SUM4026M – What Works? Promising Practices

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Course content

The history of international development policy and development aid is a complicated one, a mixture of hopeful altruism and difficult reality. Poverty and inequality appear as resilient as ever, and human development – understood as development that prioritizes human well-being and aims at enlarging opportunities, freedoms and choices – continues to proceed slowly in large parts of the world.

Still, efforts by a wide range of actors to promote development and reduce poverty have, in recent times, yielded numerous positive results. The world has witnessed remarkable improvements in agricultural production, life expectancy and literacy— together with a reduction in child mortality and the incidence of infectious disease in many parts of the world.

This interdisciplinary course at the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment has been developed in close collaboration with colleagues based at Stanford University in the United States, the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi and China Agricultural University in Beijing. The lectures in this 6-week long course will highlight stories, cases, and events that can be considered “promising” or perhaps even “successful” in improving the well-being of the poor and contributing to overall societal progress. The goal is to learn how to better understand what works—and to unpack how and why it works—as we consider global and national development programmes and anti-poverty interventions.

While we are aware of the seriousness of these global challenges and the scale of human suffering or deprivation that exist, and we will discuss these, we nonetheless feel the need to also highlight solutions. We hope this course will equip you with a toolkit to examine interventions critically, while enabling you to recognize successful development strategies and how these can be deployed in a range of international contexts. Whether you are a practitioner, scholar or student of development, we invite you to share your insights with this community we are convening. We value your thoughts and your expertise, and we hope this community of interest will continue to grow, flourish and interact even with the conclusion of this course.

Learning outcome

Students will:
• Learn how to better understand what works, how and why in relation to global and national development programmes and anti-poverty interventions
• Obtain a nuanced understanding of how development is understood and measured, including the methodological challenges involved
• Be well acquainted with the major theoretical and empirical approaches to successful development strategies
• Identify, differentiate and analyse the impact of conventional and participatory approaches to development and poverty reduction
• Critically examine the impact of specific development programmes and projects at reducing poverty

Students will be able to:
• Critically read and evaluate existing studies on development-related topics
• Apply theoretical approaches to analyse specific cases of poverty reduction at international, national and local levels
• Undertake comparative studies of successful development in differing contexts
• Illustrate some of the major successes and failures of public policy
• Organise and differentiate between major development interventions and their impact at international, national and local levels

Students will:
• Acquire and further strengthen their ability to undertake critical, independent and thorough analyses of complex issues and questions
• Enhance their ability to critically evaluate empirical research
• Strengthen their overall ability to understand interdisciplinary theory and practice


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

The minimum requirement for admission is a minimum grade average of C (in the Norwegian grading scale) or equivalent from the specialization in your degree within social sciences, the humanities, or natural sciences. A degree in business studies does not qualify.

Students with a natural science background should have at least half a year's studies (30 ECTS) within the humanities or social sciences to prepare them for the interdisciplinary challenges this programme offers.

Students must also have a good working knowledge of English, and should be able to read and follow lectures in this language as well as writing a school examn in English.

Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with SUM4026 – What Works? Success Stories in International Development


This will be a so-called “blended” course. While the majority of the lectures are video lessons prepared by a vast amount of international lecturers, the course leader Dan Banik will provide supplementary lectures and engage in discussions with students on selected dates. While students can watch the online lectures together at SUM and elsewhere, the supplementary lectures by Dan Banik are obligatory.



Four hour written school exam.

Digital examination

The written examination is conducted in the digital examination system Inspera. You will need to familiarize yourself with the digital examination arrangements in Inspera.

Read more about written examinations using Inspera.

Examination support material

Students may use dictionaries at this exam. Dictionaries must be handed in before the examination. Please read regulations for dictionaries permitted at the examination.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Spring 2017


Spring 2017

Teaching language