Friday at 9:00 a.m., I head into International Affairs Building Room 405. This is the usual time for Methods for Development Practice Lab. Today, we are having groups of students presenting on their work plans for the Workshop Project. After roughly one-month preparation, each team are ready to sell a customized work plan to their clients, which includes UNDP, the Hunger Project, Transparent International, Centre for Bhutan Studies, etc.

As teams elaborate on their design and methodology for each project, peer feedback follows up: “Given the potential of unforeseen challenges in the long-term, especially in the case of a new country office, how would the team address the issues and mitigate the risks?” “Will you be able to capture the perspectives of a diverse group of citizens in focus group settings?” “Have you considered the benefits and risks of speaking with men and women, children and adults, ethnic minorities and so on?”

The two-hour span covered eight group presentations. After reviewing all the work plans and feedback made by my peers, I could not help but appreciate the Methods for Development Practice class for teaching me the analytical mindset, which is critical not only to the workshop, but also to my future career.

You might have already expected that Methods for Development Practice is the first of a two-course sequence for second-year students concentrating in Economic and Political Development. The second course is the Workshop in Development Practice. Though it is a required course for EPD concentrators, it also accommodates other MIA/MPA students who are interested in it. The course is designed and instructed both by Lecturer Eugenia McGill and Assistant Professor Paul Lagunes.

Each week of lecture, we discuss a particular tool/method of program management for development with real-life cases. These tools and methods include: diagnostic tools such as institutional and stakeholder analyses; project design frameworks; monitoring and evaluation techniques; and mixed field research methods, such as participatory rural appraisal, interviews, focus groups and surveys. These methods help us to develop a conceptual and critical understanding of some of the key frameworks, tools and approaches used by organizations in the field of development practice.

[Photo courtesy of Yiting Xu | Group assignment –problem and objective analysis + results framework for Sustainable Aquaculture case in Agutaya (Philippines)]
[Photo courtesy of Yiting Xu | Group assignment –problem and objective analysis + results framework for Sustainable Aquaculture case in Agutaya (Philippines)]

By the end of the semester, we are encouraged to use these methods to effectively plan and manage our own workshop projects. It is an amazing experience to experiment with and creatively apply the various approaches and skills we learnt from this class to a real-world assignment for a development client.

The course setting is quite intensive, as it requires readings and discussions for each week, and individual and group assignments are throughout the whole semester. However, when it comes to the end of the semester, I fully appreciate this way to strengthen my skills in day-to-day management of development activities.

In addition, the Methods for Development Practice class also provides a great opportunity to get to know some of the practitioners. Besides lecture, the two-hour labs are usually featured by guest speakers—who give talks on a related topic to the method we discuss in that week. Peek into some of the guest speakers:

  • Ashley Speyer, SIPA alumni who now works at Acumen Fund, introduction to the practice of impact measurement
  • Barbara Magnoni, president of EA Consultant, skill session on client-centered approaches to market studies and other development consulting work
  • Helen de Pinho, professor from Mailman School of Public Health, introduction to systems thinking and mapping
  • Linda Cushman, professor from Mailman School of Public Health, talk about survey design
  • Rafael Eguigueren, EU key expert on Peace Building, skill-building session: interviewing in sensitive settings
  • Sara Janye-Terp, professor from Columbia Universtiy, data visualization
  • Simon Butt, senior security advisor at UN-OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), briefing on field security

The skills acquired in Methods for Development Practice will serve students well in their future career I believe; and I would encourage students who are interested in the development practice to fully take advantage of it!