The Capstone Project is a comprehensive analysis of an issue facing the client – a key decision, a critical policy, a new challenge, an emerging opportunity, or a new program or initiative. Students are responsible for identifying their client, and for working with the client to define an appropriate topic and terms of reference, which provides the flexibility for the student to pursue a client and topic directly related to their area of concentration.
Working closely with the client, the student will prepare a comprehensive analysis of the issue, combining relevant economic, political, institutional, managerial, legal, or other analyses, depending on the nature of the issue, alongside options and recommendations for action. Over the course of the year, students can expect to make oral presentations on the prospectus, extended outline, draft and completed projects to the professor, peer group, client, faculty advisor, and other faculty members. Akin to a professional consulting assignment, students will make a formal presentation to the client at the conclusion of the analysis, and prepare a professional 40-page analysis and poster of the policy, management, or institutional issue. A non-proprietary version of the paper will also be prepared that the student may use as an example of his/her work for future employers.
The precise content of the report, and the types of analysis included, will depend on the nature of the issue and the needs of the client, but in most cases the final report will include the following:
- Background, context, and description of the issue
- Assessment of broader development context into which the issue falls
- Selection criteria for screening alternatives
- Quantitative analysis (economic/financial, cost-benefit, statistical, multivariate regression)
- Policy and/or institutional analysis
- Political and/or legal analysis where appropriate
- Multiple options, alternatives, and recommendation for action
Students will work with a great deal of independence, guided by the client, the professor and a faculty advisor (acting as a mentor). In most cases students will work individually. More than one student can work for the same client on related issues. In some circumstances where appropriate students may be able to work in pairs, following discussion with and subject to approval by the professor.
Examples of past capstone projects include:
- A team of students worked with the World Cocoa Foundation in determining the most effective mechanisms to train cocoa farmers and increase crop yields.
- Another pair assessed scaling and sustainability models for Chevron Corporation’s Niger Delta Partnership Initiative in Nigeria.
- The InterAmerican Development Bank Innovation Unit engaged a Capstone team to analyze financing and implementation models for an off-grid solar project in the Dominican Republic.
- A Capstone group analyzed partnership opportunities for the Global Fund for Children in Asia. Their work directly fed the NGO’s strategy for that country of operation.
Identifying the right client and topic is of critical importance.
The topic should be one that starts with the client, and on which the client wants some analysis, rather than a topic that the student wants to work on and finds a client that is willing to agree. The client must be deeply interested to spend the time and provide the feedback to make this a worthwhile project. It is not enough to identify an organization – a specific person should be willing and eager to serve as the client and to drive the process. Developing a good working relationship will be a very important element to the success of the project. It often helps to have a pre-existing relationship with the client, perhaps through earlier internships or through the summer experience.
Equally important to the success of the Capstone Project will be carefully defining the specific issue to ensure the scope of work is feasible, the analysis is achievable, and that expectations are appropriate.
Ideally, the issue should be important, but not urgent for the client. That is, the topic should be of sufficient importance to the client that they want the analysis completed and are appropriately invested and engaged in the project. But the issue should not be urgent – it must be something that the client is comfortable having completed in a 6-month timeframe. The issue should require research and analysis, but not be just a pure research project – it must lead to an analysis of options and a recommendation for some kind of action for the client organization.