International Development Consultancy Project

International Development graduate students at the LSE have the option to take part in a consultancy project for an external client as part of their programme.

IADB-Team-1024x683ID student team at the Inter-American Development Bank’s office in Haiti. Read their experience here

The consultancy project provides students with an opportunity to apply the analytical tools and critical thinking skills that we teach to a ‘real world’ problem, and it provides clients with an opportunity to harness those skills to advance organisational objectives.  

Working in teams of 3-5, students produce a report for a client that deals with a problem of theory or practice relevant to the client’s activities. Projects are defined by clients, who provide the terms of reference to their assigned team of student consultants. The specific nature of projects varies, depending on the client and their needs.  The students will work with the clients and the LSE staff to ensure that the projects are viable in the time available. 

The students involved are concurrently enrolled in courses that expose them to the most recent literature and debates concerning development policy and institutional reform. Our students come from countries across the globe, have strong academic credentials, and often have previous work experience.  

This programme is now in its 27th year. Students have produced projects for a diverse array of large and small organizations, including DfID, UNOCHA, the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, NATO, the UK Foreign Office, the Emerging Markets Group, CARE, Oxfam, MSF, The Fairtrade Foundation, Shell Oil, and Wedu, amongst many, many others. 


1. Are students funded to do field work or would this be more of desk research? 

Students do not have any funding to do field work and are unlikely to have time to conduct fieldwork given their heavy course loads. The client should ensure that the project they propose is doable through desk research, interviews (in-person if in London, or, alternatively by phone/Skype), or other methodologies not requiring travel or in-person fieldwork.  

2. Is the Terms of Reference jointly developed with the student(s) and/or faculty or is that done by the client alone? 

The initial Terms of Reference (ToR) are proposed by the client, and reviewed first by LSE staff. LSE staff are reviewing these ToRs to ensure that projects are doable, realistic and relevant to our students, and appropriate for the correct degree programmes. Clients may be asked to make changes deemed necessary by our staff in order to establish an appropriate project. Students then get to access the ToRs to help them select their preferred projects. Once student groups have been allocated to specific projects, the students consult with the client to discuss the particulars of the ToR and make any necessary changes based on the group’s skills, and client’s needs. Agreeing the final ToRs between the students and the client is an important first step in the consultancy.  

NB: To ensure a high quality finished product, it is very important that clients not alter ToRs significantly after they have been agreed with the assigned students. Copies of the original and revised ToRs are included in the groups’ interim and final reports. 

3. What is the time input required from clients? 

Client organizations are expected to provide at least one point of contact who can be in touch with students; each project will differ, but in some cases it may be prudent to provide more than one point of contact to deal with different phases or needs in the project timeline. Clients should establish with students at the beginning of the consultancy what level of input will be required of them (for instance: will students need to be put in touch with interviewees only the client has access to? Does the client wish to check in with students after each interview? Will meetings with the students take place in person, over the phone, or will email updates suffice?). Realistically, clients should expect that consultancy teams will need to be in touch briefly every few days at the very start of the project, but less as the project progresses.  The degree of contact necessary usually reflects the nature of the tasks given and the extent to which clients assume responsibility for putting students in contact with interviewees etc.  

4. Are clients involved in grading/feedback? 

The consultancy projects are graded by LSE staff and evaluated based on a final presentation and final written report. Clients are invited to the LSE for final presentations and/or can opt to host the final presentation in their offices (if based in London). Clients are invited to give input to the LSE staff member grading the project and their feedback will be taken into account when determining the final grade.  

5. To what extent are students reliant on us as clients to provide source information?  

Clients need to consider at the outset where students will obtain core information.  If the students are dependent on clients for contact information or internal documentation this will need to be provided in a timely way.  LSE mentors may gently nudge clients to provide this if necessary. Clients need to be realistic about the capacity of London based researchers to access interlocutors overseas without the necessary introductions. 

6. How much support do the LSE Mentors give to the student teams? 

Because this is a form of experiential learning LSE mentors help the teams to structure decisions in response to problems that they encounter. They do not provide the consultancy groups with the answers and even were they to do so, the groups can choose to do things differently. 

7. Do Clients have a role in mentoring?  

This depends on the client. Frequently the simplest way of handling this is to adopt the role of a somewhat benevolent client – being supportive but generally expecting professional standards and commitment on the part of the team.  

8. Are there any Ethical Considerations? 

Students will often produce notes of interviews conducted in the course of the consultancy. These can only be passed to the client if agreed in advance and if the interviewees consent and have been informed of this prior to the interview. Students will not be authorised to deviate from this procedure.   


  • Mid July - call out for proposals to clients
  • End of Sept - deadline for proposals
  • Mid October - successful projects allocated to students
  • End of October - Students contact client and begin working on TOR
  • Mid March - reports to be finalised
  • End of March - project presentations 

A more detailed timeline will be provided in the July call to clients. 

Client Testimonials

"Thank you very much for following up on our work with LSE students as part of this programme. 

"We have been so impressed with the group of students we worked with on a study into disability inclusion in DRR and wanted to share our feedback with you. 

"The group was such a pleasure to work with – they were proactive, enthusiastic, and well organised. They took initiative in arranging meetings with us and also reaching out to key informants to interview for the study; they were extremely professional and prepared in all of our meetings, and we were also really impressed with how well they worked together as a group, particularly in the challenging context of virtual collaboration. They were able to balance input across the group and be collaborative while having clear lines of communication, which was really helpful for us.

"We were also so happy with the quality of their work – their method was very thoughtful, the paper itself was genuinely insightful, well structured, informative, and useful, as well as being really well presented and easy and enjoyable to read. They did a brilliant job of balancing academic robustness with practical application of the learning, and we are really looking forward to taking up their findings as an organisation. They also responded really well to our feedback and we felt this part of the process was genuinely collaborative and constructive.

"Finally, we really valued their attitude to learning throughout this process: they have all demonstrated a real thoughtfulness and sincerity about the inclusion of people with disabilities in DRR, a sensitivity to their own non-disabled perspectives, and actively sought out the knowledge and experience of individuals with disabilities which has definitely enriched the paper as well as our organisational learning.

"Working with this group of students has been such a highlight, we would not hesitate to recommend all of them very highly, or to propose further projects with LSE on the basis of this experience. We hope it’s been positive for them as well!"

 - Alison and Mirianna, Practical Action

Student experience

A selection of past examples of reports from 2021