ECO 417H1S – Economic Development Policy: Community Engaged Learning

Prof. Freitas, Department of Economics,  University of Toronto

    This course will not be offered over the 2019-2020 academic year.

Please check back in June 2020 for more information. 

Course Overview

This course examines the causes and consequences of poverty with a focus on policy.  An organization working in a particular village in a developing country has a complicated task. Even with a focus in a particular area, for example credit, education etc., it has to figure out what intervention to implement, how to implement it and then measure its effectiveness. Over the course, we will learn how development economists approach such problems.

We start by trying to understand observed patterns of behavior by examining people’s choices and the factors that affect it. This helps identify particular constraints and needs in a community. To design effective interventions or policy to meet these needs we need a proper, nuanced understanding of the context in which these decisions are made. We will work theoretically through possible mechanisms by which the policy could achieve its objectives. Specific implementation details could affect policy effectiveness as what works in one may not in another so we will spend time talking about the assumptions made, and toggling between theory and evidence. Finally, we need to empirically check if the program had any effect. We will discuss what constitutes “good” evidence, how to use it to inform and validate theory, and how it is used in program evaluation. We will critically examine the role of randomized evaluations in development.

Your in-class learning will be complemented by a required 30 hour unpaid placement in Toronto. You will get the chance to learn from a community organization that has responded effectively to local needs and explore what ‘context-specific’ means in your own community. Relating on-the-ground interventions to your in-class academic learning will build critical thinking skills and make you better prepared for jobs in the field of development.

Course Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, successful students will be able to

  • Characterize the main issues and mechanisms for a broad set of topics in economic development. They will construct concept maps to show patterns of connections between these topics, identifying conceptual similarities and differences.
  • Use an economic framework to analyze the effects of policies using case studies, being careful to identify context-specific factors relevant to policy implementation.
  • Identify and critically evaluate framework assumptions informed by empirical evidence and demonstrate this skill in their assignments and class discussions.
  • Explain what constitutes good evidence and why. Describe the role of randomized evaluations in development highlighting strengths and weaknesses of the tool.
  • Make policy recommendations, explaining their reasoning and decision-making criterion in an assignment. Important elements will include measurement issues, sources of data and empirical analysis.
  • Link their experiential and in-class learning through a group final project that analyzes the implementation of a particular intervention. Important elements will include choosing outcome measures, identifying theoretical mechanisms through which the policy is expected to work, identifying context-specific implementation factors and a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation.
  • Use reflection assignments and team feedback to identify workplace skills strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Develop workplace skills, e.g. collaboration skills by working on a group project, the ability to effectively give and respond to feedback, and communication skills through writing, an infographic assignment, and oral presentations.
  • Learn about development related issues in Toronto, innovative responses to them and issues a professional working in the field might face through their placement, reflection assignments, and structured group discussions.



Application Form

This section will be updated in June 2020 if the course is being offered.  




The reading list will be posted on Quercus. Here is a video of Esther Duflo‘s lecture at the IMF to get you thinking about the issues involved in development policy.

Center for Community Partnerships

We will be working with the Center for Community Partnerships in this course. They will help us with the placements and help you through the bureaucracy involved. Please check out their informative website and their Community Engaged Learning Student Handbook 2016-2017 (link will be updated when the newer version is available)