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

Why choose MSc Social Development Practice?

We offer:

  • a 12-month programme that includes lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials, an international field trip and group-based field and project work
  • the opportunity to learn through intensive practical experience on participatory action research projects in London and abroad
  • a focus on ‘people-centred’ approaches to international development, as increasingly reflected in the policy priorities of major development organisations

About the course

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 fieldwork 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.

Core modules

DEVP0033 Social Policy and Citizenship

Social Policy and Citizenship looks at socially sensitive development, which has its roots in social sector and social welfare models that were developed during the last century.

However, the evolution of social development policies since the Second World War has seen a change in emphasis from narrower conceptions of social sector development, to a broader, socially sensitive development approach, which attempts to place social transformation at the centre of development interventions across all sectors.

Across the historical evolution of social policy, we see differences in terms of the scope and remit of ‘social’ policy vis-à-vis economic policy; the coverage in terms of women and men reached; the objectives, whether instrumental, concerned with human wellbeing, or focused on social rights; and the ways in which the policy process attempts to involve grassroots women and men, and their representatives, in the identification of policy goals.

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.

This implies conflicting interests and aspirations, as well as inequalities of power. As a result, putting people at the centre of development is highly problematic, and social development faces several challenges in achieving equitable and socially just development.

This module provides the conceptual tools to critically assess current development programmes from a social perspective. In Part One, we explore the theoretical debates that link diverse social identities and power relations, and the competing models of equity and justice that attempt to reconcile them.

We then examine the implications of these debates for Social Development as a ‘people-centred’ approach by considering how issues of diversity and power affect development interventions. With a focus on the urban context, we consider development practice and debates around concepts such as ‘participation’, ‘community’, ‘social capital’, and ‘local knowledge’ from a social diversity perspective.

Part Two of the module deals with different understandings, definitions and ways of measuring poverty – a key policy concern of the current development agenda. We explore the relationship between inequality and poverty as interrelated but distinctive concerns, and use conceptual tools relating to diversity and power to critically assess specific anti-poverty responses and approaches to local as well as global inequalities.

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.

Drawing on the material studied in the other core modules, we recognise that such an approach must be based on the key ethical values of respecting and valuing diversity and of ensuring social inclusion in development interventions.

The group fieldwork components of the MSc course – in London during the first term, and abroad during the third – are central to this module, which involves the following four major components:

A series of themed workshops to introduce key issues of development and governance that underpin the wider operational context of social development; A short off-campus immersion programme based around a problem-solving exercise intended to develop analytical, presentation, argumentation and negotiation skills and the ability to work in a team; A series of practical social development skills workshops intended to lay the foundation for and enhance professional practice, including the formulation of code of ethics; A series of preparatory fieldwork sessions addressing team building, the action research process, desktop research on the specific research context and a two-week fieldwork assignment.
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. The module focuses on the links between planning and health equity, and on the political and institutional processes that enable planning and public health interventions to address the social determinants of health, and examines urban health as a site of power imbalances in the city. The main questions to be discussed in this module are: How (and why) does the urban (as both a political and spatial entity) (re)produce health disparities? What are the epistemological and ideological foundations that shape intervention strategies in order to create strategic transformation in the field of urban health? What is the role of different agents (international, national, urban and community-based organizations) in enabling transformation towards urban-health justice? The module employs different theories to understand the links between health and the urban, and also uses concrete examples in order to analyse the implications of health interventions in urban settings.

The module engages with an emerging body of literature on urban health, in general, and in the Global South, in particular. The main argument to be articulated is that a link between development planning and human health can be found in urban governance (institutions), as well as in the physical (land, infrastructure) and the social (community) environments.

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.

The module also provides participants with an understanding of how NGOs conceptualise well-being, and reviews their ways of dealing with the complex identities and the diversity of beneficiaries. We draw on concrete examples in order to analyse the implications of funding models, organisational structures, cultures and approaches on specific development interventions.

The module engages with an emerging body of literature in critical development studies and anthropology of development, covering different theoretical approaches to NGOs, and analytical models of social change. Using NGOs as an entry point, the module explores issues of collective action and social transformation in development, and analyses the role of NGOs within the political economy of development. We explore

the ways in which different NGOs and other development actors respond to a diversity of beneficiaries; how these actors build their concepts and theories of change and how they translate them into planned interventions; the role of partnerships between ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ NGOs, and the role of national, regional and global coalitions and networks; NGOs’ relationships with grassroots organisations and governments, exploring the differences between NGOs and social movements and their complex relationship, and; NGOs’ different operational roles in various contexts, including ‘failed’ states, humanitarian emergencies and new democracies.

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.

While there has been an increasing recognition of the need to open up spaces of direct participation for urban citizens to influence decision-making processes in recent years, there has also been increasing skepticism towards the potential of such spaces to bring about substantive change addressing the causes of urban injustices.

Responding to these tensions, thinking and practice in the field of communication studies has reflected on the potential of different mediums of social mobilization and networking to avoid co-optation and open up more transformative spaces of participation.

