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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


Solidarity with the people of Old Fadama, Accra- Ghana

By ucfuadr, on 24 May 2012

EDITORIAL: There will be a discussion on the current situation in Old Fadama as well as the often overlooked perils of fire in informal settlements on Wednesday 30 May 5-7pm in Room 101 in the DPU. It will consist of an initial presentation on the settlement followed by reactions from organisations on the ground and a panel of international experts on disaster mitigation and housing. You are all welcome to join!












Dear friends,

We are writing on behalf of the DPU MSc Environment and Sustainable Development (ESD) study group recently back from the 3 weeks field trip where we studied Urban Agriculture in Old Fadama, a large informal settlement in Accra, Ghana. Today we received bad news from the community saying that last Monday (May 21st) a fire ravaged 1,000 houses rendering over 3,500 people homeless. Moreover, these people who already have almost no belongings are now left with nothing and with no place to stay. To make matters worse, the rainy season is just now starting.

The situation in Old Fadama is that of permanent transiency. Because of its informal nature, the government does not provide infrastructure and Old Fadama’s insecure land tenure has made both the community and outside organisations hesitant to invest. All basic infrastructure and housing is thus organised, built and maintained by the community and the Old Fadama Development Organisation, OFADA, at their own cost.

The local authorities are unclear about the dimensions of the catastrophe and are doing little to assist the community. As the relationship between Old Fadama and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly is tense, the amount of aid the community will receive is unclear and unreliable. The Ghanaian media are not giving precise information about the fire and are mostly blaming the dwellers instead of promoting a campaign to help them to cope with this misfortune.
Thankfully, the community is well-organised and NGOs and organisations like People’s Dialogue for Human Settlements, OFADA (Old Fadama Development Association) and the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor are working hard to help the Old Fadama community. In fact, our local facilitator in Accra, Mr. Fuseini, was responsible for enumerating the homeless despite the fact that he himself lost everything in the fire.

In collaboration with the ESD staff, our group has thus decided to raise awareness through the DPU channels in order to inform you all about this and gather suggestions about ways to help them. Additionally, the DPU staff will be in contact with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, People’s Dialogue and other organisations to explore how to best support the people of Old Fadama. Please feel free to show your solidarity with ideas. We are also considering the feasibility of collecting funds to help with the re-building efforts.

We will of course keep you posted on any events, efforts, or new information on this topic.

Thank you so much in advance.

‘The Old Fadama Group’ from the Environment and Sustainable Development Programme at the DPU

For more information and pictures about this visit: http://philipkumah.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/fire-outbreak-in-old-fadama/


The Golden Epoch of London, or the Arrival of the ‘Apocalympics’?

By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 29 March 2012

Twenty-twelve. As the Mayan calendar, or a certain over-exuberant Hollywood film would have you believe, this could be the end of the world as we know it. It also marks a moment in time where the world’s greatest sporting event is being held in one of Earth’s truly global cities.

For cities and – historically – civilisations, the Olympic Games have come to represent the height of individual success and achievement. Efforts are increasingly made to mirror ‘on the field’ sporting success with the ‘off the field’ glory of having curated and hosted a successful Games. The prestige is enjoyed as much (if not more so) by the host city as it is by the victorious athletes.

Defining exactly how and who benefits from the event and its Legacy are tantalising questions. Under the auspices of well-meaning objectives such as fostering greater inclusivity, promoting sport through the development of infrastructure, regenerating downtrodden urban zones and attracting investment to the city, Bid Documents frequently paint a utopian picture of the event and its legacy where everyone wins. Often where negative connotations can be found (a common one being that the long term benefits or detriments cannot be predicted in advance) they are dismissed because the feel-good factor generated through the event will vastly outweigh any criticism. The difficulty, as is often observed, is in comprehending these intangible benefits and drawing a comparison between the invisible legacy of the event vis-à-vis the more obvious tangible legacies (be the improved housing/infrastructure, notable gentrification of areas, or increased national debt).

