The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


UED Overseas practice engagement

Our overseas practice engagement is a practical exercise in applying theories of urban economic development to real life case studies.

Following core module learning and the UK practive engagements in terms one and two, our Urban Economic Development MSc students spend around two weeks in fieldwork research on a case study in a city of the global south. Together with project partners and local stakeholders, our students co-design and conduct primary research and develop new perspectives and strategies in pursuit of more inclusive, equitable and sustainable urban and regional economic development.

Through practical research on a practice engagement, our students gain considerable insights into what makes real-life economic analysts and development consultants, and work alongside actual development stakeholders in developed and developing cities. These experiences strengthen our students CVs and open doors to future employment opportunities.

Our previous overseas practive engagements

Discover where we've worked and the organisations we've partnered with in previous years:

2021 to present: Yucatan peninsula, Mexico

Since 2021, we have embarked on a new overseas practice engagement focusing on the Tren Maya project in Mexico. The Tren Maya project is poised to connect and develop 19 towns and cities in the Yucatan Peninsula, the South-East region of Mexico. What makes this research particularly interesting is the wide spectrum of stakeholders we engage with, from indigenous Mayan and environmental activist groups concerned about the social and environmental impact of the project, to government and international development representatives who believe the project is unique in Mexico’s history with its pro-poor approach.

Read the blog

Read more about the current overseas practice engagement in the blog 'Tren Maya: high hopes and contested development in the Yucatan Peninsula'.

2016 to 2020: Tarapoto, Peru

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP7sgQ_RKks

In 2016, we shifted the focus of our overseas practice engagement to the city of Tarapoto, Peru, which lies in the heart of the Amazon Jungle. Our Urban Economic Development MSc students split into teams with individuals from diverse ethnic, academic and professional backgrounds to investigate three sectors of Tarapoto's regional economy that have been identified as potential drivers of industrial development, quality employment generation, productivity gains and higher wages. These three sectors were:
  1. Tourism,
  2. Transport and mobility, and
  3. Agro-industry.
Read the students' reports

English versions

Spanish versions

Read the reflective blog from Urban Economic Development MSc teaching staff

A journey into the Peruvian Amazon: Collaborating for sustainable regional economic development in Tarapoto, San Martin

By Naji Makarem, Etienne Von Bertrab and Alessio Koliulis

This blog explores four years on the overseas practice engagement in Tarapoto.

2015: Mek'ele, Ethiopia

From poverty reduction to Growth and Transformation: An assessment of national and local development strategies in Ethiopia with a case study of Mek'ele

In this overseas practice engagement, our Urban Economic Development MSc students were tasked to act as consultants, working in small groups, with a primary mission of gaining an improved understanding of the factors behind Ethiopia’s success in poverty reduction and the remaining challenges of structural transformation. Their findings were intended to inform future research agendas, policies and programmes in Ethiopia, and beyond.

Our students were required to examine the effects of significant policy initiatives, including the Agriculture Development-Led Industrialisation (ADLI), liberalisation and privatisation, and the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) and decentralisation, as well as the influence of internal and external contextual factors. To do so, our students were expected to:

  • Consider the effects of urbanisation and rural-urban linkages, local and foreign direct investment, infrastructure and education, and the scope for making adjustments in these areas to achieve a positive contribution to income growth, sustained poverty reduction and structural transformation;
  • Identify further areas of research required to fill gaps in the understanding of the effectiveness of Ethiopia’s poverty reduction and structural transformation strategies; and
  • Identify areas requiring institutional strengthening or adjustment, aimed at supporting local and national efforts towards structural transformation and poverty reduction, including formulation and implementation of the GTP.


Each group of student consultants focuses on the following thematic areas and answered the associated questions through their fieldwork research:

  • Industrialisation - urban agriculture. What is the potential of urban agriculture to contribute to the local economic development of Mekelle, Ethiopia?
  • Infrastructure - leveraging the airport for local economic development. How does the airport contribute to the local economic development in Mekelle?
  • The urban informal economy - urban cooperatives. Securing informal workers socioeconomic livelihood in Mekelle: What role do SACCOs play in organising these informal worker’s financial strategies?
  • Leveraging the university for local economic development. How can Mekelle University support manufacturing MSEs in order to foster local economic development?
Read a student's reflection on the Mek'ele practice engagement

Economic development in practice and building stronger friendships

By Kreils Ekelund

The practice engagement is indeed a great learning experience and an extraordinary part of studying MSc Urban Economic Development at The Development Planning Unit. Same as the previous years, we were also fortunate that our fieldtrip destination was the northern part of Ethiopia in the city of Mekelle.

My group focused on the following research question:

How can Mekelle University support micro and small enterprises in the manufacturing sector in order to foster local economic development?

During our fieldwork we interviewed representatives from Mekelle University and owners of micro and small enterprises in the manufacturing sector in Mekelle. We ended up doing a case study of two businesses: a micro enterprise manufacturing and selling electronics and a small enterprise manufacturing and selling furniture. Our fieldwork included meetings and interviews with these businesses to try and sort out how Mekelle University had supported them and how their business could be improved with innovation and research inputs from the University. It was a great experience being able to test our skills in practice and adopt the theories we had learned in class to analyse findings. In this regard, I can emphasize and echo all the other field trip reflections in past years.

