Unpacking the Development Practioner’s Lab within the MPA-DP program

One of the key reasons why I chose the MPA-Development Practice program at SIPA was its focus on building hard skills through workshops and innovative teaching methods that I would use later on in my professional career. For me, graduate school was going to be a bit of a hurdle as I had worked professionally for five years and clearly saw my strengths in practical work rather than academic theoretical learning. The DP-Lab was a perfect opportunity to learn with real cases and examples.

The Development Practitioner Lab, or DP Lab, is a required course within the MPA-DP graduate program that spans two semesters. The lab methodically delivers hands-on training for high priority skills in the field of development practice. The course was designed by Professor André Corrêa d’Almeida, who’s the program manager, and Laura Budzyna, MPA-DP ’12.

The lab spans three hours and brings each member of the cohort together for team-oriented and practitioner-led workshops. For me, it was a great way to first get to know my classmates and dive into the hard skills with the mentorship of an established practitioner. It consists of eight labs each semester and has provided so much value to the students that it has gone from a one-credit pass/fail class to a one-point-five-credit letter graded course.

Each semester, the DP Lab focuses on a different competency, complementing the knowledge learned in the program’s core courses. Fall 2015 workshops have included: Stakeholder & Institutional AnalysisProblem Mapping and Causal AnalysisLogical Framework AnalysisSpatial Analysis with ArcGIS; and Mobile Data Collection.

A sample of the collaborative ideas generated through teamwork in DP lab.
A sample of the collaborative ideas generated through teamwork in DP lab.

The skills learned in DP Lab are used almost immediately, whether it is within other SIPA courses or the required MPA-DP Summer Field Placement. “DP Lab helped me gain and refine fundamental skills for development practitioners that I utilized in my Summer Field Placement with the National Disabled People’s Organization of Timor-Leste,” says Angela Kohama, MPA-DP ’16. “I was able to master these skills to the point that I am now the assistant for the course this fall, and anticipate using this ‘development practitioner toolkit’ in my professional life after the MPA in Development Practice program.” Kohama adds she learned more about qualitative data collection and program evaluation skills in the DP Lab.

The DP Lab also provides a great opportunity to network and get to know leading development practitioners. Budzyna regularly teaches the workshop, Monitoring and Evaluation, and now works at MIT’s D-Lab. After attending her workshop, Jimena Espinosa, MPA-DP ’16, and Laura Lehman, MPA-DP ’16, were both accepted as International Development Design Summit Monitoring & Evaluation Fellows at the International Development Innovation Network, a partner network of MIT D-Lab. As fellows, they supported the organizational learning through monitoring and evaluation for International Development Design Summits in Colombia, Botswana and India.

Other guest practitioners have included: Katherine Rockwell, Office of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria; Kate Granger, Fintrac; Daniel Charette, Development Alternatives Incorporated; and Nikolas Katsimpras, Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity, AC4, Columbia University.

If you’re interested in learning more about the DP-Lab or about the MPA-DP program in general, feel free to email me!

Top image:  Chukwudumebi (Dumebi) Ubogu  and Lina Henao collaborate on a DP lab assignment using their new ICT4D skills.