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 2020/21.

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 practice engagement in London and abroad.

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 and, most recently, Brazil. 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:

  • Citizenship in Indigenous Australia - Can Equality be Reconciled with Difference? A Policy Critique of the Income Management Regime in the Northern Territory (2014-15)
  • Relational Ageing and International Policy Networks for the Rights of Older People: A Network Perspective on Older Age and the Sustainable Development Goals (2014-15)
  • The Citizen Income, Gender Justice and Care Work: a Transformative Strategy (2013-14)
  • Does a Revolution of Rights Require a Revolution of Space? Graffiti and the Right to the City in Cairo, Egypt (2013-14)
  • Redevelopment and the Importance of Preserving the Community: Interpreting the Dharavi Project (2012-13)
  • Implementation of Inclusive Citizenship for Chinese Rural to Urban Migrants (2011-2012)

Your options for study on the MSc Social Development Practice.

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

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)

DEVP0031 Gender in Policy and Planning is an 18-session module over two terms examining gender relations in the socio-economic, political and environmental processes in the development of human settlements.

DEVP0032 Transport Equity and Urban Mobility focuses on the relationships between social identity, transport and planning in the context of urban development in the Global South. It critiques and explores the implications for transport planning and its interaction with other kinds of planning, and the relationships between the state, civil society and private sector in the provision of transport for more socially just cities.

DEVP0018 Managing the City Economy enables participants to develop a critical understanding of the key components and operating dynamics of the city economy, and the factors that underlie urban productivity.

DEVP0038 Urbanisation and Development addresses the prospect for development in a context of international trade and investment, with the role of the state and effects of policies as key underlying factors.

DEVP0039 Cost Benefit Analysis: Theory and Practice covers the economic assessment of projects and policies using cost-benefit analysis techniques, furthermore the evaluation of trends and developments and other issues relevant to urban economic policies will be explored.

DEVP0040 An Introduction to Public Economics and Public Policy deals with identifying the most common market failures, the drivers of government failures and the interactions between economics and politics as constraints on the design of public policies.

DEVP0003 Participatory Processes: Building for Development is concerned with highlighting how the collective power of many small changes can be harnessed to effect realistic and creative urban transformations.

DEVP0005 Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities provides a detailed examination and structured understanding of Disaster Studies and Disaster Risk Reduction, with specific reference to urban areas.

DEVP0001 Post Disaster Recovery: Policies, Practices and Alternatives provides a detailed and critical examination of post-disaster recovery practices and policies, with a particular focus on its institutional arrangements and socio-spatial implications.

DEVP0006 Critical Urbanism Studio I - Learning from Informality: Case Studies and Alternatives Cities everywhere are being created without any architects or planners involved. An often quoted statistic is how almost 1 billion people live in informal settlements.

DEVP0007 Critical Urbanism Studio II - Investigative Design Strategies for Contested Spaces builds on the Critical Urbanism Studio of BENVGBU8 approach for students who want to gain more experience in investigative urban analysis and development of design strategies.

DEVP0008 Housing as urbanism: housing policy and the search for scale reflects on the evolution of ideas and practices in the field of housing policies, in their direct connection with the wider context of development theories and strategies.

DEVP0009 Housing policies: practical dimensions and alternative options focuses on how interventions in housing can build on a complexity of sectoral inputs to produce multiple pro-poor development outcomes. Participants are exposed to a range of approaches to housing and settlement upgrading policy and practice.

DEVP0011 Neo-Structuralism and the Developmental Stateconsiders  differing conceptions of the state as a primary agent in social and economic development processes by examining case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

DEVP0023 Adapting Cities to Climate Change in the Global South aims to provide participants with an understanding of the ways in which climate change will affect urban areas in low- and middle-income countries.

DEVP0024 Sustainable Infrastructure and Services in Developmentexamines  the different ways in which urbanisation is unfolding across the global South, with specific attention to the creation of infrastructures and the delivery of essential services. It explores the underlying causes of urban fragmentation, social exclusion and unsustainability. 

DEVP0025 Urban Water and Sanitation, Planning and Politicsfocuses on the challenges of and opportunities for the adequate provision of urban water supply and sanitation. It examines innovative 'policy-driven' and 'needs-driven' approaches to the provision of the services, for and with the urban and peri-urban poor. 

DEVP0026 Food and the City looks at urban food security with long-term sustainability and resilience in face of crisis and extreme weather.

DEVP0027 Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture: Knowledge Systems in the Global South provides a critical examination of the historical evolution and the negative impact of industrial agriculture and its consequences for small holder urban and peri-urban food production and knowledge systems in the Global South.

DEVP0028 The City and Its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development Planning explores the economic, social and physical change of cities in the wider context of development and globalisation.


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

Nicola Dillon

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


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.

More information

development social global south cities urbanism urbanisation