Workshop in Development Practice

Kelly Heindel is a SIPA student who recently spent her spring break focusing on her Workshop in Development Practice course. I asked Kelly to talk about the project and to share some pictures. Thanks Kelly!

One of the main reasons I decided to attend SIPA was for the Workshop in Development Practice course taught during the final semester of study.  Labeling the workshop as a course is a bit misleading.  It is more of an experience.  As the student services office explains, “Officially, it is a spring-semester course for second-year master’s degree students in the EPD program, but workshop activities begin in the fall semester through the course on Methods for Development Practice.”

After gaining a firm understanding of the current methods and theories for development, students are placed in consulting teams of 4-6 people and assigned a client.  Clients are typically UN agencies, NGOs, or private firms working on corporate social responsibility projects.  The client chooses an assignment for the team that can include, evaluation of ongoing organizational activities, designing a monitoring and evaluation system for a current project, recommendations for improvement or sustainability of a development initiative, and many more.

My team’s client is the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR).  IIRR uses a participatory development approach or “people-centered method” by working directly with local NGOs to build the capacity of communities to overcome challenges such as poverty and natural disasters.  One of their newest initiatives has been a community managed disaster risk reduction project on Nias Island in Indonesia.  Nias Island was greatly affected by the tsunami and earthquake in 2004 and 2005, and is still trying to rebuild physically but also economically.

Over 80 UN agencies and other NGOs descended upon the island after the disasters, but most have since left.  IIRR is attempting to fill this gap by helping a local NGO, Caritas Keuskupan Sibolga (CKS), build the capacity of local communities to reduce their vulnerability to disasters through environmental management, livelihood generation, and community organizational activities.

Our consulting team is conducting an independent evaluation of this project to determine the effectiveness and relevance of this approach on Nias Island.  The evaluation is a semester long project and includes a total of four weeks of field research where we conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews with the local staff and beneficiaries of the project to inform our evaluation and subsequent recommendations.

At the end of the semester we will present our findings to IIRR’s executive board and also to faculty and students at SIPA.  Being able to take classroom teachings directly out into the field is really a unique experience.  While stressful at times, the workshop has been extremely rewarding and has assisted in shaping my career goals.