Using Participatory Research Tools to Understand Women's Experience of Climate Change in Favelas

Caption: A view of Paraisópolis, the largest favela in São Paulo, and neighborhoods in its proximity. Photo: Design em Contextos Sociais at Insper
Caption: A view of Paraisópolis, the largest favela in São Paulo, and neighborhoods in its proximity. Photo: Design em Contextos Sociais at Insper

Our framework and its tools seek to give clarity on what climate justice means to women in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo’s favelas through a workshop to train local members of the community to use research tools and build up a wealth of data on this topic by focusing on situated knowledge as opposed to academic knowledge.

Student team

  • Kathleen Julca, MIT ‘25
  • Lola Olaore, Harvard Graduate School of Education ‘23
  • Tiff Wong, Wellesley College ‘23
  • Lulu Zibenberg, Wellesley College ‘24

Community partners


  • Favelas in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    • Favela da Maré (Rio de Janeiro)
    • Heliópolis (São Paulo)
    • Paraisópolis (São Paulo)

Project description

Academic and public policy debates in Brazil are often dominated by individuals with a socioeconomic, gender, and racial advantage. This can lead to biases in the collection of data on important issues, like climate change, which lead to biased conclusions that influence the creation of public policies and humanitarian interventions. This shuts out the ideas, narratives, and influence of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds out of the isolated conversations of academia. Our work with Insper’s Núcleo de Mulheres e Territórios [Women and Territories Center], a center within the Laboratório Arq.Futuro de Cidades [City Lab], aims to bring the knowledge of the community into academic literature.

There is an absence of situated knowledge included in academic literature on the effects of climate change and how it impacts peoples’ daily lives. Women and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, specifically those living in favelas, are especially excluded from having input and influence on this body of knowledge, which is influential in conclusions drawn by policymakers and scientists. The pilot program for this project will focus on climate justice through the female and youth perspective, and will begin in Favela da Maré (Rio de Janeiro), Heliópolis (São Paulo), and Paraisópolis (São Paulo). Its implementation will echo the primary objectives of the Núcleo, as described in its mission statement:

The Center’s main objective is to understand the demography and insertion of women in their territories, to publicize the work already carried out by women who were pioneers in urban spaces (especially in favelas and low-income communities), to promote the discussion of public policies aimed at demands of these women, and to pluralize applied research with different points of view, especially those of women and their territories.

Our framework (based on the principles of lean research, public narrative, and participatory design) seeks to empower women in favelas to recount their daily experiences of climate change, and what justice for these experiences would mean to them. They will do this by being both the researchers in charge of collecting data, as well as the source of data themselves.

The overall goal of the project can be broken into two parts:

In the local context we will train local women community leaders (which D-Lab and  Arq.Futuro’s Núcleo de Mulheres e Territórios [Women and Territories Center] have established relationships with) on the research framework’s process and objectives in order to collect data on the daily experiences of climate changes and perceptions of climate justice. After, the data collectors will be deployed to interview other community members. In the future, the interviews and narratives will be analyzed in order to identify key themes that could inform academic literature and public policy, and issues that could benefit from new interventions that are informed by situated knowledge.

On a larger scale, we hope that this framework can serve as a blueprint for similar participatory research interventions, through the female lens, that can be adapted to other issues and communities.

MIT D-Lab Class

D-Lab: Gender and Development


Juliana Mitkiewicz, Project Mentor

Libby McDonald, MIT D-Lab Lecturer, MIT D-Lab Inclusive Economies Lead