The clusters are built around a simple principle: we can produce more and better research by creating a common infrastructure, whether geographic or sectoral, upon which to then engage in research and policy work. At inception, we absorbed and expanded several existing clusters, and are proactively building new ones.

Geographic Research Clusters

Geographic research clusters collect long-term panel data. They seek to remedy a major constraint in understanding development in low-income countries: the absence of detailed, multi-level, long-term scientific data that follows individuals over time and describes both the natural and built environment in which they reside.

The clusters involve a long-term commitment to research collaboration with local institutions, policy engagement and the opportunity for Northwestern students to participate. Explore our geographic research clusters using the links below.

Additionally, GPRL is engaging in COVID-related research aimed at slowing the already devastating spread of COVID-19 and ameliorating the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences.

Sectoral Research Clusters

Our sectoral clusters are a group of related projects tackling a narrow sector within development. The goal here is to create a core operation that engages with potential partners for project development, supports the research community in order to enhance the quality of work conducted, and develops appropriate communications and policy strategies given the evidence. At inception, we include Innovations for Poverty Action’s (IPA) Financial Inclusion Program, Social Protection Program, and Small/Medium Enterprises (SME) Program as sectoral clusters. We plan to expand and develop clusters on other sectors like corruption, early childhood development, agricultural extension and technology, etc., as funding and campus support come to fruition.

Specific activities within a sectoral cluster include:

  1. Core support to develop projects for a research network
  2. Researcher gatherings to present both early stage and completed work
  3. Funding to be granted competitively within a researcher network on a tightly defined set of research and policy questions
  4. Communications work to engage appropriate stakeholders after research is completed

Key Niches

Not all clusters are identical, but its role is generally the same in that we started by collecting long-term panel data. Alongside these data, we conduct experiments to measure the impact of interventions of interest in economics, political science, psychology and public health, as well as test theories of interest for policy-relevant academic research. Clusters fill the following key niches:
  • Collection of long-term data to gather in-depth information about individuals, families and their communities. These data can support the design and implementation of new interventions for testing and are sufficiently flexible to accommodate new graduate student research questions.
  • Economies of scope in research: Currently, the infrastructure for conducting field research is wasteful, with large surveys frequently being rolled out for the purpose of single projects. Many research questions could be answered by starting with a large, representative dataset and then finding implementing parties willing to overlap their operations over the sample frame, rather than the other way around. This is particularly true on theory-led experimentation, in which the researcher is designing a field activity deliberately to test specific theories of development.
  • Multi-faceted interventions, which enable observation of the interactions of different programs. This facilitates research on interactions between different dimensions of behavior. Simultaneous testing to compare program effectiveness is critical for policymakers and donors tasked with making decisions on the allocation of scarce resources.


  • Training sites: Student-training sites continuously host students, both undergraduate and graduate, to learn about and contribute to the research process. The partnership will support summer, semester-long or yearlong internships for Northwestern undergraduates working in one of the clusters. Students in research clusters engage directly in the research process.
  • Development research: Northwestern faculty and graduate students are invited to contribute to ongoing development research in China, Ghana and The Philippines.
  • Research assistantships: There will also be a post-baccalaureate program of research assistants working for one to two years on cluster research, as well as direct engagement of PhD or MBA students in cluster-supported research.