Departing from this, ‘Whose Olympics? Transformations in urban open space and the Legacy of London in 2012’launched this week and undertaken by DPU staff in collaboration with UCL Anthropology and Open City London, with funding from UCL Grand Challenges – seeks to explore the dynamic impact that the Olympics will have on the use of London’s open spaces by the plethora of people who will bear witness to the occasion. The project adopts video and social media platforms as tools for urban research, drawing on the potential of new media technologies as used by residents and visitors to London to represent their changing relationships with the city’s open spaces. The research takes place across three phases: before the Games; during the Olympic and Paralympic Games; and immediately after the Games to the end of 2012 – charting these transformations and the grass shoots of Legacy thereafter. Central to the research are questions such as how public and open spaces are being transformed, and how these spaces enhance or limit people’s experiences of the event as a result. Members of the public are invited to upload their own short films, or one-off videos clips, with a description and spatial reference to an online platform hosted at www.whoseolympics.org Visitors to the website can then access an archive of geo-spatially referenced footage showing first-hand experiences of the Games through the eyes of those present in open spaces around London.

Modern mega-events transcend different scales, with television and media shortening the gap between the local and the global, bringing the event to households the world over – an estimated global audience of up to 4 billion is predicted.[1] For the vast majority unable to obtain tickets for the Games, London’s parks and open spaces will become focal points for collective Olympic experiences, and social media platforms the means through which they are shared. ‘London Live’ (www.londonlive.uk.com), for example, will run a series of fan-parks and events across the summer, while the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival promise to change the way public spaces are used throughout 2012.

By asking ‘Whose Olympics?’ we want to see how people are taking ownership of their Games and benefiting (or not) from newly built facilities and to understand who has what rights to the Olympic city. Where are the particular spaces of celebration and contestation before, during and after the event? This challenges and explores the assumptions around the legacy of such mega-events – that they truly can contribute to social and physical regeneration of the city, or conversely that they are little more than PR exercises to attract overseas investors, by documenting the togetherness that the Olympics purport to share and create –

whose is the right to the Olympic city?

The organisation and distribution of side-events around the city will influence how open spaces are appropriated and by whom, and how far the London 2012 Olympic Games is able to effectively engage the British and visiting public. These questions arise at a pertinent time, with the activities of the Occupy LSX movement putting a spotlight on the public vs. private space debate. The intensive hyperactivity created by the summer Olympics of 2012 stands to invigorate the city and its populace, and potentially exacerbate the underlying anxieties of those managing or ‘minding’ these areas, which could in turn influence the free use of public space.

Ultimately the research, which will culminate in a short film or a series of mini-films, will ask: Do we live in a city and society that encourages individual freedoms and the enjoyment of all? Are we all able to share equally in this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, and how can social media enhance this collective expression? What will be the real Legacy for London in 2012, and how is public space changing as a result?

Through this we can reflect on how far we are living through London’s golden epoch as an urban centre, and whether society and space is fundamentally changing as a consequence of this Olympic (or indeed – apocalympic) event.

Visit www.whoseolympics.org to upload films of your stories and map your own Olympic Legacy.

The ‘Whose Olympics?’ team are currently [29/03/2012] recruiting volunteer filmmakers and researchers, see here for more information.

You can stay up to date with the project by following us on Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare.

[1] Evans, M., 2009, Screen Tourism Towards 2012: Maximising Olympic Opportunities For UK Destinations. http://www.insights.org.uk

Water and sanitation justice for all? One right, two fora

By Étienne Von Bertrab, on 22 March 2012

Post written by Adriana Allen and Etienne Von Bertrab

Between 12 and 17 March the French port city of Marseille hosted the triennial World Water Forum (WWF) in its sixth edition. The event, entitled Time for Solutions, was not the only international forum discussing the multidimensional water crisis. Parallel to this well-funded, widely attended, influential and increasingly contested forum organised by the World Water Council (WWC) that captures significant media attention, the less glamorous but increasingly strong and articulated Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) made itself present. To think that the latter is a space for those simply put off by the fees of the WWF would be a complete misapprehension. While the fact that the fora took place in venues at opposing extremes of the city is mere coincidence, the events are indeed unalike, to say the least. Differences lie not only in the way each forum is conceived and structured but also in the predominant ways in which the distinct water crises are explained, and thus what in each political space is recognised to be in the realm of desirable and acceptable solutions.