However, I also find another very important aspect of the field trip. It is also a great opportunity to get closer to your classmates and get to know them even better. Fieldwork in an unfamiliar environment is a great opportunity to share memorable experiences with your friends and to meet and learn about new people and a different culture. During the field trip, everybody on the course lived, worked, dined, danced and travelled together. In the days of the project work, my group members spent all days together and this really made us a lot closer – not knowing each other as friend, but also as professional colleagues engaged in intellectually challenging work. We had to act as a team and solve whatever problems we faced together.

All groups were assigned one local facilitator and one translator to help us get in contact with potential interviewees, arrange research activities, and to translate if necessary. My group got two very nice tutors from the Mekelle University, who were of significant help and were great at explaining to us about the local culture and the Ethiopian way of living. The fieldtrip therefore presented a fantastic chance to explore and be exposed to new culture – these are experiences that I will never forget and will always cherish as something special that I shared with friends.

In all, the UED field trip is not just a great opportunity to understand and implement economic development in practice, but also a special opportunity to share memorable moments and build stronger relationships with your fellow students, which hopefully will last for many more years.

2014: Tigray, Ethiopia

In 2014, our students on thet Urban Economic Development MSc joint efforts with students on the Development Administration and Planning MSc at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Students from both programmes worked together in groups to focuss on the following research questions relating to issues of urban and regional development:

Agriculture Development-Led Industrialisation (ADLI)
  • The first question seeks to analyse the regional specificity of ADLI in the Tigray region. This means identifying what the policy focus is in Tigray, and whether this is different from that at national level and in other regions.
  • The second part of the research will analyse how ADLI promotes the forward production linkage between agriculture and industry using the Honey industry as a case study. This means identifying what government interventions are taking place to facilitate the growth of this linkage, and to what extent this has been successful.
Infrastructure, with specific reference to either transport or electricity
  • What are the current opportunities and constraints of transport infrastructure and services in meeting the needs of small-scale farmers in Tigray in accessing buyers in order to achieve sustainable livelihoods improvements?
The urban informal economy
  • To what extent does the urban informal textile industry contribute to poverty alleviation in Mekelle and what role does government have in this sector?
Decentralised service provision, with specific reference to either education or health sectors
  • Following decentralisation, how has the quality of education changed in senior secondary and universities in Mekelle to have an impact on poverty reduction?
Entrepreneurialism (small and medium enterprises in the Mekelle area)
  • To what extent does the state play a role in supporting the growth of micro & small enterprises in the manufacturing sector? A focus on wood and metalwork in the sub-city of Kedamay Weyane.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • In what way does ICT improve information access for farmers in Mekelle?
  • In what way does ICT improve information access to reduce transaction costs?
  • In what way does ICT improve information access to enhance farming skills? In what way does ICT reduce risk and vulnerability to enhance resilience of farmers in Mekelle?
Economic cooperatives
  • In what circumstances or to what extent are multipurpose cooperatives beneficial to their members?
  • What are the dominant elements influencing the functionality of multipurpose cooperatives?
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
  • How does existing access to WASH impact women’s capabilities in Mekelle?
Gender and rural-urban linkages
  • How do rural women contribute to labour and capital flows between rural and urban areas?
  • To what extent can education support female opportunities, empowerment and security?
Land tenure security
  • As rural and peri-urban land has become increasingly subject to government expropriation and redistribution to facilitate urban development, do low-income urban and peri-urban landholders in Mekelle feel land tenure secure under the government policy of state ownership of land?
Disability and access
  • To what extent does policy (National Plan of Action of Persons with Disabilities: 2012-2021) and its implementation address social stigma attached to disability in Tigray, Ethiopia: A Case Study of the Mek’ele School for the Blind.

Read students' reflections from the 2014 overseas practice engagement in Tigray, Ethiopia

A reflection by Nour Gazarin

There is only so much one can learn about development from inside the confines of a classroom. The day-to-day interactions that facilitate the development and sustainability of every city in the world tell a unique story with fascinating details that can only be unveiled through first hand experience in the field. 

Throughout my year studying Urban Economic Development I was blessed with the opportunity to experience first hand the wonders of two magical cities. While the need for economic development is a continuous common reality for all world cities, no two cities experiences are the same. 

Consequently the opportunities for field practice, in two such different cities, presented by the UED London-based fieldwork and the field trip to Mek’ele in Ethiopia are of great value to any development student.  It was also fascinating to learn and compare the detailed realities of the development of each city that are often overlooked by the simplistic characterisation of ‘developing’ and ‘developed’. 

Having never been to Sub-Saharan Africa, the trip to Ethiopia especially was both eye opening and wildly educational. I was excited at the prospect of having to delve into an unknown culture, engaging with the locals, working with a wide range of development stakeholders throughout the research process and experiencing what it is truly like to be a development practitioner. 

The general aim of the Ethiopia research was to examine and assess poverty reduction methods. Prior to the trip, we were presented with a set of themes under this headline, to focus our research questions on. I chose to be part of the ‘gender and urban rural linkages’ group. 

This allowed me the opportunity to examine the links between the urban and rural settings and how they cooperate to maintain the livelihoods of the residents of the region. In a predominantly rural context it was very interesting to see how the rural and urban cooperation translates into economic development and how crucial this cooperation is to the region’s survival. 

In addition, as someone who has always taken a great interest in gender related issues, the gender element in our research topic afforded me the chance to learn about gender relations within a new and unfamiliar culture. It was incredible to see how gender relations affect and are affected by rural and urban development. As well as to discover the significant influence culture has on determining the role and contribution of men and women to the economy. 

