MPPA Global Policy Lab

Collaborate with global client organizations to drive real-world policy change and gain professional experience, relationships and training

The MPPA 580 Global Policy Lab provides students with a hands-on opportunity to apply core skillsets from the MPPA program, particularly as they relate to the international context. Students work for a client organization on a commissioned project supervised by a faculty member. In addition to providing students with a structured, cohesive opportunity to test themselves in the real world, the lab creates lasting reflections for students that they take with them into the job market.

Policy lab students learn to:
  • Collect, analyze and synthesize information to assess real-world policy options.
  • Apply empirical methods for analyzing policies including cost-benefit analysis, economic evaluation, and statistics.
  • Collect, organize and summarize information from individuals and organizations (public/ private) to analyze, implement, and evaluate policy activities.
  • Write professional quality analyses of policy issues using evidence and citations suitable for policy audiences.
  • Integrate professional skills including project management, communications, and collaboration to effectively work with stakeholders on policy issues.

 Client Projects

Past clients have included the American Red Cross, on a project related to the changing strategic landscape of international humanitarian assistance, and the Urban Land Institute, on a project to expand workforce housing in middle neighborhoods. Upcoming clients and projects are announced prior to registration.

Abo Akademi and the Alliance for the Great Lakes

Abo Akademi and the Alliance for the Great Lakes brought together an international cohort of students to explore common water policy and governance topics across the Great Lakes and Baltic Sea watersheds. With cohorts at Abo Akademi and Northwestern University in Turku, Finland and Chicago, Illinois, respectively, this course sparked new conversations and an exchange of diverse, interdisciplinary perspectives on global watershed challenges. Together, students in Finland and Chicago developed clean water solutions across the Great Lakes and Baltic Sea regions.

Faculty and Client Insights

Global Approaches to Shared Water Policy Challenges

Global Policy Lab course instructors discuss the collaboration with Åbo Akademi University and the Alliance for the Great Lakes in the 2022/23 winter term.

Main Street America

In 2022, the Policy Lab worked with Main Street America and focused on researching best practices toward restoring Main Streets in urban, suburban and rural communities. The past two years have highlighted the importance of Main Streets and the challenges they are facing — the pandemic was particularly harsh on small businesses, many of which have not survived. At the same time, many communities have come to appreciate the importance of their local businesses and the social environment, and the vital role local businesses play in the identity and social cohesion of communities. The course focused on bringing residential uses to Main Streets in order to enhance the vitality of the corridors, working directly with the research and urban development staff of Main Street.

Visit the Main Street America website for more information on the Main Street movement that gave rise to and comprises Main Street America.

Alliance for the Great Lakes

The Global Policy Lab worked on the interrelated, twin challenges of water affordability and water infrastructure needs—two critical policy challenges—for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Student research was conducted at the local and state levels, situated within the Great Lakes context and the federal water policy landscape. They investigated strategies for producing more sustainable and equitable water systems in terms of affordability and infrastructure integrity and improving equitable drinking water outcomes.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes works at the federal, state and local levels to advance clean water protections. The Alliance’s top line policy priorities include advancing sustainable, resilient and pollution-free waters, stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species, and ensuring equitable access to safe, clean and affordable water for everyone in the region.

Urban Land Institute Chicago

The Global Policy Lab provided MPPA students the opportunity to work on a specific assignment for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Chicago, an organization with over 1,400 members in the Chicago area and over 800,000 globally that is focused on the responsible use of land in the built environment.

The course focused on how to expand opportunities for workforce housing in middle neighborhoods. The course divided into two teams — public sector and private developers — with the common goal of developing policies that could be implemented through public and private actions. The teams defined and mapped middle neighborhoods in Chicago using real-time data on household income, housing affordability, workforce characteristics, quality of public schools and public safety indicators. The students were mentored by four of the leading affordable housing developers in Chicago who are involved in ULI. The ULI Advisors guided the students to develop policies that would lead to viable developments that could be built using a combination of incentives, loosening regulatory barriers and innovative funding solutions.

“During the MPPA Global seminar course, I had an opportunity to work with the Urban Land Institute on workforce housing in middle neighborhoods,” said student Haley Salera. “Working with ULI advisors on such an interesting, and often overlooked issue was extremely rewarding. We discovered how policies that may look good on paper may not have the impact that was intended. Through the course, we were able to test the policies at the project level and provide a set of recommendations for ULI to use in future work and education efforts.”

"Partnering with the MPPA program and the Global Policy Lab provided a great experience both for our members in the real estate industry and for the Northwestern students. The course provided insights into pressing issues of housing affordability in major cities including Chicago and a set of practical policy recommendations that we are pursuing as an organization." 

— Cindy McSherry, Executive Director, Urban Land Institute Chicago



American Red Cross

During summer 2017, the Global Policy Lab course consulted for the American Red Cross International Division to help provide insight on solving three questions presented to them. Students were broken up into three teams so they could address each question in depth. The three problems given to the students were: Effective Fundraising for Cash Transfer programming, Balancing Stakeholder Satisfaction, and Awareness of the Measles & Rubella Initiative. Students were able to test the skilled they learned in other classes in real life situations.

“The American Red Cross has challenged our group to develop a policy statement to highlight the effectiveness of this programing and to demonstrate to donors organizational transparency as a surety of their donations,” said Connor Mautner explaining the complexity of the project his group worked on.

Student Jori Fine said, “This class is unique in its ability to serve up actual client deliverables and is helpful in preparing for professional work outside of graduate school. I enjoy working one-on-one with the client, but also the flexibility this course provides in thinking outside-the-box and managing time and team members effectively.”

Representatives from each group were able to go to Washington, DC to present their final projects to the American Red Cross International Division Leadership.

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