Debates in Marseille started under a new framing of the problem. In July 2010 the United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed for the first time that the human right to water and sanitation is legally binding. While the fact that such a basic human right was only recognised this century might come as a surprise to many, progress towards this aim had been vocally obstructed by some (influential) states. The contention provoked a rupture in WWF’s previous edition in Istanbul in 2009, when 24 governments ended signing a counter-declaration recognising this right in opposition to the forum’s official declaration. Nevertheless civil society groups were successful in their campaigns to protect the rights of billions of vulnerable people who don’t have access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation all over the world. As a result, 178 countries have now recognised the right to water and sanitation at least once in an international resolution or declaration. Concerns remain, however, over the ambivalence with which the right to sanitation is treated by some countries, and more generally over a perceived fragility of the international endorsement. However, even if not yet perfect, the aforementioned process represents a pivotal point in history, as it triggered the need to move towards concrete responses to make the universalisation of both rights a reality worldwide. In discussing the roadmap towards this universalisation, discussions in Marseille focused on a number of challenges that still need to be actively overcome. These challenges can be better  examined by unpacking a series of persistent deficits.

The first challenge concerns the need to address what could be termed as the ‘commitment deficit’. While many countries have made progress in ensuring that both rights are guaranteed in an institutional framework, the work required to make the transition to universal access should not be underestimated. Financially, such a transition is viable and affordable. For instance, in Latin America, universal provision would require sustained investments equivalent to 0.3 percent of the regional GDP over the next 10-20 years. With a GDP of USD 4.3 trillion in 2010, further forecasted economic growth and a rich base of natural resources, the region is well positioned to make water and sanitation poverty a thing of history. At the same time, however, Latin America is the most unequal region of the world. In this context, water and sanitation poverty has and continues to be produced and reproduced in an alarming trend of growth without equitable distribution. Therefore, only less ambivalent commitments from each state can tackle this deeply ingrained trend in the region. Left to market forces alone, the last two decades have revealed that universalised access to water and sanitation will not be achieved in Latin America, nor elsewhere.

Excerpt (in Spanish) from Adriana Allen’s response to sessions of the Americas Regional Process in WWF

Compounded with this we also face deficits in the way we frame our understanding of the following problems: What is water and sanitation poverty? Where does it take place? Who is affected? Why is this one of the most persistent problems facing us in the new millennium? Given the difficulty of establishing a benchmark based on adequate access to water, the UN MDGs place emphasis on the availability of improved water supply at a reasonable distance. The Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment Report 2000 suggests that ‘reasonable access’ should be broadly defined as ‘the availability of at least 20 litres per person per day from a source within one kilometre of the user’s dwelling’. For most urban dwellers, however, distance alone does not provide an appropriate standard; population density is a more critical factor. Moreover, much has been written about the fact that what is measured as ‘improved facilities’ might not necessarily constitute ‘adequate access’. This ‘conceptualisation deficit’ has significant implications as it leads to an underestimation of the real number of people living in water and sanitation poverty, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas. More generally, if the definition of adequate provision for water were to be set as a house connection or a yard tap, then more than half of the population in small and medium size cities in the Global South have inadequate provision. People might be ‘water poor’ in the sense of not having sufficient water for their basic needs because it is not available, or because they may have to walk a long way to get it, or even if they have access to water nearby, supplies of clean water may be limited for various reasons. Of course, people may also be ‘water poor’ because they are ‘income poor’, but it can often be because of their gender, age, ethnicity and geographical location. This highlights the urgent need to better capture the multidimensionality of water and sanitation poverty. Deficient conceptualisations travel all the way to determine how we measure ‘needs’, budget the ‘resources’ required to address them, establish ‘benchmarks’ and monitor ‘progress’. A key task ahead in this sense lies on bridging the gap between resource-based versus rights-based versus utility-based assessments.

