Participatory Action Learning System (PALS)

PALS is a community-led empowerment methodology which aims to give women, youth as well as men more control over their lives and catalyse and support a sustainable movement for social justice. PALS mainstreams gender and diversity as essential components of the effectiveness and sustainability of  any development intervention.

For history of origins and evolution of PALS from 2001 to 2005 see:

Road to the Bottom of the Mountain but Reaching for the SUN: PALS adventures and challenges
Linda Mayoux 2005

PALS in different forms has been used to promote social justice by at least 100,000 women and men in rural and urban areas worldwide.

All PALS processes start with individual visions for ‘enlightened self-interest’ as the basis for building sustainable structures for mutual support and collective action. Women and men develop achievable targets for change and road maps to move towards their visions, based on analysis of their current situation, past achievements and strengths/opportunities and weaknesses/challenges.

A key focus for change is identifying and breaking through gender-based barriers at individual, household and community  levels which prevent both women and men from achieving their vision.

People also identify other people in their own families and support networks who they have a self-interest in sharing the social justice messages and PALS methodology with – either through love and a wish to help people who help them, or because without changing these people they cannot advance. The methodology thus scales up through a type of voluntary pyramid marketing as the basis for identification of the most effective community trainers to be certified and paid to train in new organisations and communities.

In parallel to the individual-level process there are also group and collective visioning and change planning and integration into organisational strategic planning, implementation and documentation.


PALS is not ‘one methodology’ or set of tools. It is a change philosophy based on underlying principles of social and gender justice, inclusion and mutual respect. In particular it promotes women’s human rights based on the United Nations Convention on Elimination of ALL Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Click here for more information on CEDAW


Diagrams and visual communication are increasingly important in a fast moving world. Drawing and diagramming are important skills for creativity and innovation at all levels. They are not only for children or people who cannot read and write. ‘Sketch-noting’ and mindmapping are now common tools in higher level education and creative brain-storming in boardrooms of global companies.

PALS develops ideas from information graphics, concept mapping and graphic design to facilitate clarity of concepts and analysis, innovation and equal communication between stakeholders from those without formal education to the most powerful.

PALS adapts four basic diagram types:

  • Road Journeys
  • Trees
  • Circles
  • Diamonds

These tools are adapted and sequenced in specific ways, depending on the nature of the issue and process.

A database of PALS Tools s currently under development.

Click here for more information on diagrams


PALS facilitation aims not only to teach diagram tools and skills, but to catalyse discussion, awareness and motivation ‘from within’ the participants themselves so that they own the change process and are able to facilitate themselves.

Key principles are:

  • start with visions and the positive
  • everyone can be a leader
  • action from Day 1
  • inclusion: everyone has a right to be listened to and respected
  • facilitation from the back
  • MAKE IT FUN!! or people will want to be paid to come back

Click here for more details on facilitation 

Action Learning

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

Click Here for PALS Action Learning resources on participatory, qualitative and quantitative methods.


Each PALS process is unique. The implementation process and specific versions of the diagram tools used are designed with women and men community ‘champions’, an experienced PALS facilitator and a core of implementing staff/local leaders. The local adaptation is then upscaled through a combination on community-level pyramid peer training, organisational integration in existing activities and inter-organisational exchange.

Implementation is currently conceived in the following three phases at community-level:

  • Phase 1: Catalyst Phase 0-6 months working with 20-60 champions to develop and adapt the simple catalyst tools and pyramid peer sharing structures.
  • Phase 2: Skills, leadership and governance strengthening after 3-6 months reviewing achievements (red ripe fruits) on the original diagrams, introducings more advanced versions of the basic diagram tools (eg livelihoods, health, reproductive rights) and for leadership and organisational governance. It starts to integrate the methodology and develop simple monitoring.
  • Phase 3: Annual Review and Sustainability Plan reviews aggregated information on gender justice and other achievements. It agrees a sustainability plan including certification of the best champions to be paid for upscaling in other regions, robust monitoring and documentation system, training of staff to mainstream the methodology and local and/or commercial funding for upscaling and policy advocacy.

Parallel to the community-level process, and led by it, are:

  • Organisational mainstreaming to support and document the process and integrate the outcomes into improvement in the services and interventions offered by the implementing agencies.
  • Multistakeholder change movement 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.

Click here for more information on PALS experiences in different organisations.