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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:

  • Measuring Women's Empowerment: Processual Framework (2009)
  • Education for Human Dignity (2008)
  • Understanding Children's Vulnerability and Resilience in Disasters: Towards a Child Sensitive Approach to Disaster Risk Reduction (2008)
  • How Do Development Interventions Account for and Cater to the Needs of Collective Identities: The Case of PROGRESA/Oportunidades (2007)
  • War, Development and Children: Exclusion of Kurdish Children in Turkey (2006)


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.

MSc SDP Optional Modules

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.

DPU Optional modules

BENVGUE2 Managing the City Economy comprises a series of lectures, seminars and workshops. It is designed to train the participants in the application of economic criteria to the management of the city economy in both developing and developed countries.

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.

BENVGBU8 Critical Urbanism Studio I - Learning from Informality: Case Studies and Alternatives targets individuals of diverse academic backgrounds and levels of professional experience. This studio-based module promotes the merits of existing project scenarios and a critical understanding of case-study analysis and research in design processes.

BENVGBU9 Critical Urbanism Studio II - Investigative Design Strategies for Contested Spaces is the second Critical Urbanism Studio module. It builds upon the accumulated knowledge and conceptual framework of case study analysis (BENVGBU8) while focusing on a more profoundly phenomenological investigation into the multiplicity of contested developing arenas following a 'design as critique/resistance' attitude.

BENVGPU2 Urban Development Policy, Planning and Management: Strategic Action in Theory and Practice explores strategic action in urban development policy, planning and management that recognises social justice in cities.

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.

BENVGES2 Urban Environmental Planning and Management in Development considers the very large health burden suffered by large sections of the urban population as a result of environmental hazards, especially in urban areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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.


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 Colin Marx
View Colin's profile

Dr Andrea Rigon
View Andrea's profile

Dr Jose Manuel Roche
View Jose'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.