Before going to Ethiopia we had a few weeks of preparation lectures where we were taught how to conduct different forms of interviews and research. The lessons learnt varied from how to phrase questions, how to document findings as well as the ethical considerations that need to be taken in to account. 

My group’s research question required us to conduct street surveys with men and women in the local markets as well as students in school and Mek’ele University, and hold interviews with government and NGO officials. Consequently all these skills proved very valuable upon embarking on our research tasks. 

Despite these preparations, when we first started the surveys I couldn’t help but feel anxious about the language barrier, and I was worried that people would not be accommodating to the idea of being surveyed by an outsider. My initial anxiety quickly wore off though, as the people were very welcoming, took interest in our research and were eager to contribute. 

With the help of the facilitators from Mek’ele University, I must have spoken to at least 100 men and women of different ages and professions. Each of them with a fascinating story to tell. I even made friends with some of the university students who helped me find my way around campus and introduced me to more classmates willing to take part in the research. 

The interviews with the officials were equally valuable. In recent years the Ethiopian government has been investing heavily in social and economic development. Therefore it was exciting to hear about the progress they have managed to accomplish. 

One of the most memorable of these interviews was in the United Nations offices where we met with the Regional Director of the African Division for UN Women who turned out to be former DPU student. Discovering that the woman sitting across from us was once a young development student in UCL just like us, ignited a sense of pride in all of us and was truly an inspirational encounter. 

Furthermore, the opportunity to collaborate with a great mix of fellow development students from all over the world was truly special. The value of the friendships and network that emerged from this trip cannot be over stated. 

Aside from all the remarkable memories and experiences of the research, it would be unjust of me to speak of Ethiopia without mentioning the country’s beautiful natural landscapes, its rich history and distinctive culture. In the time we weren’t working we all hurried at the chance to explore the markets, visit the touristic sights and rode tuk-tuks to the local restaurants where we dined and danced like Ethiopians. 

A reflection by Son Minh Le

The annual fieldtrip forms a well-anticipated, exclusive and complimentary part in our UED course, it is even more unique compared to other courses: it is a joint venture between UED and DAP students and staff together.

We had a mixed team with different backgrounds and perspectives; we had well-organised meetings before the fieldtrip; and better still, none of us had ever been to Africa before. “Now is the time to do it”, I leaned back to my chair and closed my eyes briefly as our plane was entering airfield of Addis Ababa.

At that moment, ahead of me were two weeks of indulging in the heat of Ethiopia, participating in a mini community of researchers, having promising conversations with my colleagues. Looking back, it was two weeks of exciting observations and reshaping a new me as of today and a major foundation on my course of being a development practitioner.

There were a number of research areas; my team investigated how the usage of Information Communication Technology (ICT) might impact the farmers’ welfare and resilience. My group in Ethiopia consisted of five members.

My colleagues are all from different background and years of experience: a Chinese journalist, a Chilean geographer, a young British postgraduate and a Syrian UNDP officer. There were two Ethiopian lecturers from Meke’le University – our partner university for this fieldtrip – who assisted us along the course of our research, one as the facilitator and one as our translator.

This mini-diversity of cultures in my group has brought about exciting conversations and unique working environment among us. My trip was memorable not only because of Ethiopia, but because of the people I associated with too.

Our team chose to do qualitative research to gain the data to answer the research questions. Coincidentally, our team members all came from a quantitative background and hence this was our chance to explore new research methods together.

Before the trip, we organised five consecutive meetings for brainstorming ideas and constructing our interview questions. Although our meetings were long, because of different perspectives and different past experiences, they proved useful in the field in Ethiopia. We did some interview scenario building (preparing for differing replies from the farmers), tailored interview questions to specific groups of participants (farmers and officials), and back-up responses to other situations that could have came up.

In addition, we shared our working tips. For instance, my team manager encouraged us to take our family photos with us and share them with our participants – this is one way to break the ice with them and to create a friendly informal atmosphere. We also took some London souvenirs as our gifts for the interviewees. These little things made our communication with participants much easier and more fluent.

Every day, we went on the field to interview our participants with our well-planned set of questions. Thanks to our facilitator and translator, our transport and conversations with people went well. Every day, we travelled to our participants on a minivan – one that is arranged by our facilitator and translator – and upon arrival we travelled to their place for interview.

One day it was a hot, sunny wide large farm with a number of car-sized holes; Ethiopian farmers had learnt to dig these holes to contain rainwater in rainy season for usage in dry season. Another day, we went through a remote village on the suburb of Meke’le city, where the roads were muddy and kids were still chasing each other. More formal are places such as the Ethiopian Telecom Company, Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development, Meke’le Radio Station and Meke’le University.

The facilitator and translator were adaptable men; they could talk and laugh so neighbourly with farmers and they could turn professionally business-like with officials. One of our longest research sessions was with Meke’le University academics and students where we had to arrange a focus group discussion.

I was the primary conductor of the session; however, the students were unfamiliar with our process and it took us a good half-hour for the translation to successfully familiarise them. We are thankful for our facilitator and translator in helping my team complete our tasks.

The fieldtrip offers some days off for discovery too. One day before our field trip, we had a tour day to visit famous sites in Tigray. I discovered that Ethiopia is the first place in Africa where both Christianity and Islam entered Africa, so the religions in general, and the sites we were about to visit were highly sanctuary and spiritual. After work our big crew hanged out in restaurants in Meke’le – a great food adventure; we had time to stroll around in Addis Ababa and Meke’le for photo shooting and for shopping too.