Resource-based assessments play an important role in revealing biophysical conditions that might undermine the availability of water not just to satisfy productive and reproductive needs but also to protect vital ecosystem services. Furthermore, they can provide useful guidance to better apprehend the importance of considering the whole water cycle, how to deal with wastewater and the potential to close the nutrient loop, shifting from hydraulic to hydric solutions. We need to move outside the ‘water box’ by reappraising the scenarios posed by increasingly competing regional and virtual demands and actively exploring the water-energy, water climate change and water-food nexus.

Right-based assessments remind us of the integral part that water and sanitation play in fighting the reproduction of environmental injustices all over the world and the ultimate price paid by the most vulnerable. Such assessments are concerned not just with unsatisfied practical needs (e.g. access to sufficient, clean, regular and affordable water) but more fundamentally with the need to actively confront discrimination and the alienation of the strategic rights and entitlements of a sizeable portion of the world population. Utility-assessments are useful to guide the investments and infrastructural responses required to tackle water and sanitation poverty. However, these are often biased towards large hydraulic and centralised infrastructural projects with a poor record in both responding to the challenges highlighted by both resource and rights-based assessments.

The third compounded challenge concerns the so-called ‘governance deficit’. Since the 1990s, the debate on water and sanitation has been dominated by the public-private dichotomy. While such dichotomy is increasingly rendered as irrelevant – in the sense that most utilities all over the world have undergone significant restructuring and that commodification of water is also being reproduced by public utilities – a more pervasive dichotomy still remains largely unchallenged. The latter concerns the distinction between ‘authorised’ and ‘unauthorised’ or ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ practices. When looking at the specific ways in which the poor gain access to water services, it is possible to identify a wide range of practices and arrangements. Some of these are ‘policy-driven’ mechanisms supported by institutional arrangements of the state. However there is a wide set of ‘other’ arrangements that operate on the basis of solidarity and reciprocity and on informal provision, as in the case of small independent water providers. These mechanisms can be characterised as being ‘needs-driven’ and correspond to the wide spectrum of practices adopted by the poor, often with little or no support from the state, its policies and resources. The crucial problem is that the bulk of the efforts to improve access to water and sanitation made on the policy-driven side often remain unsupportive of the actual needs-driven practices through which the poor get by. For instance, as it was highlighted by the Freshwater Action Network, in Latin America alone grassroots water committees reach 40 million people and encompass more than 80,000 communities working under a self-provision model. With few exceptions, these platforms operate without the support of state agencies and either private or public utilities. There are some emerging mechanisms that bridge citizen and state roles and responsibilities in water and sanitation provision, in the pursuit of what we could call the ‘co-production of water justice’. However, little attention is devoted to the understanding and enhancement of these platforms.

In summary, given the wider recognition of the human right to water and sanitation we might be living decisive times for making water and sanitation poverty history, but we cannot be complacent. If water and sanitation justice is to be achieved, dominant assumptions, approaches and biases need to be constantly challenged. Real, sustainable and just solutions to the water and sanitation crises shouldn’t rely only on the will of governments, donors and multilateral organisations. Making water and sanitation poverty history, or not, will be the resultant of the combination of a range of forces within the society at large, in every particular context. Concerning the international events that this year gathered in Marseille, it is precisely the existence of the two fora the best opportunity to make evident the tensions and contradictions in policy and practice, and by addressing these, to advance towards sustainable water and sanitation justice for all.


