skip to primary navigationskip to content

ESD650 International Development

Leader                 Prof Richard C Carter (

Timing                 Lent term, over 4 weeks
Structure              Eight 2-hour sessions plus reading, internet research, coursework and relevant seminars


“Doing development” requires a different mindset to “doing engineering” in one’s own culture and context.  The notion of development itself, and terminologies such as ‘developing countries’, ‘least developed countries’, ‘low-income’ and ‘third world’ all need critical examination.  The difficulties of bringing about successful development interventions are great, and they need to be acknowledged.  Some would argue that development is ‘not rocket science’, but actually much harder than that.

The peoples and Governments of all nations aspire to better ways of life, and from 2016 onwards the international community of donors, lenders and technical assistance agencies has resolved to enhance their collaboration in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, a hugely ambitious programme of poverty elimination.  Engineers have a part to play in this endeavour, and they need the ways of thinking and approaches which will make them effective.  This module provides some of the resources and opportunities for dialogue toward that end.

Why you might enjoy the module

If you have an interest in international development, humanitarian relief, and the contribution of engineering to the problems of low-income and fragile States, then this module may be for you.  The intention is to expose you to development thinking and practice, warts and all, with a view to identifying ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work’.  The approach taken is constructively critical – in other words, recognising that there are aspects of development and aid which are not working, the key question is ‘how can we do better?’

Why you might find it challenging

Despite its title this is not an engineering module.  Rather it is a module about international development for engineers - to help you think about how your skills can fit within a much wider context of problem-solving, complexity and human institutional systems which are the arena of international relief and development efforts.  But this challenge is worth taking on.  The reduction of poverty and suffering, and the enhancement of the livelihoods and quality of life of those who have least, is arguably one of the most important challenges of Engineering for Sustainable Development.

Objectives and key themes

By the end of the module you will be equipped to:

  1. Understand and articulate the context of development, and the nature of the development endeavour with reference to the literature and international practice.
  2. Explain the links between the identification of needs and the common tools and approaches used in project and programme design.  Relate engineering interventions (especially in the water sector) to wider development goals, and comprehend the linkages between water and land resources, food, energy, human, social and physical capital.  Design simple, manageable monitoring and evaluation processes.
  3. Identify the key dimensions and pre-requisites for sustainability and equity in terms of development outcomes.
  4. Appreciate the difficulties involved in the transition from humanitarian emergency relief to long term development, and how these difficulties may be addressed.


 Session 1 Appreciation of context.  The various contexts in which development takes place: rural, urban, emergency relief, long-term development.  The disciplines (especially natural science, social science and engineering) which are brought to bear on development, and their ways of investigating and understanding the world.  Aspects of demography, economy, natural resources, politics and culture.

Session 2 Understanding development.  Historical and philosophical understandings of development.  Development, individual and national wealth, and well-being.  Measures of development, including GDP, HDI and its components; happiness index.  Global development goals: the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals.  The aid landscape.  Critiques of aid and development.

Session 3 Doing development.  Approaches to the identification of needs.  Design of projects and programmes.  Stakeholder analysis and power analysis.  Participation.  Logical frameworks.  Theory of change.  Critiques of deterministic approaches.  Complexity.

Session 4 Water development.  Water for domestic use: rationale for usual outputs, outcomes and impacts of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes.  Global, regional and national progress in WASH.  Water, sanitation, hygiene and health.  The F-diagram.  Disease transmission: the Bradley classification.  Water resources development and management.  Water security: concept and critique.

Session 5 Beyond infrastructure.  Behaviour change: its importance, challenges to change, approaches and achievements.  Social, cultural and political change.  Interdisciplinarity.  The “nexus” of water, land, food and energy. Institutions, individuals and capacity development.

Session 6 Sustainable and equitable development.  Notions of sustainability.  Dimensions of sustainability: social, technical, environmental, financial and economic, institutional.  Failures and successes in sustainable development.  Sustainability frameworks.  The meanings of equity, equality and inclusion.  Human rights arguments in relation to development.  Reaching everyone with development.

Session 7 Relief and development.  Types of emergency and components of emergency response.  Differences and similarities between emergency humanitarian relief and long-term development.  Sphere and other standards in relief work.  The concept of ‘Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD)’.  The challenges inherent in LRRD.  Successful examples of LRRD. 

Session 8 Monitoring and evaluating development.  Indicators, monitoring approaches, the role of technology in monitoring.  Common monitoring dilemmas.  Monitoring and verification in an age of ‘payment-by-results’.  Evaluation: why? From whose point of view?  Who participates?  Approaches to and methods for evaluation.  Addressing the question, “does development work?”.


Assessment will be through a 3000 word individual term paper which addresses a key question about engineering for sustainable development (in the broadest sense). 

Indicative ( may vary from year to year)
2 items:

Critical review of a development problem including context, problem statement,  literature review, methodological approach – 2000 words
A 1 page infographic conveying the essential findings of the critical review

General reading

Anderson M B et al (2012) Time to listen: hearing people on the receiving end of international aid.

Chambers R (1995) Poverty and livelihoods: whose reality counts?

Narayan D et al (2000) Voices of the Poor.  OUP / World Bank.

Ramalingham B (2013) Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World.  Oxford University Press.

Rapley J (2007) Understanding Development: Theory and Practice in the Third World.  THIRD EDITION ISBN: 978-1-58826-538-8 paperback.

Riddell R C (2007) Does foreign aid really work? Oxford University Press.

Sen A (1999) Development as Freedom.  Oxford University Press.

Sphere (2011) The Sphere Handbook: humanitarian charter and minimum standards in humanitarian response.

Stiglitz J (2002) Globalisation and its discontents.  W W Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-05124-2.

UNDP Human Development Reports (annual). UNDP, New York.

United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

World Bank World Development Reports (annual) .  World Bank, Washington.



NB: Modules and structure of the MPhil are subject to change year on year. This information is representative of the 18-19 structure but options may not be available in future years.