Community Empowerment Methodology

The primary source of inspiration for the visual research on this blog are empowerment visions of women and men in communities in Africa and Asia who have participated in Participatory Action Learning System (PALS) processes facilitated by Linda Mayoux and/or colleagues and organisations she has worked with. See examples in the videos in the right-hand menu. Many more can be found on my professional blog:

What is 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.

PALS in different forms has been used to promote gender 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.

For more details see information on the GAMEchangenetwork blog :


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

Diagram infographics

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.

For more information see: PALS diagrams on GAMEchangenetwork blog

Facilitation techniques

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

For more information see PALS facilitation on GAMEchangenetwork blog 

Action Learning for empowerment

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

For more information see: Empowering Enquiry on

PALS processes

However, 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. The generic PALS methodology as:

Gender Action Learning for Sustainability at Scale (GALSatScale)

A gender-focused methodology that explicitly aimed to gender justice and transformation. This was initially developed with Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union and champions in Mwana Mulho in Rwenzoris in Uganda under  Oxfam Novib’s Women’s Empowerment Mainstreaming and Networking (WEMAN) programme.  It has since been used as part of many initiatives

Livelihood and Value Chain Development

PALS was used from 2002 for livelihood development in Uganda and India. In 2004 the tools were used in Ethiopia and Kenya as part of work with ILO on gender mainstreaming in value chain development. It was then further developed as part of Oxfam Novib/IFAD’s Gender and Value Chain Development Programme (GENVAD in Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda) and TWIN-UK Great Lakes Project (Uganda, DRC and Malawi) and with Nestle in Cote d’Ivoire. It is currently being developed as part of SNV Ethiopia‘s Gender and Youth Empowerment in Horticulture Markets.

Happy Family Happy Coffee (HFHC)

From 2013 the GALSatScale, livelihood and leadership tools were developed as part of gender mainstreaming in the coffee sector with Hivos and Ecom Trading in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Indonesia. In 2015 this led to development of a curriculum for integrating GALSatScale Tools into the Good Agricultural Practices technical training of private sector companies. Linked to gender advocacy in the sector.

Financial Action Learning System (FALS)

PALS was used since 2001 with microfinance programmes, particularly as part of gender training with Aga Khan Foundation in Pakistan. More recently with IFAD and Oikicredit in Philippines it is being developed as a specific methothology for Financial Service Providers to combine financial education for clients, participatory market research on product and service innovation and Social Performance Management.