Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) innovations

We are constantly innovating and exploring new ideas. New PLA tools to support communities to successfully solve the range of problems facing women, children and young people.  New ways to ensure the PLA tools can support the most communities possible. New places where the PLA tools can be successfully implemented.


PLA for…

As highlighted by multiple international policies and frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals, millions of people globally, especially the poorest, still suffer from unacceptable health inequalities and their voices must be heard as we look for solutions.

The PLA group methodology is one tool that can bring people together, effectively activating communities to take collective action to address health problems with locally designed solutions. We know the PLA group methodology works. We know it is low cost. We know it is sustainable. 

Validation of PLA comes from rigorously collected evidence showing incredible impact on maternal and newborn survival. Communities have also harnessed the power of the approach to solve many other global health challenges, including improving family planning and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

We have designed new versions of PLA to support communities to address a wider array of health and wellbeing issues they think are important including prevention of accidental injuries, improvements in early child development, and helping adolescents reach their potential.

A child skips in Padun Latwong Village, Uganda

A child skips in Padun Latwong Village, Uganda

A women's health group meets in Kutambala village, Malawi (Photo: Corrie Wingate)

A women's health group meets in Kutambala village, Malawi (Photo: Corrie Wingate)

Health visit in a last mile community in Bangladesh (Photo: Sam Strickland)

Health visit in a last mile community in Bangladesh (Photo: Sam Strickland)

PLA through…

If scaled up to rural areas in all 74 countries with the highest rates of maternal and newborn mortality, PLA could save as many as 283,000 newborn and 36,000 maternal lives per year.

Successful scale-up of PLA currently relies to a large extent on the public sector – particularly systems of community volunteers and health workers who can support groups. Even though cost-effective, it would require functional community health worker systems, sophisticated management platforms and multi-million dollar budgets.

To reach more communities and save more lives, we have designed new ways to achieve scale-up when these are not present:

- Radio: PLA has been adapted for delivery through interactive community radio shows which guide listening groups to take collective action to address health problems with locally designed solutions.
- Markets: promoters and distribution agents selling subsidised health commodities already work hard to reach clients in the last mile. PLA has been adapted for delivery by these promoters and agents, benefiting the communities while building an interested and informed client base for the health commodities that are on sale. 

PLA in…

PLA has a World Health Organisation global recommendation promoting its implementation, particularly in rural settings with low access to services, where current evidence is strongest. 

However, recent experiences suggest there may also be potential for the approach in humanitarian settings, specifically Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. Findings from our project in Myanmar indicate that PLA groups work well in these camps. Communities felt that the PLA groups increased their knowledge of risk factors in pregnancy and after birth and built their capacity to address these health problems and advocate for better services. We are actively developing a new version of PLA that can maximise success in similar humanitarian settings.

Nhkwang pa Dabang IDP, Myanmar

Nhkwang pa Dabang IDP, Myanmar


Next steps

By the end of 2021, Women and Children First aims to save the lives of 10,000 women, children and young people and enable 1,000,000 more to live the lives they choose.

To achieve these ambitious goals we are strategically expanding our portfolio - growing our toolbox of effective PLA tools, designing alternative mechanisms to reach larger scale and adapting PLA to new settings. We are continuously exploring funding opportunities and pursuing multiple and diverse income streams to support these initiatives.

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