by the champions at different levels, and changes tracked on the diagrams. The organisation aggregates the information from the groups, setting up a participatory information system and starts to respond to and support the collective needs identified.
  • Phase 3: Annual Review and Sustainability Plan: A participatory review assesses the achievements and challenges. Then on the basis of experience establishes participatory protocols on gender and social justice and an upscaling, integration/mainstreaming and sustainability plan.


The ultimate aim is to provide a way of mainstreaming community, gender and generational empowerment as a sustainable longer term business investment in supply chain expansion and strengthening. Sustainability is planned and monitored from the beginning, with short-term targets and activities as well as the longer term vision.

Sustainability is built into the tools and facilitation process:

  • based on self-interest – people are motivated by their own wish to achieve their own goals and sharing with others for their own learning and progress
  • accessible tools that can be used independently
  • everyone is a leader to ‘go viral’: part of this self-interest is increasing their social status as wise leaders within their own networks. And personal satisfaction of being a ‘good human being’.
  • no free lunch or training kit costs – as far as possible participants are encouraged to use available technology like mobile phones for sharing information
  • upscaling beyond original communities is done after one year by a rotating pool of certified community trainers selected from the most effective volunteer trainers. Selection is based on the changes they themselves have enacted in their own lives and families (proven commitment to CEDAW and youth and minority rights is a must), the quality of their voluntary sharing and numbers of people reached.

Integration of the methodology across the organisation and other development interventions.

Multi-stakeholder change movement: Although the prime focus of the methodology is to empower women and men to vision, plan and achieve their goals through individual and community-level actions, this process seeks to link stakeholders in private sector companies, government and other agencies to make the process both sustainable and enable significant gains in wealth creation, development and social justice. Through developing mutual understanding, communication and listening skills of powerful stakeholders. How this is done depends on the purpose and also context, but includes:

  • Training local government and other stakeholders by the champions
  • Identification of local funding from private sector, local government and community-based organisations for continued upscaling to new communities and organisations and other gender, livelihood or leadership activities to further deepen the local process.
  • Advocacy research and media linkages through local research institutes and media to document and promote the process on an ongoing basis.


Although there are common ethical principles, generic diagrams and participatory facilitation and listening techniques, each PALS process is unique and adapted over time to different purposes, contexts and types of development action. The methodology can be used on its own or integrated into existing activities and programmes. Once the tools are learned and networks built, the methodology forms a solid participatory basis for enabling more inclusive, effective and cost-efficient democratic policy development and gender advocacy.

There are an ever-expanding range of adaptations of generic PALS methodology, often with names to reflect the particular purpose of the process and/or local terminology. The most prominent to date have been:

For future development

Further adaptations explored and envisaged for further development include:

  • literacy and numeracy integration
  • environmental management
  • nutrition and food security
  • health and reproductive rights
  • leadership, governance and civil society development
  • counselling and conflict resolution.