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MSc Social Development Practice


The MSc in Social Development Practice equips students with the practical skills and theoretical foundations for addressing the challenges and complexities of the field of Social Development. It explores processes of social change, mobilization, and development that can generate greater equity and well-being for people with diverse identities living in cities of the Global South. Recognizing that unequal social relations are a product of unequal power relations, this course explores different approaches through which populations gain access to rights, resources, and recognition.

This course builds on the increasing prominence of ‘people-centred’ approaches to international development, reflected in the policy priorities of major development organizations such as the UN, World Bank, bilateral agencies such as DFID and USAID, national and local governments, global NGOs and grassroots organizations. These approaches counter-balance market-led processes of development, on the basis that economic growth alone is insufficient to address social inequities and promote well-being in the context of rapid urbanization, diversity, and globalization. However, this course adopts a critical approach to the analysis of these ‘people-centred’ approaches, highlighting the challenges of recognizing and valuing diverse identities and aspirations while simultaneously working towards universal principles of equity.

Programme objectives

Core modules of this course focus on social policy, and differing conceptions of citizenship, identity and social power, different approaches to poverty measurement, and the theoretical and practical tools for promoting well-being and ‘active citizenship’. Through seminars, lectures, student-led discussions, and fieldwork exercises, the course will introduce participants to critical, analytical, and practical skills that will be of use in their future careers whether as academics, activists, or social development practitioners in government, NGOs, or multilateral organizations.

Students will benefit from the course’s strong practical component, which includes fieldwork research in both London and abroad, in collaboration with local civil society organizations. The international fieldtrip takes students to a developing city, providing the opportunity to develop practical experience, employ the tools and methodologies discussed for participatory action research, and reflect on the roles and responsibilities of social development practitioners.

Contact details

Programme Co-Directors: Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani and Julian Walker

Graduate Teaching Assistant: Tamlyn Monson

Facebook Page: MSc Social Development Practice


The course consists of lectures, seminars, workshops, case study analysis, and field work in the UK and abroad. Students are expected to take an active part in their own learning through reading, essay writing and individual and group project work. Student performance is assessed through course work, examinations, and a dissertation report.

The course consists of the three core modules that are compulsory for all SDP students (90 credits); an optional module (30 credits); and a dissertation report (60 credits).

The core course modules provide the theoretical and methodological components of the course. Participants are required to study a core group of subjects which focus on planning and practice and on the theoretical debates which underpin social development policy and practice generally, and poverty reduction in particular. Course sessions comprise lectures, seminars, group work, debates and practical exercises. An overseas field work assignment is undertaken in term three.

The optional module allows students to select a course from another MSc programme in accordance with their own particular interests.

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)


Core modules

BENVGSD1 Social Policy and Citizenship looks at socially sensitive development, which has its roots in the social sector and social welfare models that were developed during the last century.

BENVGSD2 Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty argues that social development is no longer confined to the 'social sector', but is increasingly defined more broadly as an approach that attempts to put 'people' and social equity at the centre of development initiatives across all sectors.

BENVGSD3 Social Development in Practice is concerned with exploring ways in which a socially sensitive approach can be integrated into development interventions in both northern and southern countries. Such an approach must be based on the key ethical values of respecting and valuing diversity and of ensuring social inclusion in development interventions.

Optional Modules offered by SDP

BENVGSD4 NGOs and Social Transformation focuses on the practice and politics of development NGOs. It explores how different NGOs are able to represent and be accountable to the beneficiaries of their projects and transform unequal power relations.

BENVGSD5 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)

BENVGBU2 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.

BENVGBU6 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. 

BENVGBU7 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. 

BENVGBU8 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.

BENVGBU9 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.

BENVGBUA 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.

BENVGBUB 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. 

BENVGDA5- Neo-Structuralism and the Developmental State considers 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.

BENVGDA8- Political Economy of Development: Land, Food and Agriculture aims to expose students to the inextricable linkages between agricultural policy, land allocation, food insecurity (local and global), good governance, conflict, and famine, and to consider how these elements impact people living in poverty in both rural and urban areas in the developing world. Students are assessed with a written assignment.

BENVGDA9- Political Economy of Development: Industrialisation and Infrastructure seeks to critically examine the contribution of industrialisation and infrastructure to national, regional and local development in the Global South. By focusing on these two issues, which often stand at the centre of national/local government policies, the module looks in detail at some of the forces that help shape national development from both a theoretical and an empirical viewpoint. Students are assessed with a written assignment.

BENVGES5 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.

BENVGES6 Sustainable Infrastructure and Services in Development examines 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. 

BENVGES7 Urban Water and Sanitation, Planning and Politics focuses 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. 

BENVGES8 Food and the City looks at urban food security with long-term sustainability and resilience in face of crisis and extreme weather.

BENVGES9 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.

BENVGPU1 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.

BENVGPU4 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.

BENVGPU5 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.

BENVGUE2 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.

BENVGUE4 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.

BENVGUE5 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.

BENVGUE6 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.


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

Programme Co-Directors

Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani
View Alexandre's profile

Julian Walker
View Julian's profile

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Tamlyn Monson
View Tamlyn's profile

Staff currently teaching on the programme include:

Dr Andrea Rigon
View Andrea's profile


Please click through to the UCL graduate prospectus page for this course, from where you can find information on application fees, eligibility, tuition fees, scholarships, and then complete the online application process.

Applicants should also review the faculty specific admissions information and the FAQ on admissions.

Please note for September 2016 entry applications onward TOEFL will be accepted.

Read more about the English Language Requirements and accepted tests on the UCL entry requirements website.


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, and; 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.