The lack of basic well-assumed facility in Meke’le was another interesting element of the field trip. For instance, we did not have reliable Internet access. Having said that, we were in a situation where we had to solve every problem with direct conversation: solving our research questions, brainstorming for ideas, describing and sharing experience verbally and so on, you name it.

Not only did the situation make us stronger thinkers and problem solvers but I also confront my own so-called identity crisis without alternative procrastinations. Secondly, the nature of the fieldwork required us to be constantly on the field. I got to understand that to collect valuable and reliable information, data, researchers have to spend energy and effort to acquire them – this adds another dimension to my well-accustomed habits of secondary data research.

Thirdly, our access to hot water was not very reliable either. But through these ‘limitations’ I found myself sympathised more with local people’s everyday lives. Along my fieldtrip, I witnessed the many faces of Ethiopia and started to question my presumed beliefs when I came back to London; it was interesting to see my thoughts going back and forth between London and Meke’le, as if my perception of both developed and developing world intertwined together to really reshape my thinking.

After this fieldtrip I have realised how the media has distorted Africa to be a uniformed continent of poverty and conflict, undeveloped or underdeveloped. I was afraid and suspicious. My two weeks in Ethiopia hit my cracked mind and made me understand that the course of development is a life-long journey, there are opportunities and to make positive change, one should never give up believing in the better-ness of humanity.

There are many faces in Africa, problems do exist but the culturally rich heritage and economic potentials embedded within nations of this continent are brutally omitted by the media. I optimistically believe that this fieldtrip would create an excellent learning opportunity and skill sharpening experience for prospective development practitioners; it is a unique part of UED and DPU and thus for this reason I strongly recommend this course for potential students.

2013: Mek'ele, Ethiopia 

An assessment of poverty reduction in the context of Ethiopia’s national and metropolitan and regional development strategies 

In 2013, Urban Economic Development MSc students acted as consultants with a primary mission of gaining an improved understanding of the factors behind Ethiopia’s success in poverty reduction and the remaining challenges of sustaining this process. Their findings were intended to inform future research agendas, policies and programmes in Ethiopia, and beyond.

Working with students of the Development Administration and Planning MSc at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, students focused their fieldwork research in Mek'ele on the following thematic areas and associated research questions:

Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) 
  • To what extent has technology improved agricultural productivity of small holders in peri-urban areas of Mek'ele? 
  • To what extent have productivity gains as a result of new technologies resulted in industrialization through ADLI? 
  • To what extent have technology gains resulted in poverty reduction through ADLI? 
Infrastructure - with specific reference to transport 
  • How does mobility increase accessibility to social and economic assets and services, as means of poverty reduction for rural residents in the Mek'ele area? A comparison study of three Kebeles connected by different road types as determinants of transport provision level. 
Infrastructure - with specific reference to electricity 
  • How has electricity provision increased the productivity of smallholder and cooperative dairy producers in Mek'ele? 
Local authorities' policy approach to the urban informal economy 
  • How do microfinance services promoted under Ethiopia’s MSE strategy impact business expansion for informal agricultural product traders in Mek’ele? 
Decentralisation - with specific reference to education 
  • How is decentralisation impacting gender parity and equality in secondary education in Mek'ele city? 
Decentralisation - with specific reference to health service provision 
  • Have decentralisation policies in health care provision improved antenatal care for mothers in peri-urban Mek'ele? 
Manufacturing - the textile industry 
  • To what extent has the manufacturing textile and garment industry contributed to poverty reduction in Tigray region in the last five to 10 years? 
Tourism: the Gheralta Cluster 
  • What partnerships exist within and between the key stakeholder groups, and to what extent do they contribute to tourism development and poverty reduction in Gheralta? 
Millennium Villages Project (MVP) - Hawzien Cluster of Villages 
  • To what extent have water access interventions introduced by the Millennium Villages Project sustainably improved the livelihoods of Koraro residents? 
To what extent have water access interventions introduced by the Millennium Villages Project sustainably improved the livelihoods of Koraro residents? 
  • How does the expansion of ownership of mobile phone, since the adoption of the 2009 National Information and Communication Technology Policy and Strategy document, affect the livelihood assets of street vendors (stationary and non-stationary) within the city of Mek'ele? 
Economic knowledge in the urban informal economy 
  • How does the economic knowledge of tella sellers in the informal economy in Mek’ele contribute to the process of their economic improvement and how does the interplay between the economic knowledge of tella sellers and the urban & institutional framework impact this process? 
Economic cooperatives: rural, or rural and urban 

How does participation in women-only and women-led cooperatives contribute to women's empowerment in Mek'ele? 

Read students' reflections from the 2013 overseas practice engagement in Mek'ele, Ethiopia

A reflection by Simon Chinn

One of the highlights of the Urban Economic Development course at DPU is the practice engagement, which is undertaken during the third term. The fieldtrip is an integral part of the course and an opportunity to put some of the skills and theoretical learning gained throughout the programme into practice.                                     

The fieldtrip was one of the reasons that made me choose the Urban Economic Development course over other master’s programmes on offer. The opportunity to gain some practical experience of working in the field is extremely valuable for those that want to become economic development practitioners. Indeed the practice engagement is an eye-opening experience into the process of undertaking a research project in a developing country. 

The fieldwork is by no means an easy feat as you are faced with the time pressures and unexpected situations of a day in the field. Ultimately though the experiences and learning processes you go through are highly rewarding. 

Learning and experiences from the field 

I had been anticipating the practice engagement from the beginning of the course, and was thrilled to learn that we would be going to Ethiopia to conduct our research. It was a country that I had little existing knowledge or experience of, and I was looking forward to the activities and tasks that lay ahead. 

