What is the MPA Capstone?
The Capstone is a compulsory course undertaken by all second year MPA students. This one unit course is a key part of the MPA core curriculum and it is designed to ensure that students have an intensive and closely supervised experience of working in a group on a real-world public policy project.
The Capstone groups tackle socially relevant and topical policy issues and the contribution of MPA students is highly valued by the Capstone clients. The project is a team effort to carry out analysis and research in order to address a practical policy issue relevant to the client organisation. It allows students to extend their capabilities and apply what they have learnt in the MPA core courses in a professional manner.
During the second year of study, MPA students are assigned to groups of 3 to 6 members. Team members are strongly advised to dedicate around 1.5 to 2 days a week to the project between October and March, including some vacation time.
Each project is supervised by a member of the MPA academic staff, who provides advice and monitors progress. There are special training sessions to develop particular skills and analytical techniques for the Capstone. The project earns a collective grade and students are expected to manage the division and development of work amongst themselves.
The MPA programme has collaborated with a diverse group of highly reputable organisations. Our most recent partners include:
- private sector companies: Centre for Public Impact of the Boston Consulting Group and ARUP
- international organisations: UNICEF, UNESCO, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, OECD, and Gates Foundation
- international development consultancies: Oxford Policy Management
- NGOs and foundations: Migration Policy Institute, Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation and Fatherhood Institute
- public corporations: Bank of England
- UK government agencies: Greater London Authority and DFID
Capstone projects 2016/17
Below is a selection of projects representing different organisations from this academic year. Find out what second year MPA students have been working on...
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a non-for-profit global organisation that seeks to reduce poverty and hunger, improve health, education and access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Its Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) programme aims to help people in the world’s poorest regions improve their lives and build sustainable futures by connecting them with digitally-based financial tools and services.
This capstone examined the effect of combining social protection with financial inclusion initiatives, which seek to deliver financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income people. In the last decade, both social transfers and financial inclusion have been regarded as poverty alleviation mechanisms, helping the poor to overcome income shocks and achieve better living standards. The project assessed the extent to which these two policy instruments have been combined in government social protection programmes and examined the effects generated by their interaction. Particularly, the project aimed to understand the effect of combining these two instruments on monetary and social dimensions of human welfare.
The project conducted a literature review and statistical analysis to assess welfare effects of financial inclusion.
The client feedback
The Financial Services for the Poor team at the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has now completed three successful Capstone projects with LSE MPA students. We immensely value the rigour, creativity and thoughtfulness that always characterises the work they do for us, as well as the advice and supervision of the LSE's top flight researchers.
Rebecca Mann, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Findeter is a regional development bank for sustainable infrastructure in Colombia. It grants concessional loans through financial intermediaries to finance public and private infrastructure projects throughout the country, and provides technical assistance in the execution of infrastructure programs.
This capstone assessed the quality and policy relevance of the Intermediate Cities Index. This composite index has been developed by Findeter for monitoring development of intermediate (or medium-sized) cities in Colombia. To evaluate quality, it focused on various components of the Index, including data sources and data quality, index construction methodology and selection of variables. To establish policy relevance, the capstone examined whether the Index enabled Findeter to target its loan investments toward a city’s key development priorities. The analysis provided concrete, actionable recommendations for improving the quality and utility of the Index.
The project was based on a review of literature on existing indices and methods for measuring city development as well as quantitative data analysis.
The client feedback
The capstone project is a terrific initiative that enables students to work on important projects at public and private organisations around the world. Findeter was part of this initiative, which involved a project to evaluate the intermediate cities index - a tool for territorial entities and policy makers to understand the development of cities throughout years.
A group of five students had the task to analyse this index and make recommendations to improve it, not only in terms of data collection but also improving its accuracy. The application of theories and concepts to the analysis of empirical issues enriched the conception of the index. The project’s recommendations are going to be part of a plan to recalculate the index to provide better and more accurate information to policy makers.
Jaime Alejandro Urrego, Coordinator for Centre of Economic Analysis, Findeter
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the bank of the European Union (EU) and the largest multilateral borrower and lender by volume in the world. It provides finance and expertise for investment projects with the goal of contributing to furthering EU internal and external policy objectives.
