Participatory Action Research for Positive Change

Madelon Eelderink

Madelon Eelderink is founder of 7Senses and has over 10 years of Participatory Action Research (PAR) experience in the field. For governmental as well as non-governmental organizations she performs Participatory Action Research in different settings and on different subjects, in the Netherlands and abroad. Madelon gives training and lectures in PAR methodology and other PAR-related subjects to a wide range of different audiences. Under her guidance, 7Senses has won the Netherlands Albert Schweizer Award 2015 (Vera van Rijn, Healthy Cooking Challenge) and the AUV Alumni Award 2017 (Alice Grasveld, Healthy Teeth Challenge) for the societal impact made through PAR in the slums of Kampala, Uganda and Cape Town, South Africa respectively. Madelon won the pitch contest in 2017, presenting her work with 7Senses. Currently, Madelon conducts a Ph.D. at the University of Utrecht on Participatory Action Research methodology in social-ecological systems. For this Ph.D., she uses case studies from her fieldwork. She is nominated for the Utrecht University Fund 2019 Agnites Vrolik Award 2019, an award given to talented scientists whose research contributes to solving urgent and important societal issues.

Published work:

  • Eelderink, M., and J. Verster (2010). Development of a Community-specific Health Promotion Plan to Improve Children’s Health in Rural Guatemala. International Journal on Disability and Human Development 9 (1): 35–46.
  • Eelderink, M., Vervoort, J., Snel, D., & de Castro, F. (2017). Harnessing the plurality of actor frames in social-ecological systems: ecological sanitation in Bolivia. Development in Practice, 27(3), 275–287.
  • Goebel, K., Camargo-Borges, C., & Eelderink, M. (2019). Exploring participatory action research as a driver for sustainable tourism. International Journal of Tourism Research.
  • Eelderink, M. Handboek Participatief Actieonderzoek. Samen bouwen aan een betere wereld. 1e druk. SWP Uitgeverij, Amsterdam.
  • Eelderink, M., J. M. Vervoort and F. Van Laerhoven. 2020. Using participatory action research to operationalize critical systems thinking in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 25 (1):16. [online] URL

Currently, Madelon is writing an article about her action research ‘Vollenhove in the Picture’ in Zeist, the Netherlands. Updates of 7Senses’ work can be followed on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.


“The first experience I got with Participatory Action Research (PAR) was in a small village in the mountains of Guatemala, during my research internship for the VU University Amsterdam in 2008. Surprised by what impact PAR can create in communities, I knew for sure I wanted to do more with this. Gaining more experience myself in Bolivia and Cameroon and guiding over 100 PAR researchers worldwide, I decided it was time to start my own organization – 7Senses – providing trainings to all organizations that aim to create sustainable impact worldwide.

Within 7Senses I developed a new programme called ‘the 7Senses Challenge’. Instead of merely training people I gave them the opportunity to actually execute and experience PAR in 12 weeks, under my personal guidance in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. PAR is an excellent research strategy to facilitate positive change in communities from the bottom up. Community members discover talents and opportunities to improve their livelihoods; they design and execute interventions themselves which enhances their empowerment and sustainable development.

The 7Senses Challenge became a success for local communities and became a popular concept among students and post-graduates. Take for instance the Healthy Cooking Challenge. A team of three researchers (two from The Netherlands, one from Kampala) performed PAR on health issues due to indoor cooking. Besides gaining more insight on these issues, the research resulted in a huge transformation especially after the researchers had left! People living in the slums started building cooking shelters allowing for outdoor cooking. And they even started adding things to these shelters, such as solutions to collect and purify (rain) water. People in the slums started to take their future in their own hands as a result of this Challenge!

Happily surprised by all the enthusiasm for the Challenge programme, I started to look for ways to scale things. Being the only one guiding researchers in the field I myself turned out to be the limiting factor within the concept. Therefore I established the 7Senses Academy. Through the 7Senses Academy, I train professionals in guiding a 7Senses Challenge on a subject and in a country of their own choice. And besides that, the Academy still services people who merely want to learn about PAR. This way – with the 7Senses Academy – I am able to create much more impact worldwide than I would when training and guiding action researchers just by myself.

Apart from the Challenges and the Academy, I continue to perform trainings, workshops and speeches to companies, universities, NGO’s and Private Initiatives about Participatory Action Research. With all these activities I hope to contribute to accelerating empowerment and positive change worldwide.”

Currently, Madelon also gives more and more trainings in the Netherlands on Participatory Action Research and she and her team continue to conduct PAR on a wide diversity of societal issues. Since Corona, Madelon and her team conduct PAR online with municipalities, with promising results! See for example the project Wij-Werken Week Limburg.