The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


MSc Social Development Practice

This course provides the practical skills and theoretical foundations needed to address social development in the Global South - contexts often marked by inequality and social diversity

View our 'Study at the DPU' page for information, guidance and resources for prospective applicants and offer-holders studying at the DPU in 2021/22.

Programme highlights

  • A 12-month programme that includes lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials, an overseas practice engagement and group-based project work
  • The opportunity to learn through intensive practice experience on a participatory action research project in a city in the Global South
  • A focus on ‘people-centred’ approaches to international development, as increasingly reflected in the policy priorities of major development organisations

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Programme overview

The MSc in Social Development Practice explores processes of social change, mobilisation and development that can generate greater equity and wellbeing for people in developing contexts. It explores different approaches through which diverse and marginalised groups gain access to rights, resources and recognition.

The course has two main objectives:

  • to give students a solid grounding in social analysis skills and perspectives, rooted in social theory around identity, inequality and social change processes
  • to provide an understanding of the role of the social development practitioner, and of how development interventions can best support the citizenship claims of people in the Global South

Learning is cemented by practice engagement in contexts reflective of real-life practice, characterised by diversity, inequality and conditions of uncertainty.


Your options for study on the MSc Social Development Practice.

Structure Overview

This intensive, 12-month (full-time) or 24-month (part-time) programme consists of

Three core modules (90 credits) that are compulsory for all students;
A choice of one or two optional modules (making up a total of 30 credits); and
A dissertation report (60 credits), where students can explore their own research interests.

Teaching and Learning Approach

The course is delivered through a range of lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials in which students are expected to be actively involved in activities such as online exchanges, discussions, debates, and presentations. There is a strong focus on learning through practice, as one of our core modules is deeply embedded in an overseas practice engagement.

Through the practice engagement, student groups are expected to engage proactively, reflexively, and with a great deal of independence in intensive and often challenging processes of action research, in collaboration with communities and social development practitioners. In addition to acquiring specific thematic knowledge, students therefore develop transferable skills essential to a career in social development practice.

Core and Optional Modules

The core course modules provide the theoretical and methodological components of the course. They introduce participants to the theoretical debates that underpin social development policy and practice generally, and poverty reduction specifically. The optional modules allow students to examine different problems and approaches in accordance with their own particular interests.

The bulk of teaching takes place in the first and second terms, allowing students to focus on preparing for and undertaking the practice engagement in the third term. Please see the Content section for a detailed breakdown of the modules.

Practice engagement

Overseas practice engagement

The practice module initially provides students with exposure to different case studies, interrogating methodological elements associated to the practice of social development. The module includes an overseas practice engagement project that takes place in the third term. The practice engagement is a key, integrating, practice exercise that helps draw the various elements of the course together and demonstrates their utility and application to a real-life situation.

As an integral component of the Social Development in Practice module, the practice engagement is compulsory for all participants.

Past engagements have taken place in Tanzania, Kenya, Brazil and, most recently, Indonesia.  Find out more on our overseas practice engagement page.


In addition to the assessed components of the course outlined above, all students also attend two key workshops in the first term of study.

Development Workshop. At the start of the first term, this three-session workshop is aimed at introducing you to the current debates and issues surrounding the international development and planning. It is designed to give all participants an initial introduction to the current state of thinking about, and action on, the key subjects that concern us at the DPU. This includes discussion and debate about the character, causes and consequences of ‘development’ – economic, social, cultural and environmental – and how ‘planning’ interventions at global, national and local levels in urban and rural areas contribute to it. The character of the Workshop is interactive, with students participating directly in discussing, formulating and presenting individual and collective responses to presentations, readings and arguments provided by members of DPU staff.

Development Planning in Practice: Windsor Workshop. A three-day, partly residential workshop held in London and at Cumberland Lodge, located in the beautiful surroundings of Windsor Great Park. Through an innovative simulation of a development context in Dar es Salaam, the workshop explores the motivations and interests of national and local government, civil society, slum dwellers, international aid agencies, financial institutions and private enterprises; and the ways in which negotiations between these different stakeholders can determine the creation of space for collaborative approaches to city development. The cost of transport, accommodation and meals will be met by the DPU.

Dissertation Report

In addition to the taught and practice components, students will complete a Dissertation Report (60 credits) on a topic selected by themselves but which is related to the courses studied and approved by their supervisor. Examples of SDP Dissertation Reports from the last four years include:

  • Local indigenous knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction in Australia - A Political Ecology analysis using inclusive citizenship principles from Naila Kabeer (2019-20)
  • Inclusive Innovation for Inclusive Education: The Case of Educational Provision for Children with Special Needs in Indonesia (2019-20)
  • Who chooses what, when? International development financing and spaces for participation (2019-20)
  • Citizenship in the Context of Stop and Search: An Analysis Using Foucault and Agamben (2018-19)
  • The Role of Citizens in Newcomer Integration: Evidence from Germany (2018-19)
  • Hegemonic masculinity and youth: Evaluating the relevance of a deeper consideration of masculinities in public policies (2018-19)
  • Health Justice, Settler colonialism and Policy: Analysing the intercultural health programme developed in Chile (2018-19)
  • Meritocracy as Inequality: A Critical Examination of Singapore's Education Policy (2017-18)
  • Social production of habitat: towards an urban citizenship? The case of Mashimoni - Nairobi (2017-18)
  • Disability, Power and Poverty: a relational approach to understanding disability-inclusive urban development (2016-17)
  • Urban Mobility as an Integral Part of Citizenship: Examining Transport Inequality in Jakarta (2016-17)
  • Participation and the promotion of inclusive cities in Chile: a strong tool to strengthen the citizen role. (2016-17)

Core modules

DEVP0033 Social Policy and Citizenship

In the first term of this module, we introduce a framework to analyse the social content of development policy, and use this framework to evaluate the social, or socially sensitive, development policy models that have predominated in the different periods since the establishment of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods organisations in 1945.