This module aims to engage critically with the relationship between communication and social change, exploring specific sets of practices and their potential in supporting groups in processes of recognition and mobilization in contexts of urban contestation.

Students are encouraged to explore and define the meaning of ‘emancipatory communication practices’, by drawing on case studies and literature from the field of development communication as well as communication activism.


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.

Through the analysis of theoretical readings, exercises and case studies, this module is designed to give students a structured understanding of participatory interventions in urban development planning. It sets out to present different participatory concepts and processes, and engage students in critically reflecting on the issues, limitations, but also innovative potential they present.

Students will learn about different participatory, tools and techniques and encouraged to think creatively about how public leadership and participation can be supported, mobilised and promoted to help improve democratic decision-making in the design of the built environment.

Throughout the term, students will also be tackling key questions around the role of design, knowledge production and the role of the expert practitioner in delivering a collective urban future that is just and sustainable.

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.

It engages with extreme condition of disasters and their social, physical and political implications on urban areas, the built environment and planning disciplines.

Drawing from current research on the urban turn in Disaster Studies and the entanglements between Disaster Risk Reduction, Development processes and Urban Poverty, the module offers an introduction to the debate on urban resilience and its policy implications. 

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.

Drawing from transnational research experiences and connections with practitioners, humanitarian workers and development managers, the module reflects on the different challenges posed when working in a post disaster environment and implementing plans, projects and interventions. 

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.

Initiatives are trying to manage and control this informality in cities. With these unique challenges in mind, this module questions the definition of urbanism towards one that is social in nature and asks, what and for whom urbanism is for?

Through case study analysis this module presents how informal urban territories are imagined and constituted and serves as an opportunity to interrogate the role of design, architecture and urbanism in such contested urban settings. It encourages students to critically appraise this radical form of urban design and building of cities and seeks to underscore what could be learnt from such phenomena.

The module is delivered in a studio based format, where students are tasks with delivering their own holistic and strategic urban design intervention to tackle a particular case study.

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.

It focuses on phenomenological investigation as a different way of seeing people and place to engage with the multiplicity of contested developing arenas. Learning evolves around a real-life contemporary urban case study developed in collaboration with a partner in the Global South but worked on remotely in the studio.

As students work on the case study, they are encouraged to use this as a platform to reason with the aesthetics of informality and experiment with the design process as act of critique and resistance that puts the communities at the centre of the place.

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.

It explores the changes in the role of different stakeholders, in the understanding of the multiple articulations of housing and urbanism and in the meaning and tools of scaling-up in housing provision.

It pays particular attention to the convergence of debates on informality and housing as central to a major paradigmatic shift at conceptual and policy levels which will affect the direction of housing strategies far beyond just questions of informal housing.

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.

The roles of the state, market and civil society in housing and settlement upgrading are examined in different national contexts. The importance of land, finance, infrastructure, organisational capacity and governance are emphasised as well as the longer-term sustainability of different approaches.

Participants have an opportunity to work in small groups to track and analyse the historical development and implementation of housing policy within a specific country. They are also expected to develop a personal case study that demonstrates how the interaction between personal and political contexts results in differing housing outcomes. 

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.

This module also seeks to familiarise the student with the opportunities and constraints posed by the global integrated process of production to planning for independent styles of development. Students are assessed with a written assignment.

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.


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 fieldwork in London and abroad.

In the field, 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 field trip in the third term. Please see the Content section for a detailed breakdown of the modules.


London fieldwork

As part of the core module ‘Social Development in Practice’, students embark on a London-based action learning project early in the first term. The project entails a significant amount of independent and self-directed group work, with guidance from staff, and in partnership with civil society and community organizations.

The London fieldwork enables students to begin developing, through practice, the knowledge, techniques and skills required from social development practitioners on the ground. The skills learnt are directly transferable to the overseas field trip which takes place later in the year.

Action research projects in recent years have contributed people-centred perspectives on ‘regeneration’ efforts in East London, the ‘HS2’ high-speed rail development in Euston, and a citizen-led housing campaign aimed at the London mayoral candidates. Find out more on our London fieldwork page.

International field trip

The international field trip, which takes place in the third term, is a key, integrating, practical 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 field trip is compulsory for all participants. Flights, insurance, accommodation and a range of other fieldwork-related costs are covered by the DPU, while students cover their personal spending on food and incidentals.

Prospective applicants should be aware that the fieldtrip is not a holiday but a period of active engagement and intensive work in a developing country, where students conduct practical social development work amid the living conditions and everyday risks to be expected in such a context.

Past engagements have taken place in Tanzania, Kenya and, most recently, Brazil. Find out more on our overseas fieldwork 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)

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 Alexandre Apsan Frediani
View Alexandre's profile

Julian Walker
View Julian's profile

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Federica Risi

Staff currently teaching on the programme

Dr Andrea Rigon
View Andrea's profile

Careers and employability

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 international field work 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 


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


  • private sector companies engaged in social appraisal, social research and consultancy.

More information


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