I'm a PhD student at the University of Leeds, and I'm looking at how non-governmental organisations (NGOs) do research. I’m trying to understand the opportunities and challenges that NGOs experience in undertaking research alongside advocacy and service delivery, through a focus on NGOs in Malawi.

Internship with the Scottish Government International Development team

I heard about the internship with the Scottish Government towards the end of my first year, and it sounded perfect. I worked in international development for about 10 years before starting my PhD, mainly in NGOs. I was keen to learn more about work in a government donor, and the Scottish Government placement provided a great opportunity. In addition, Scotland's international development programme works with NGOs and focuses on Malawi, so fitted very well with my PhD topic and fieldwork experience.

The placement was three months in the government offices in Edinburgh. I was based primarily in the international development policy team, but worked closely with the research division.

My role was to review the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems used by the Scottish Government to assess its work in international development. This project had two stages. The first part was compiling information from the M&E reports completed by the organisations that receive grants through the international development programme.

The second stage of the internship looked at ways to strengthen the M&E approach. For this, I assessed the existing processes, reviewed key literature on M&E, and discussed the current approach and options for change with grant holders and other donors. This was written up as a report indicating key issues to consider and possible future steps and strategies, and I shared the findings through a meeting with the Scottish Government team.

Alongside this main project, I had some time to help with other ongoing activities, for example, preparing ministerial briefings and participating in proposal review meetings. It was great to learn about different aspects of the team’s work.

The internship was very interesting and useful – definitely recommended. First, the overlap between the internship activities and my PhD topic made this a particularly rewarding and interesting placement. My PhD experience was useful for the M&E review, and the internship helped my PhD by giving me a chance to attend relevant seminars and events. This built my understanding of the Malawian context and my research networks.

Second, I got a great insight into the opportunities and pressures facing civil servants. Being in government can give you the chance to make real impacts, and that means I would now consider a government post after the PhD. If I go back to the NGO sector, having some experience of how government works should help me to collaborate and liaise with government donors more effectively.

Third, I learned a lot about monitoring and evaluation – an area that I was interested in but where I had fairly limited experience. I’m now keen to gain more experience of M&E as it provides a great balance between practical work and critical reflection.

Fourth, the placement forced me to think about the practical implications of issues raised in the development literature. I’ve always worked on applied research, but the internship highlighted the further steps needed to move from broad policy recommendations to detailed implementation. This is a useful lesson for my future research and policy work, whether in academia or other sectors.