After some time in the capital, Addis Ababa, we spent most of our fieldwork days in the city of Mek’ele in the northern region of Tigray. My group was examining economic knowledge in the urban informal economy. During our time in the city and through interactions with the local institutional environment we were able to delve into the interplay between the political and economic dynamics of the urban environment and assess the impact on informal traders. 

Through the fieldwork we gained experience in conducting interviews with stakeholders such as the city authorities, business associations and the Chamber of Commerce, organising a research agenda and developing appropriate research frameworks. All of which are practical and valuable skills that will be useful for future employment. 

By scuttling around in tuk-tuk taxicabs weaving their way through the congested streets of the city as we made our way from meeting to meeting, we got to experience what working in the field is really like. 

Another aspect of the trip that was unexpected but highly encouraging was to witness how friendly and welcoming the people from all aspects of society were to us. When interviewing informal businesses for our research, the women who operated their businesses from their households, invited us into their homes, often treating us as if we were close family or friends, offering us food and beverages. It was extremely heart-warming to experience this kindness and humanity from those people of limited means. 

Everyone was willing to talk and help us with our research from the local government and business associations through to the informal traders themselves. Despite often being overwhelmed by serving customers and preparing products, the women we spoke to were always willing to participate and contribute to our research. 

Overall we were extremely grateful to all the people who gave up their precious time to speak with us and answer our questions during the fieldwork. Their friendliness and willingness to collaborate with us made the whole experience highly rewarding and contributed massively to the findings of our research. 

While the main objective and outcome of the fieldtrip is to undertake a research project related to urban development in the country, ultimately it is much more than that. Another important aspect of the fieldtrip that was really enjoyable was the opportunity to experience Ethiopian culture – the food, music, dancing – all of which added to the overall joyful experience of the trip and enhanced our understanding and appreciation of this amazing country. 

Overall I found the experience to be extremely rewarding and I believe that from it I have gained some highly valuable skills that will be useful wherever my working life takes me next following the course. 

2011: Mek’ele, Ethiopia

Read a student's reflections from the 2011 overseas practice engagement in Mek'ele, Ethiopia

A reflection by Mai Xin 


Being part of the Practice Module, the practice engagement is one of the outstanding features of the MSc Urban Economic Development programme at DPU. It constitutes an extension of the London-based fieldwork in Term II, offering an invaluable opportunity for the UED students to apply the urban economic theories, urban management and policy evaluation approaches studied in other theoretical modules. The UED fieldtrip for 2010/2011 academic year was held in Ethiopia, with the main purpose of assessing the effectiveness and potentials of its poverty reduction strategies. 


As a landlocked African country, Ethiopia represents an important case for studying and addressing development challenges of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Ethiopian government has implemented a series of poverty reduction programmes with emphasis on the agriculture development-led industrialisation (ADLI) strategy. These were effective to some extent to achieve fast growth rate and poverty reduction while many challenges still remain in the long-run development. 

Experience and lessons learnt 

The fieldtrip was well designed in three stages spanning over Term II and Term III. During the preparation stage, some DPU staff and external experts were invited to give lectures on general backgrounds and research methods for studying development issues. Having gained a sense of national context and research objectives, students from UED and DAP were divided into nine groups this year tackling a range of research areas. The actual fieldtrip included two days in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, with formal meetings with the stakeholders at the national level, followed by one week in-depth research in Mek’ele city and its peri-urban interface conducted by each group. I had been looking forward to this fantastic international trip even before joining the masters programme at DPU, and it indeed gave me a memorable experience along with a lot of lessons to learn. 

One of the lessons that I learnt relates to the gap between the literature and practice in development. For this fieldtrip, I was in the infrastructure group, with specific reference to transport, and was very glad to work with my teammates from different origins and academic backgrounds. Before departure, we reviewed the literature systematically, identified our specific objectives and proposed the analytical framework and research methodology for fulfilment of the assignment. It was by no means an easy task since we found that the existing literature was quite insufficient for understanding the true causation of their development obstacles. Thus, we had to rely on our own knowledge and experiences to draw up the proposals, including questionnaires, to tackle the task. 

However, it was found that the real situations in Ethiopia were fairly different from our imagination. For example, it was interesting to find that Ethiopia had no public transportation like buses, which we really did not expect. During the field work in Mek’ele, our team promptly revised our research strategy with the help of our tutors. Our local facilitator helped us to arrange an intensive schedule of interviews with local stakeholders and focus groups, which were really helpful for us to gather useful information and to identify the linkages between transportation and poverty reduction. Each day, we carried out investigations and interviews during the day-time and discussed our findings after we went back to our temporary accommodation in a beautiful castle, fine-tuning our research questions and preparing for the next day. It was a demanding challenge for us to deal with any unexpected situation and effectively explore what we need. However, the data collected proved invaluable for our post-fieldtrip presentation and group report back in London. 

This fieldtrip also offered valuable practice for doing research which must be beneficial for future professional career. It took us through a complete process of conducting a real development study in Africa, which I personally think would be outstanding even among all master courses in the UK universities. Having to identify specific problems and strategies for development purposes under broad national and regional contexts, with comprehensive considerations of theories, policies, institutions, resources and even the local culture, strengthened our systematic understandings and practical skills. All considered, the Ethiopia fieldtrip might be taken as a perfect finish of the whole UED master course for this year. 

