Development Theory and Skill-building Exercises (Grads)

These theory and skill-building exercises are intended to help you build on and synthesize the material we’re encountering in class, as well as begin to get a feel for the kinds of intellectual tasks a working development practitioner encounters. To be clear, none of these assignments duplicate the kinds of reports or assessments actually conducted int he development field; rather they exercise the same intellectual muscles, so to speak, in an academic setting.


EXERCISE #1 (Due Wednesday, September 28, in class, hardcopy):

Although we’ve tried to cover many of the most important theories and approaches to understanding what “kicks off” economic growth, and why it happens in some times/places more readily than others. That said, we’ve only scratched the surface. For this assignment, I’m asking you to select 2 books from this list, and to identify and analyze their “theories of development” in light of our overview of the field. The challenge here will be that while many books offer what amounts to a theory, not all are explicit in doing so. Your job is to read closely, find those theories, and discuss their merits. What are the assumptions your authors are making about why growth happens in some places and times? Do they offer lessons to countries struggling to grow in today’s world? Papers should be between 1500 and 2000 words (5-6 pages, double-spaced), in-text citations, bibliography.


EXERCISE #2 (due Monday November 21 in class, hardcopy):

Drawing on data available from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), research the volume of official foreign aid flows (Official Development Assistance (ODA)) to a developing country of your choice in the most recent year available (most likely 2014 or 2015). You should be able to report on the total volume of aid flows (and indicate how that aid flow relates to the country’s GDP/GNI figures), the source(s) of aid flows, and what sectors the aid targets. Briefly compare those figures to two other neighboring developing countries in the same region. Use the USAID website to focus on aid from the United States and explain what kinds of projects, if any, the U.S. has funded in your country recently. Use the website to explain how the current aid flow to your country compares to past years in terms of volume and in terms of sources (where available). Present a clear summary of what you find using professionally formatted graphs or tables (made in Excel or otherwise) and explain what you have found and what the graphs/tables show in about 600-800 words. Cite all sources of data and/or external reports you draw on.


EXERCISE #3 (Due December 7 by 5 PM, hardcopy in my Bentley Annex mailbox)

Evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to improve economic development and well-being is one of the most challenging tasks in the development field. For this project, I ask that you identify a specific aid project, either currently underway or completed, and that you evaluate its overall impact. Here, I give you significant leeway to define what you mean by “success,” based on what we’ve read and discussed over the course of the term. A few suggestions for starting out: Was the project successful on its own terms (did it accomplish what it set out to do? Did it have adequate funding?)? Was the project targeting an area of real need, or was there something better or more important the money and time could have been spent on? Was the project sustainable (will its results be visible in 5 years? 10? A lifetime? Did it have any unintended negative outcomes?)?

Where can you find lists or databases of aid projects? Obviously, the World Bank and USAID websites are one good place; others include AidData, the OECD, and the websites of specific donors (for our purposes, we’ll allow projects funded by NGOs and other private entities, as well). Where else will you need to look? For some older projects, there may be academic analyses in journal articles and books to draw on, while in others local or international media may have covered them. Project reports and other publicly available documents will be another (perhaps the key) source, though–you’ll need to choose a project with enough of a paper trail to work from. Finally, I’m not looking for you to re-create a project assessment; the goal here is for you to be broad and synthetic in your evaluation. Think big, and draw on theory! 2000-2500 words, in-text citations, bibliography.