All photos by Etienne Von Bertrab

A household registration reform to become Urban Citizen. Letter from China

By Ding Liu, on 9 March 2012

It’s been quite a time since I left DPU. How I missed all the teachers and classmates when I was looking at a photo of the room 201 on Facebook!  Every one at DPU is moving along in their paths in life. I think DPU is an interchange point for many of these different pathways – how interesting and amazing!

I am also moving on in my own pathway.  Now I am working at the development department of county level government in the city of Chongqing. Last year I was responsible for the local household registration reform led by Chongqing Municipal Government, the Chongqing’s reform is likely to make a breakthrough in the development of rural areas in China. The government intends to remove the discrimination between the urban dwellers with a non-agricultural Hukou and the rural people who have an agricultural one, in terms of social security, medical care, education and a series of barriers that stand in the way of the development of average agricultural people.

The household registration reform is a huge and long-lasting systematic project, which encompasses not just identity change, but also related social security construction, urban development and institution adjustment. At present, Chongqing is just in the early stages of this – transforming an agricultural Hukou to an urban Hukou; compensating pensions for the older people living in rural areas; building more houses for the rural immigrants; scaling up the size of the townships; and taking measures to increase the value of the agricultural land, through which it can increase the assets value of the peasants, and so on. In the past year 2011, Chongqing’s total number of agricultural people who became citizens holding urban Hukou [3,000,000 in my county] increased by more than 35,000. I am confident that, in the foreseeable future, the discriminated Agricultural Hukou will totally disappear and all citizens will have the equal rights of development.

My job is of great meaning to the rural people and that inspires me to do better.

Another important note about China’s future development plan is that in the recent central government conference ‘social construction’ has been proposed as the keyword for the development of China in 2012. Given that China’s social organisations have been poorly developing under the current political system, this conference has offered a sign that social actors are being considered an important aspect of the development of the country in the future. I believe that in the year 2012 deep and profound changes will happen in China. It is exciting and inspiring to be part of this social progress and witness the historic turning point.

No matter how exactly the reform is received in its infancy, we will do the best we can to fulfill its goal in the future.

I appreciate the time I spent at the DPU. What I learnt there is hard to describe but it is greatly influencing my thoughts and behavior at present. I wish for the students from all around the world studying at the unit to make great contributions to the development of their country and bring real well-being to their people through innovative projects and approaches.

Ding Liu. DPU Alumnus
Deputy Director
Development and Reform Commissions of Wuxi | County Chongqing China


Why is it so tempting for livelihood projects to ignore poor people?

By Julian H Walker, on 9 February 2012

PHOTO: J. Walker

Approaches to development which prioritize economic growth have been consistently criticized on the basis of their trickle-down assumptions, and for losing sight of equality as an objective. An ongoing theme in international development, therefore, has been attempts to develop frameworks which ensure that the needs of poor women and men are understood, and catered for, in economic development and livelihood programming.  Yet all too often there seems to be a sort of slippage between the intention of such frameworks and their application, whereby, in practice, they are perversely used to justify the exclusion of poor people.

One anti-poverty framework which is currently in the ascendancy is the ‘Making Markets Work for the Poor’ (M4P) approach[1]. Championed by major donors such as the UK DfID and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), M4P was developed in part as a corrective to previous anti-poverty approaches, such as the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach, which,  while it had a strong emphasis on the strategies and assets of poor households, failed to robustly address the structural and institutional constraints that exclude poor women and men from accessing markets and employment.

In this light, the M4P approach explicitly aims to combine growth with active measures to ensure the access of the poor to markets. Its intention is to foster systemic change focused on the systems of entitlement and the (formal and informal) ‘rules’ or institutions that support or impede poor people’s access to and control over markets.

Over the last six months I, along with DPU associate Nadia Taher,  have been working with the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) in their South Caucasus Progamme[2] (which covers their development assistance activities in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). This work builds on a long history of collaboration between the DPU and the SDC working on gender equality issues. In this case we are working with the SDC’s Gender and Governance advisor to bring a stronger gender equality focus to their work in the region.