2010: Mbarara, Uganda

Read a student's reflections from the 2010 overseas practice engagement in Mbarara, Uganda

A reflection by Ashwin Prabhu 


The master’s degree courses at DPU are perhaps unique in the existence of an extensive field trip component. Indeed it was in large part this combination of theoretical and practical training that made the Urban Economic Development (UED) master’s programme at DPU so appealing to me. After spending the first two terms studying concepts, theories and strategies of sustainable and inclusive urban economic development, I was both excited and anxious to apply the principles learned to the real world. In the following paragraphs, I will offer my personal reflections on the experience of the Uganda field trip and the lessons I drew from it. 


The UED field trip to Uganda was held in conjunction with the M.Sc. Development Administration and Planning (DAP) course. Students were divided into seven groups, each with a particular theme of investigation. For all groups, the main focus of study was the city of Mbarara, the second largest urban area in Uganda. 

I was part of the ‘Manufacturing’ group. Our task was to study the state of the manufacturing sector in Mbarara, and to establish strategies for promoting its growth. Prior to embarking on the field trip several introductory and background lectures were held in London. 

This provided the students with a good opportunity to learn about the historical and political context of Uganda from experts in the field. Much of the groundwork for the field trip – such as desk-based research and identifying potential interviewees - was also laid in this period. 

Finally, after much anticipation, we arrived in Kampala, Uganda on May 11. The excitement and desire to get to work amongst the students was palpable. Our time in Uganda was divided into two portions – about three days were spent in Kampala, followed by eight days in Mbarara. During the Kampala portion of the trip, DPU had arranged meetings for us with many influential actors such as the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, the National Planning Commission and others. 

These meetings were critical for gaining a broad national perspective on the various issues and challenges facing, in my group’s case, the manufacturing sector in Uganda. In addition, our group also managed to independently secure meetings with several important stakeholders such as the Minister for Industry and the head of the Ugandan Manufacturer’s Association. Our time in Kampala was thus hectic but also rewarding. 

The information we gathered provided a solid base of knowledge upon which to build the specific case study of manufacturing in Mbarara. After three days in Kampala, the time had come to travel to Mbarara. Each group was provided with a local facilitator. These facilitators were an invaluable resource. They not only helped us in setting up interviews with local actors, individual manufacturing firms and local government officials in our case, but also coached us in local customs and social graces. 

Soon, our group settled into a productive routine. Each day we split our group into smaller teams depending on the number of interviews we had scheduled. After conducting the interviews and arriving back at our accommodations we would engage in a long debriefing session in which we discussed the findings of the day and their implications for our research objectives. On our final day in Mbarara each group made a preliminary presentation for the benefit of all the students as well as the local and DPU staff that had helped us in our research. 

Finally, after a hectic schedule of field research, all the students were given some time off to explore Uganda for a few days before departing back for London. 

Lessons learned 

The field trip experience provided much food for thought on the development research process. Two main lessons stand out:

1. Field research is a must and cannot be substituted by desk research. 

Working in the field provides a perspective that is crucial if valid and appropriate conclusions are to be drawn for any given research task. My own group found much evidence of this. For example, based on our desk research we had surmised that transport infrastructure and low education levels in the workforce were major barriers to the growth of the manufacturing sector in Ugandan cities. However, when we got to Mbarara, we found that the main factors affecting manufacturing firms in that city were quite different. Firstly, we found that the lack of reliable electricity was a much more severe constraint than transport infrastructure. Similarly, we found that rather than a lack of university-educated professionals it was a lack of vocational skills in the workforce which was a major constraint. Relying on secondary research alone would thus have led us to focus on the wrong factors. 

2. Stakeholders of all levels of power and influence must be engaged. 

One of the major lessons from the field trip experience was that different stakeholders often have different conceptions of the causes of a given problem and potential solutions. In our manufacturing sector case we found that the stakeholders engaged at the national level, such as government ministries and trade associations, focused on issues of infrastructure, regional competitiveness and labour force training. The more local stakeholders, such as the individual manufacturers in Mbarara, were concerned with more practical matters such as the availability of credit and banking services. All of these views are valid must be addressed for any given strategy to be successful. Focusing only on the main stakeholders may preclude the identification of factors that the ‘targets’ of the policy may consider more important and thus negatively impact the applicability of the research findings. 


In my opinion the field trip component of the degree course was one of the more informative experiences of the entire year. It provided an excellent opportunity to apply the principles learned in the classroom to a real world setting. Aside from the educational value of such an exercise it also enabled students to gain many practical skills which will undoubtedly be useful in our professional careers. I also believe that the experience will make graduates of DPU more attractive to employers in the development field, given the high value placed on field experience. I wish to thank DPU for providing me with such an eye opening and informative experience in development research – I hope to apply the lessons I learned from this trip to many future field research trips in my career!  

2007: Uganda 

Read a student's reflections from the 2007 overseas practice engagement in Uganda

A reflection by Obeng-Odoom Franklin

Note to readers: As a fresh student on the MSc Urban Economic Development programme, I received with mixed feelings the information of a field trip as part of the MSc course. ‘Mixed feelings’ because in one breadth it was a break from a rather rigorous albeit rewarding MSc programme but in another breadth, we were told that ‘the field trip is not a social event or a mid­course break’ (MSc handbook, p.8). Of what use is the field trip? Does it add to or take  from the MSc? In short what is the single most important lesson the field trip offers to participants of the MSc who eventually become Development Practitioners? Now that I have undertaken the field trip, I evaluate the experience and submit my verdict.  

