The Heart of Community Engagement.
Practitioner Stories from Across the Globe.

1st Edition. Routledge (2019).

Drawing on first-hand accounts of action research in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, The Heart of Community Engagement illustrates the transformative learning journeys of exemplary catalysts for community-based change. Practitioners’ stories of community engagement for social justice in the global south elucidate the moments of insight and transformation that deepened their practice: how to deal with uncertainty, recognize their own blind spots, become aware of what is emergent and possible in the moment, and weave an inclusive bond of love, respect, and purpose. Each successive narrative adds a deeper level of understanding of the inner practice of community engagement. The stories illuminate the reflective, or inner, practice of the outside change agent, whether a planner, designer, participatory action researcher, or community development practitioner.
From a shanty town in South Africa, to a rural community in India, or an informal settlement in peri-urban Mexico, the stories focus attention on the greatest leverage point for change that we, as engaged practitioners, have: our own self-awareness. By the end of the book the practitioners are not only aware of their own conditioned beliefs and assumptions but have opened their minds and hearts to the complex and dynamic patterns of emergent change that is possible.
This book serves as a much-needed reader of practice stories to help instructors and students find the words, concepts, and examples to talk about their own subjective experience of community engagement practice. The book applies some of the leading-edge concepts from organizational development and leadership studies to the fields of planning, design, and community engagement practice. Key concepts include the deep dive of sensing the social field, seeing the whole, and presencing the emergent future. The book also provides a creative bridge between participatory action research and design thinking: user-based design, rapid prototyping, and learning from doing.

*For exam copies click here


Dr. Wilson's research in sustainable community development focuses on individual and social transformation through civic engagement and collaborative action. She uses the methods of appreciative inquiry, social narrative, and participatory action research, and draws upon the theories of communicative action, dialogue and deliberation, and holistic emergent systems. She directs an ongoing action research project on sustainable community development in Mexico. Dr. Wilson teaches participatory planning and international sustainable social development, along with a freshman signature class on participatory democracy. 


Dr. Wilson holds a B.A. in economics from Stanford and a Master's and Ph.D. in Planning from Cornell. She has worked in economic development planning at the local and Federal level, for the City of San Francisco and the Economic Development Administration in Washington, DC. She has also worked in grassroots community development in Hispanic neighborhoods in San Francisco and Austin, and was the principal investigator for a national study of subemployment and the urban underclass. At the University of Texas, she designed the economic development concentration in planning and developed the Joint Master's Program in Planning and Latin American Studies.

Dr. Wilson began her international development work in the mid-1970s in Latin America, where she taught regional economics at the Universidad Catolica in Lima, Peru, and regional development planning at the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria, also in Lima. Her research and consulting have focused on integrated regional development, export-led development, decentralization and municipal strengthening, and most recently democratization and participation. Besides Peru, she has worked in Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile. From 1990 to 1992 she served as president of the Sociedad Interamericana de Planificacion, the professional society of Latin American planners. She has published five books and numerous articles on planning and development, including Exports and Local Development: Mexico's New Maquiladoras (1992) and Development from Within: Facilitating Collective Reflection for Sustainable Development (2008).


  • B.A., Stanford, 1969 (Honors in Economics)
  • Master's in Regional Planning (MRP), Cornell, 1971
  • Ph.D., Urban and Regional Planning, Cornell, 1975



"Otto Scharmer and the Field of the Future: Integrating Science, Spirituality and Profound Social Change," in D. Szabla, W. Pasmore, M. Barnes, and A. Gipson, Eds., The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change Thinkers: Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan (Springer), pp. 1129-1146 (2017)

"The Inner Practice of Community Development: Embracing Deep Democracy in Mexico," in Kathryn Goldman Schuyler, Ed., Leadership for a Healthy Planet: Creative Social Change. Bingley, England: Emerald, pp. 211-229 (2016)

Manavodaya: Facilitating Collective Reflection for Sustainable Development in Rural India,” International Journal of Public Participation 4:1, pp. 104-116, (2009)

Deliberative Planning for Disaster Recovery: Re-membering New Orleans,” Journal of Public Deliberation 5:1, pp. 24, (2009)

"Deep Democracy: The Inner Practice of Civic Engagement," Fieldnotes 3, (2004)

"Building Deep Democracy: The Story of a Grassroots Learning Organization in South Africa," Planning Forum 9, pp. 47-64 (with Christina Lowery), (Spring 2003)

"El Empoderamiento: Desarrollo Economico Comunitario Desde Adentro Hacia Afuera" Ecuador Debate, Vol. 44, pp. 143-162, (1998)

"Building Social Capital: A Learning Agenda for the 21st Century," Urban Studies, 34:5-6, pp. 745-760, (1997)

"Empowerment: Community Economic Development from the Inside Out," Urban Studies, 33:4-5, pp. 617-630, (1996)

"Embracing Locality in Local Economic Development," Urban Studies, 32:4-5, pp. 645-658, (1995)


(with V. Vidyarthi) Development from Within: Facilitating Collective Reflection for Sustainable Change. Herndon, VA: Apex (2008)

Exports and Local Development: Mexico's New Maquiladoras. Austin: University of Texas Press (1992)


Varun Vidyarthi and Patricia A. Wilson, Development from Within: Facilitating Collective Reflection for Sustainable Change, in Planning Theory 9(4), pp. 379-83, (2010), reviewed by A.C. Rajan, University of Reading, UK

Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers, Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, in The Collaborative Edge (Spring-Summer 2005), reviewed by Patricia A. Wilson

photo of Patricia A. Wilson
  • Civic engagement and dialogue
  • participatory planning
  • international development
  • community development
  • sustainable social development
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • and Chile