One of the issues that we are addressing with the SDC team is how to make sure that the eight Economic Development and Employment (EDE) projects that they support in the South Caucasus (which have all been structured using the M4P approach) actively cater to the needs of poor women and men. These eight projects, reflecting the prevalence of poverty in remote rural areas in the South Caucasus, are all in the field of horticulture and animal husbandry, and attempt in different ways to connect village households dependent on farming to urban markets for their produce.

A critical issues here is that, not infrequently, the NGOs implementing these EDE  projects appear to be working in ways which sideline the inclusion and interests of the poor. Many of the project teams feel that they should primarily focus on support to existing private sector enterprises (including, in some cases, established international businesses), but are hesitant to work with the poorest women and men farmers or agricultural labourers.  Ironically, the justification for this approach is typically that to work directly with poor women and men would contravene the principles of the M4P framework, which proposes a ‘light touch’ facilitative approach, working with existing actors and processes, rather than interventions which create new processes and institutions, which are dependent on the project and may therefore be unsustainable. Whatever the justification, the outcome is odd for poverty focused projects when,  for example, it is seen as in keeping with the M4P framework  to purchase lorries for an established dairy processing business, while direct interventions such as support to the creation of cooperatives or famers associations, or start up grants or loans to poor households are disallowed on the basis that they are ‘unsustainable’.

In other cases, project interventions prioritize the interests of growth, but do not attempt to promote equitable access to the wealth created. For example one project focuses on supporting established businesses to develop fruit processing in high quality fruit value chains, arguing that this will create wage labour (casual agricultural labour and work in processing facilities), but envisages no interventions to support the rights and labour conditions of a casual agricultural labour force, despite the fact that this is a labour force which is notoriously vulnerable to poorly paid and exploitative working conditions.  Thus their interpretation of the systemic change envisaged by M4P appears to be about changing the systems of market access for medium sized business, while leaving the systems whereby agricultural labours are exploited untouched.

The SDC are aware of these issues, and, in response, have been stressing that there is space within the M4P framework for a more active, rights based interpretation. For example, they point out that the M4P approach advocates working with a full range of ‘market players’ – and, while it is important to work with the private sector in the interest of economic growth, rights based and pro-equality interventions also require working with other market players, specifically supporting civil society and government bodies working on issues related to labour rights, governance, and market regulation, or producers associations which protect the rights and negotiating capacity or women and men engaged in farming.

So why, in this case, is it that the application of pro-poor frameworks such as M4P often lead, in practice, to pro-business interventions which sideline the poor?  Is it that models of growth-led development are so embedded in our minds that we can’t take alternative forms of enterprise, such as cooperatives, or state regulated markets, seriously? Or that the ways in which the performance of economic development projects are measured (for example economic return on investment) mean that a truly pro-poor orientation will always score badly in the short term? Or that poor people are difficult to reach, because they don’t fit into neat organised associations which are easy to work with, and conform to the requirements of our framework? Or that dealing the institutions that underpin poverty requires confronting vested interests, and sensitive political structures that project teams feel are ‘out of reach’? Whatever the reason, it seem very clear that however sound frameworks  such as M4P are on paper, we need to apply constant critical scrutiny to what they deliver in practice, as they have a tendency to create a new logic all of their own when they hit the real world.

[1] http://www.m4phub.org/

[2] http://www.sdc.admin.ch/en/Home/Countries/Commonwealth_of_Independent_States_CIS/Southern_Caucasus_Georgia_Armenia_Azerbaijan

Careers in development planning: reflections from the DPU

By Étienne Von Bertrab, on 19 December 2011

Is the professional world of development planning shrinking, or expanding?
Given current and future urban and global challenges, what are the key capacities of a development practitioner?

On the first evening of December students from the six MSc programmes at the Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL), engaged in a dialogue with their course directors. The theme debated was challenges and opportunities for careers in development planning. The session involved a discussion of what constitutes the field of development planning, elaborations on scenarios for the practice vis-à-vis current and future challenges, and concrete recommendations for development planning students during and after completion of their MSc.