I wish you an enjoyable reading session.  


‘There is a popular feeling that Theory and Practice are opposed to each other, and the merits lie with Practice. This is a false conclusion based on a false supposition: Practice is brick,Theory is mortar; both are necessary to get a good structure’ (S.P.Lumby, 1981, p.1) 

The above quote summarises my reflections on the 10-day Ugandan Field Trip. The lesson is this: 

By all means, a development planner should read as much as possible about his research area; however, no amount of literature review (usually in the office) can substitute for actual field work. This is because there could be fundamental gaps between what is known in the literature and what is present in the field. 

In the paragraphs that follow, the analysis on which this lesson is built is presented. For want of space, the analysis will centre on Decentralisation, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Ugandan context. First some of the required literature will be reviewed and compared with what was actually found on the field. 

Gershberg and Winkler (2003) for example find that school construction in Uganda is funded centrally. They show that quality has declined in UPE schools. They suggest that private schools have mushroomed to fill this quality gap. Contrariwise, the field experience revealed that the quality of education in UPE schools is not necessarily lower than that of private schools. Put in other words, contrary to the position of Gershberg and Winkler, the trip has shown that quality education is a rural­-urban affair and not necessarily a public­ private­ school affair. Opponents of Structural Adjustment Policies argue, without qualification, that SAPs has failed in developing countries.  

They show that the approach has strengthened macroeconomic stability without a trickle down effect. The field trip shows that the case of Uganda is probably an exception to this critique:  both macro and micro economic conditions have improvedimproved pursuant to the adoption of structural adjustment programme. The proportion of population under the poverty line reduced from 56% in 1992 to 34% in 2000 and a sustainable macroeconomic growth was achieved at an average of 6% from 1993­2005 (OECD, 2005). To use  the words of the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, ‘If this is failure, then I don’t know what success is’ Further, even though  the  literature is replete with comments  on urban primacy  in African countries resulting from so called excessive investment in capital cities by governments, it is  debatable if Uganda can be cited as one of such with primate cities. Indeed, infrastructure in Kampala, in the author’s opinion looked more deteriorated than that in Mbarara. 

This suggests that deliberate public policy and greater investment in secondary cities/towns, could be a possible way to curb excessive primacy. With reference to what poverty is, the World Bank has shown that the concept is multidimensional (WDR, 1999/2000). The field experience deepens this definition by showing that what poverty is, even differs from one sub-county to another. Thus, the definition of poverty differs even within a district and indeed a country. Thus, while milk farmers in Mbarara consider a poor person as one without about ten cows, a farming community in the Millenium Village considers one without a farm as poor. Also, even though the Millenium Village was described as a ‘hot hunger spot’ in the literature, in the words of the residents, they are neither poor, nor hungry. 

The Structuralist view to development posits that, in the process of development, agriculture must decline following a rise in industrialisation and subsequently service­growth. While this process is true for many countries, from interactions with many people, Uganda is using agriculture as a modus operandi to develop. The raison d’etre, according to the Governor of the Bank of Uganda is that since about 80% of Ugandans are engaged in rural agric, agric is the best vehicle to drive development. While this approach has not been followed to the core by any country that has achieved massive poverty reduction, except probably Thailand or  Korea, it remains an empirical question whether the approach will deliver what its proponents believe it will deliver. 

Not only did the field experience show gaps between literature and practice, the trip also offered some practical examples of some theoretical arguments in the literature. Drakakis­  Smith (1999) for example argues that agric modernisation leads to greater urbanisation. The logic, according  to him is  that modernising agric  means a shift from labour ­intensive production to capital intensive production, which also means that fewer farmers will be needed, and the surplus will migrate to cities. While this argument sounds plausible in theory, to the author’s mind, it didn’t exist in real world. 

However, the trip showed that this is happening in the Rajaro sub­county where so called ‘Progressive Farmers’ using capital­intensive approach get subsistence farmers to sell off their relatively fragmented land to seek ‘greener pastures’ in Kampala. In addition, the trip confirmed the suggestion by Laws (2006) that people are more responsiveto non­structured interviews than formally administered questionnaires. Thus, it would seem  that engaging in dialogue with respondents holds much more promise  than questionnaire administration in research for development. 

Finally, the trip confirmed that, there is no pure economy anywhere but a political­economy. This is because the success of Uganda in poverty reduction has been closely linked  and influenced by its political success and a general political will. 


In closing, therefore, field work is sine qua non for any serious development practitioner. The Ugandan field trip offers a lot of lessons, paramount among which is that a development practioner should not impose his own understanding or meaning in his professional work obtained from just reading past studies. 

An initial idea gleaned from the literature is terribly important to make him aware of what may be going on in his area of work, however he should not precommit to any of those ‘ideologies’,:because literature review, in itself, is not an infallible guide. It is crucial that views and perceptions of the people for whom development planning is done, are given the utmost priority in the work of a Development Practitioner, and the Ugandan fieldwork is ample testimony of this. 


Drakakis ­Smith David, 2000, Third World Cities, Routledge  
Gershberg A and Winkler D, 2003, ‘Education Decentralisation in Africa: A Review of Recent 
Policy and Practice’, A draft paper prepared on August, 2003 
Laws S, Harper C and Marcus R, 2003, Research for Development, Sage Publications  
OECD,  2005,  ‘African Economic  Outlook  2004/2005:  Uganda’, OECD Emerging Economies,  
Number 5, pp. 425­437, OECD Development Centre, Paris  
Lumby S.P, 1981, Investment Appraisal and Related Decisions, Van Nostrand Reinhold 

2005: Accra, Ghana

Read a student's reflections from the 2005 overseas practice engagement in Accra, Ghana

A reflection by Melissa da Silva Belló

A master’s course can be much more satisfactory if it comprises a concrete experience that stimulates even more debate and learning. The opportunity given to the DAP, ESD, UDP and UED students in the 2004/2005 academic year was one of those indispensable experiences to exercise the skills we acquired and strengthened during the year. 