This capstone sought to develop a new methodology to estimate rates of return on investment using widely available national accounts data. It applied this tool to four EU countries to provide a step-by-step practical illustration of the methodology. In recent years, the view that public investment crowds out alternative investment has gained relevance. Estimating the cost of the crowding out of investment for a country requires estimates of rates of return on investment. The ultimate aim of the project was to develop methodology that is simpler than other existing approaches, based only on one data source (national accounts), applicable both to the public and private sectors, and flexible to the differences of the EU countries.
The project was based on a review of literature on the rate of return estimation methods and quantitative analysis of data from national accounts.
The client feedback
The project was extremely useful. I was expecting a student report and got instead a piece of work comparable to that of commercial consultants. Indeed the MPA students already had substantial working experience and were taking two years off to upgrade their knowledge. The output of the report is ready for use in actual investment operations. I look forward to another Capstone project.
José Doramas Jorge-Calderon, Senior Economist, European Investment Bank
Oliver Wyman is a global management consulting firm. It’s an industry expert with specialized knowledge in strategy, operations, risk management, and organisation transformation. Its clients include the CEOs and executive teams of the top Global 1000 companies.
This capstone examined the challenges for governments and their regulator bodies in finding ways to leverage innovation and competition in financial services markets, whilst maintaining sustainability and viability of regulatory solutions. In particular, it identified the main constraints in the UK regulatory environment related to the growing financial technology (FinTech) industry and offers policy recommendations for addressing these regulatory challenges. In addition, it analysed the ways in which Brexit will affect FinTech regulation, both in terms of limitations and opportunities it brings. The project advanced a new qualitative framework for analysing a country’s (not just the UK’s) financial services regulatory environment.
The project used qualitative methods, including a literature review; primary desk-based research on current measures and interventions by governments and their supervisory bodies; and interviews with government regulators, niche firms, large banks and other decision-makers.
The client feedback
We had a terrific experience in our first collaboration with the MPA Capstone team. The team provided high-quality insight into the interesting and fast evolving topic of the Regulation of Fintechs with well-researched deep-dives into the impact of Brexit. We will definitely be repeating the collaboration again next year. In fact, we enjoyed working with them so much we hired one who will be starting with us in September!
Lisa Quest, Principal, Oliver Wyman
CPI is a not-for-profit foundation founded by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to help improve the positive impact of governments. It brings government leaders together to learn and exchange ideas about strengthening public impact.
This capstone aimed to develop a framework to help policy makers address ethical challenges associated with the use of algorithms. Algorithmic decision-making and prediction are novel tools in government. Governments will require a solid comprehension of the costs and benefits of using algorithms in the policy cycle in order to capitalise on the promise of the technologies. The project identified main ethical trade-offs around the use of algorithms for decision-making, policy design and implementation. It documents tools available to governments to overcome or minimise the identified challenges.
The project employed qualitative methods, including a literature review and interviews with academics, government representatives, IT-experts, and experts from the private sector and civil society.
The client feedback
We always look forward to our Capstone projects with the LSE MPA students. Their professionalism, talent and dedication to delivering great insights are consistently impressive. Every time we've worked with a Capstone group we have learned a tremendous amount.
Danny Buerkli, Programme Director, Centre for Public Impact
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supports rights-based approaches to improving the lives and opportunities for children and youth globally. UNICEF’s work directly engages with the most critical issues impacting children and youth, from access to educational opportunities and healthy living environments, to protection from violence.
This capstone mainly focused on implications of demographic change for ageing populations rather than for children. Low income and lower middle income countries with high fertility levels are expected to experience a ‘bulge’ in their populations of children and youth. Levels of per capita social spending on young people are potentially harder to increase in these countries. The project analysed the consequences of demographic change for spending in education and health sectors and draws implications for policy and practice.
The project used a panel dataset comprised of various demographic, health and education data to generate descriptive statistics and perform correlation analysis. The students also employed a panel fixed effect methodology to assess the elasticities of demographic change in social expenditure.