A resonant view amongst panel members was that the professional world of development planning is increasingly competitive, and that is shrinking, at least in the most conventional areas of practice. Adriana Allen, Director of the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development, and Camilo Boano, Director of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development, suggested that the field might be expanding, particularly if we think laterally and out of the box. DPU’s Director and Director of the MSc in Urban Development Planning, Caren Levy, pointed out that precisely because of realities of globalisation, governance, and the very nature and complexity of urban and global challenges, conventional professions need to be challenged, and shifted towards more strategic and innovative approaches for transformative change. One example of where such approaches are needed is in professionals’ engagement with urban informality, largely neglected in urban planning despite an urgent need to recognise it and work with it. Another reflection was the fact that communities across the world are no longer passive recipients, but on the contrary, they are increasingly articulate and mobilised, and very often ordinary women and men are at the centre of transformative change. The capacity to listen to the range of different voices was raised as a crucial skill for development planners.

What are the contributions of the DPU in the education of development planners? Panel members expressed that, rather than focusing on what the (job) market demands, the programmes are shaped and reformulated with a commitment towards building a visionary, strategic and long-term perspective. While the courses might have a different ‘entry point’ to development planning, they all have an explicit objective of contributing to the development of reflective practitioners, who are able to constantly question their assumptions, what they know and what they don’t know. As highlighted by Le-Yin Zhang, Director of the MSc in Urban Economic Development, another increasingly relevant aspect is the internationalisation of students and of academic bodies, who are also engaged in research, training and advisory services around the world.


Going back to key competencies for the practice, the capacity to critically engage with reality was highlighted by Caren Levy, stating that a wider understanding of complexity is highly valued by organisations, as it can help them constantly reflect on what they do and how they do it. She also expressed how crucial the capacity to communicate is, highlighting spoken interventions, oral presentations and writing as key skills to apply in professional life beyond the MSc.

Patrice North, co-Director of the MSc in Social Development Practice and Michael Walls, Director of the MSc in Development Administration and Planning, recommended students to think strategically about the dissertation (and to that effect, on the selection of each piece of coursework). For many, the dissertation has become the stepping stone for either studying a PhD or for exploring a future area of work. Also, as reminded by Michael Walls, the value of the overseas field trip itself shouldn’t be underestimated: it is the prime practical experience of the courses, experience that can also be reflected in a CV. Moreover, for some, such as the Alumni behind the recently created initiative Travolution.org, the fieldwork can become an important source of inspiration to pursue new independent endeavours. Further building experience, for example by volunteering or doing internships (when possible and affordable), may generate opportunities in a network-based environment. However, as put by Michael Walls, networking is an active process that needs to be utilised effectively. It is also important to simultaneously think of geographies, themes and organisations of interest. Also essential, panellists agreed, is to think what is important to one self. It might be an uncertain work future, but as Adriana Allen reminded students, it is important to keep things in perspective, and to think of our situation in relation to that of others. (After all, isn’t thinking of others a key engine in planning for socially just sustainable development?).

Responding to a student’s (great) question on what is advised not to do, there was some wisdom to offer: don’t panic, don’t become captivated with what seems to be mainstream, don’t knock on all the same doors as everyone else, don’t be flippant when you apply and take every opportunity (and organisation) seriously; target your CVs and cover letters rather than sending ineffective applications and, above all, don’t lie: being truthful about personal objectives and capacities may be the more effective way to develop the career you want. All these aspects might seem basic and derived from common sense, but, as DPU scholars – also employers – seem to agree, they are not always that common.

Were you present in the session and didn’t find the space to ask your questions? Are you an ex-DPU student and want to add your bit of advice departing from your own experience? Are you part of the development planning network and want to add your thoughts to this (herein abridged) discussion? You are welcome to write your comments.