The destination was the Accra Metropolitan Region, in Ghana, West Africa. As expected, both academic and personal skills were involved, in a situation handled professionally by staff, students and local people. Besides being an academic exercise, the outcomes and proposals put forward by the students could foster real interventions. 

The challenge faced by the students was to devise strategies aimed at the improvement of the living conditions and livelihoods of three urban or peri-urban communities according to the terms of reference of the exercise. Given the growing number of students and the changing global and local realities, every year the tasks are being altered and improved. The students were divided into four groups, each with a different assignment. 

As in previous years, in their separate groups students were invited to elaborate an integrated strategy for the regeneration of James Town, a neighbourhood in the heart of ‘Old Accra’ and home to the original settlers, the Ga people. They were required to produce an integrated development strategy for the indigenous village of Gbawe, taking into account the integration of the area with Greater Accra, the needs of the indigenous community and the need to address conflicts emerging specifically at the peri-urban interface. Finally, they were asked to identify a strategy designed to promote local economic development in Ashaiman, a major informal/semi-formal settlement in the Tema District, and its integration with the economy of Greater Accra Metropolitan Area as a whole, keeping in mind the links between the formal and the informal sector. 

Additionally, this year another intervention in Ashaiman had its inaugural launch, whereby students explored the challenges and opportunities underlying the promotion of pro-poor partnerships aiming at the improvement of housing and infrastructure. 

The four groups devoted a full month to the fieldtrip activities, including a previous preparation and initial diagnosis, with seminars, research and group debates; a 10-day intensive fieldwork; and a post-trip period to refine and conclude the proposals. In the field, the scheduled activities – such as meetings with officials, researchers, activists and traditional chiefs - were much enriched with walks through local markets and dispossessed communities and informal talks with organised men and women. The receptiveness and seriousness displayed by the people we met was notable, and could only benefit the whole process. 

All the activities were closely related with the content and philosophy of the DPU courses. Therefore, theories, values and assumptions debated throughout the first and second terms could be affirmed, challenged or at least reflected upon. Moreover, the whole process not only demanded intellectual ability but also gave the opportunity to improve other academic and practical skills, such as pursuing research, writing reports and giving presentations. 

In addition, inter-personal skills were essential in every single action and there was the opportunity to significantly enhance them through practice: from exercising groupwork with colleagues from different backgrounds and holding points of view, to practicing negotiation skills with other stakeholders and undertaking interviews with or consulting local people. 

The opportunity of this exercise in a country overwhelmed by inequalities both at distributive and institutional levels, faced also by most nations in the world, is outstanding. More could be written, demonstrated and explained. However, this experience cannot be appreciated only from books or journal articles. Undoubtedly, a one-month involvement might not disclose the whole picture. However, the lessons learnt at both academic and personal levels are remarkable and will never disappear.  

2003: Accra, Ghana

Read a student's reflections from the 2003 overseas practice engagement in Accra, Ghana

A reflection by Etienne Von Bertrab 

In Accra, one of the fastest-growing cities in West Africa, DAP, ESD, UDP and UED students, accompanied by Michael Mattingly and Julio Dávila, set out to elaborate a diagnosis and propose a set of strategic interventions aimed at improving the living conditions and livelihoods of two communities: 

James Town in the now called Old Accra. This community, once formed by the original settlers, 'the Ga', was at the heart of the city. It had a relatively prosperous economy (predominantly fishing-based), but was importantly affected by the transfer in the 1960s of the harbour activities to another location. Nowadays it is confronted by general poverty, high population density, deteriorated housing, and poor urban and social services. 


Most of the time was dedicated to meetings with local authorities (Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the Ga District Assembly), representatives of central government, NGOs, academics and researchers from local and international organisations. These sessions helped us to achieve a more comprehensive understanding, and in many instances the different viewpoints resulted in interesting discussions. 

The group's interest and motivation didn't end in the formal visits to the communities: a number of initiatives were set up. We gathered precious information from informal conversations with men and women of the communities. Not only did we visit an almost-vanishing ancient fishing community, but we also participated in the chieftaincy meetings, where traditional chiefs discuss their collective affairs. All this wouldn't have been possible without the valuable support of George Opata, Emanuel Lashon-Cudsiw and the ex-DPU students Farida Shaikh and Veronica Ayi-Bonte , and without the warmth and openness of the James Town and Gbawe's communities. 

We had the opportunity to present our findings and recommendations to representatives of local government and other institutions, and a set of recommendations are contained in our report. We had the marvellous opportunity to look at these places as development planners with an enriched view built at the DPU, to make relevant connections of interlinked issues affecting many countries (such as the impact of SAPs at the local level and the focus on macro-economic policies). We hope that this experience and the work accomplished during our field work will develop DPU’s involvement and connections with vibrant Ghana even further. 

The indigenous village of Gbawe located in the area experiencing the most rapid land-use change in Greater Accra -which is creating a shortage of land for farming services- and, as a peri-urban area faces both positive and negative impacts of the urban sprawl.