November 21, 2013

A new practical class in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice (MPA-DP) program uses integrated cross-sectoral hands-on training to give its students skills essential to development professionals.

Designed by Professor André Corrêa d'Almeida and Laura Budzyna MPA-DP ’12, the Development Practice Lab is a two-semester requirement in the first-year curriculum. It consists of 10 workshops taught by guest practitioners from the field, who use cases from MPA-DP core courses to train students in skills and techniques required for problem appraisal and program design.

In addition to analyzing real-world cases, students have to complete exercises and work in teams to apply these skills to an integrated country-level diagnosis for an actual campaign.

“While bringing more real-life hands-on practical work, the DP-Lab is also an effort to integrate the MPA-DP curriculum across different disciplines offered in the program” said Corrêa d'Almeida.

Development Practice Lab (MPA-DP program)


The lab focuses on a different set of competencies each semester. This fall, first-year students are being trained in skills related to problem appraisal that will be applied in cases and assignments from the core course of Foundations of Sustainable Development Practice.

Students are learning how to use the key tools, techniques, and approaches employed by development organizations when diagnosing complex problems. Among the skills that are taught are stakeholder and institutional analysis, problem mapping and causal analysis, geographic information systems, logical framework analysis, and social media, advocacy, and agenda setting.

Sophie Matte MPA-DP ’15 says the course integrates “an essential set of skills that students need to be resourceful in the field.”

“So far in the semester, I have already acquired new knowledge of log frames and ArcGIS design that will better enable me to approach complex problems,” Matte said.

In the second semester, students learn about program design using cases from the Global Health Practice class. In the spring, the main skills taught in the lab are monitoring and evaluation planning, results-based budgeting, cost-benefit analysis, quantitative information gathering, negotiation and trust building, ethics, and working with communities.

Although the DP-Lab course is only mandatory for first-year students, the focus on competencies and skills expands into the third and fourth semesters.

In the third semester, students learn about program implementation in their Management for Development Professionals class, and in the fourth semester, they can hone their skills in monitoring and evaluation through independent study projects.

Corrêa d'Almeida explains that the idea of designing this type of class came from students, who were asking for more practice. “We invited alumni and faculty to participate in the design process of this activity,” he said.

For Rose Diaz, senior assistant dean for academic affairs, what makes the MPA-DP different from other programs is that students apply what they learn at class since their first semester. “It connects practitioners, scholars, and professors to bring real experience to an academic program,” she said.

The MPA-DP trains aspiring practitioners to understand, develop, and implement integrated approaches to sustainable development. In addition to completing core coursework, students take part in a three-month summer field project. Launched in 2009, the program was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) in July 2013.

— Valle Aviles Pinedo MIA ’14

Note: Current guest practitioners include Laura Budzyna (D-Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), 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), Eva Weissman (School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University), Nikolas Katsimpras (Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity, AC4, Columbia University) and Jeremiah Trinidad-Christensen (Lehman Digital Social Sciences Library, Columbia University), Eric Glass (Lehman Digital Social Sciences Library, Columbia University).