In Term 2, we go on to explore how these policy arrangements are embedded in, and contribute to, wider citizenship arrangements. In particular we examine the roles of different actors from the public sector, the private sector and civil society and how their interactions can contribute to more active and inclusive models of citizenship in the context of an increasingly globalised society.

DEVP0034 Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty

Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty explores social development beyond the confines of the ‘social sector,’ seeing it as an approach that attempts to put 'people' and social equity at the centre of development initiatives across all sectors. Yet ‘people’ comprise heterogeneous groups and individuals with multiple, intersecting and changing identities.

DEVP0035 Social Development in Practice

Social Development in Practice is a practice-based module at the heart of the MSc programme. In this module we are concerned with exploring through practice the ways in which a socially sensitive approach can be integrated into development interventions in both northern and southern countries.

DEVP0042 Health, Social Justice and the City

Health, Social Justice and the City introduces key approaches, ideas and methodologies for the study of urban health with an emphasis on the Global South emerging scholarship.

Optional modules offered by SDP

DEVP0036 NGOs and Social Transformation 

NGOs and Social Transformation focuses on the practice and politics of development NGOs. It explores how different NGOs address issues of identity and diversity and the extent to which they are able to represent and be accountable to their constituency.

DEVP0037 Communication, Technologies and Social Power

Communication, Technologies and Social Power aims to engage critically with a series of communication practices (such as participatory photography and video, theatre for development, and social media) that are used to support groups in processes of recognition and mobilization in the context of urban contestations.

Optional modules offered by other Masters in the DPU (please note that enrolment onto each module is subject to places being available)

You may choose from the list of existing optional modules currently on offer from across the DPU and UCL, subject to scheduling, availability and the programme leader's approval. Suggested optional modules include:

  • DEVP0005 Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities
  • DEVP0008 Housing as urbanism: housing policy and the search for scale
  • DEVP0012 Society and Market: Private Agency for Development
  • DEVP0015 Critical Ideas of Development: Conceptions and Realities
  • DEVP0025 Urban Water and Sanitation, Planning and Politics
  • DEVP0026 Food and the City
  • DEVP0027 Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture: Knowledge Systems in the Global South
  • DEVP0028 The City and its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development Planning
  • DEVP0029 Urban Development Policy, Planning & Management: Strategic Action in Theory & Practice
  • DEVP0036 NGOs and Social Transformation
  • DEVP0037 Communication, Technologies and Social Power
  • DEVP0042/DEVP0047 Health Social Justice and The City (Part I &II)
  • DEVP0045/DEVP0046 Urban Health & Development Strategies (Part I &II)
  • DEVP0050 Gender Policy and Planning

For a full description of all DPU modules, please visit the postgraduate modules page


The MSc SDP is taught by DPU staff and associate teaching fellows held in high esteem by their peers internationally and renowned for their contribution to academic thinking and development practice.

Follow the links below to learn more about the teaching staff and associates.


Programme Leaders

Dr Andrea Rigon
View Andrea Rigon's profile

Julian Walker
View Julian Walker's profile

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Rawya Khodor
Send Rawya Khodor an email

Staff currently teaching on the programme

Étienne von Bertrab
View Étienne von Bertrab's profile

Dr Afia Afenah

Dr. Susannah Fisher
View Susannah Fisher's profile

Dr. Ignacia Ossul
View Ignacia Ossul's profile

Dr. Jordana Ramalho
View Jordana Ramalho's profile

Careers and employability

For more information view our DPU Careers page

The course attracts participants from a wide variety of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, international studies, history, communication studies, geography and psychology.

The course focuses on linking an analysis of social development theory with the application of practical development methodologies. The emphasis on UK based and overseas practice engagement gives student a level of practical experience which is not offered by comparable social development Master’s courses.
This puts participants in a good position to pursue careers in international development, by applying acquired skills on the ground to support relationships between community groups and development actors.

Graduates of the course have moved into a range of professions, including work in:
•    international NGOs, in both specialised social NGOs (for example NGOs concerned with gender equality, youth, or disability) and social roles in mainstream development NGOs
•    bilateral development agencies as social development specialists
•    national government in positions related to social policy
•    private sector companies engaged in social appraisal, social research and consultancy

The course has also provided many graduates with the basis to continue into PhD research.

Who should apply

This programme is suitable for graduates and practitioners from diverse disciplinary, cultural and geographical backgrounds, who are interested in exploring action-oriented approaches and tools for socially inclusive, participatory, just, and sustainable development outcomes in urban contexts. The outlook of the programme places emphasis on issues related to social diversity, citizenship, collective mobilisation strategies as well as on a range of (in)formal planning practices that can contribute towards more equitable city-making.

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