Legal Empowerment Learning Lab

learning lab group on mountain
LE Lab participants attending a weeklong learning exchange in Zimbabwe

In October 2020 we launched the Legal Empowerment Learning Lab (Lab), a groundbreaking workshop dedicated to advancing research and learning on legal empowerment with a focus on participatory methods. Fundamentally built on an ethic of care,the Lab opens up democratic forms of inquiry to explore what works, what matters, and what's needed to achieve transformative justice from the grassroots. The Lab is co-constructed by grassroots practitioners and academics from across the globe who bring deep experience and expertise in community-driven justice. From working in Syrian refugee camps in Iraq, to informal settlements in Argentina, rural villages in Zimbabwe and beyond, participants have come together to learn the nuts and bolts of participatory action research. Together we are engaging in collective inquiry, action, and reflection to address some of the most urgent issues of our time—from climate change to the immigrant and refugee crisis, mass incarceration, and attacks on women and LGBTQI communities.

At heart of the Lab is the recognition that radical shifts in how we care for one another as a society are only possible if we enact our commitment to justice in the most intimate of encounters. This ethic of care structures how we - academic, activists, lawyers, and practitioners - create space and how we build knowledge as a learning community. Sessions cover topics spanning Introduction to Participatory Action Research, and Community-Led Research Design, Participatory Data Collection, Accountability + Ethics, and more. Through the sessions participants are developing their own action-research plans and building a community of practice anchored in legal empowerment and participatory learning.

In the name of legal empowerment and as a commitment to an ethic of care, the Lab is committed to offering our work to the larger community, including:

AnchorHand and Heart Workbook

The cover image of the Legal Empowerment Learning Lab Hand and Heart Workbook

This workbook we offer to you has been collectively constructed by everyone participating in the Lab. It is an invitation that both introduces a wide lens on participatory action research and legal empowerment but also invites deep, intimate personal reflection. We invite you to use this with your collaborators, your community, or for your own personal process. Please share your thoughts with us ( as it is a living, breathing, evolving document we hope you too can shape with us. 

Hand and Heart Workbook (PDF: 1.3 MB)

Participatory Action Research

The Lab is a learning workshop for grassroots legal empowerment practitioners and academics on participatory research methods. The Lab is a dynamic and interactive community of people who care for another across borders and timezones. The Lab’s gatherings include a mix of conceptual sessions, fundamental skill modules, case studies, intimate accompaniment, warm encounters for community and witnessing, and small working group sessions.

Session Spotlight

Ethics in Participatory Action Research cover image

Ethics in Participatory Action Research

Ethical questions are core to—and woven through—the Participatory Action Research process. This session seeks to allow us to appreciate, analyze, criticize and correct how power plays out in our moral principles and commitments during research so that we can review how we work with research participants during Participatory Action Research.

Ethics in PAR (PDF: 5.99 MB)



Icebreakers and community-building activities are essential to creating relationships with one another, especially in the virtual space. For Participatory Action Research to be possible within communities, collective effort must be made to convey a sense of belonging to everyone who participates. That’s what these seemingly simple exercises offer: a radical insistence on the worthiness of everyone in the beloved community. The Lab uses different activities to learn about one another, our struggles, our passions, and the paths we walk.

The Legal Empowerment Learning Lab began in Lenapehoking (New York City), on the traditional land of the Lenape people. The work of the Lab has existed primarily in the virtual space, through online connections that require computer devices, servers, and physical infrastructure. Within the United States, this infrastructure exists on stolen land under the extractive practices of settler colonialism.

As an organization whose members live throughout the world, we recognize and experience the ways that the virtual infrastructure can perpetuate these colonialist practices. We commit to dismantling all ongoing settler-colonial practices and their material implications on our digital worlds

To learn whose land you are on, visit Native Land.