Dr. Wilson's research in sustainable community development focuses on individual and social transformation through community 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 and awareness-based systems change. She directs an ongoing action research project on sustainable community development in Mexico. Dr. Wilson's current teaching includes a graduate seminar, The Art of Community Engagement, along with a freshman signature class entitled 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 early research and consulting focused on integrated regional development, export-led development, decentralization, democratization and participation. A past-president of the Sociedad Interamericana de Planificacion, the professional society of Latin American planners, Dr. Wilson has worked in  Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.  She currently oversees a community-based action research program and studio in Monterrey, Mexico.

Dr. Wilson has published seven books and numerous articles on planning, local economic development, and community-engagement.  Her most recent book, The Heart of Community Engagement:  Practitioner Stories from Across the Globe (NY: Routledge) won the 2020 Hamilton Book Award Grand Prize for Best Textbook.  (For reviews and exam copies click here.)


  • 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