The Evans School uses the world as their laboratory. Diving deep into the pressing public policy and governance issues of today, the Evans School strives to create leaders who will solve the issues of tomorrow.

The Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group

The Evans School is a policy partner with impact far beyond the city of Seattle. By partnering with local and international development organizations, students at the Evans School are able to reach and influence global communities.

Reducing poverty around the world is graduate student Matthew Fowle’s dream. As a student researcher with the Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group (EPAR), he's looking for evidence-based solutions to the problem.

Fowle (MPA '17) was fairly young when he first decided to work for a more equitable world. He grew up in the English countryside. His mother was born in a small town in Southern Malaysia. He recalls travelling with her to visit his Malaysian relatives.

“I remember watching mothers boiling murky water to make it safe for their families to drink,” he says. “I started to question the reasons for poverty and to grapple with the inequity between my living conditions in England and the living conditions in my mother's hometown.” This led him to develop a commitment to work on behalf of people without access to safe water, shelter, adequate nutrition or formal education.

He went on to study evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation at the University of Oxford, which intensified his commitment to equity. “I became determined to find evidence-based solutions that would more effectively reduce poverty.”

That desire led him to the Evans School, to learn how to turn research into action.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EPAR was established in 2008 by C. Leigh Anderson, the Marc Lindenberg Professor for Humanitarian Action, International Development, and Global Citizenship at the Evans School.

Led by Anderson and co-principal investigator Travis Reynolds (Ph.D. ’11), an Evans School alumnus, EPAR is comprised of 15 graduate research assistants and a network of other UW faculty. The group's mission is to conduct objective research and analysis to help inform international stakeholders who tackle some of the world’s most complex and pressing financial, agricultural, public health and environmental challenges.

To date, EPAR’s evidence reviews have been used by development practitioners, including those at the MasterCard Foundation, the International Telecommunications Union, developing country government ministries and international non-governmental organizations.

One of Fowle’s EPAR research projects analyzes the use of digital financial services in developing countries. 

“Many people in low-income countries lack access to basic financial services,” he says, whether because they live in a remote area far from a bank or because banks do not offer suitable services. “Globally, there are about two billion individuals without a bank account, a large proportion of whom are women.”

In examining populations without access to banks, researchers began looking instead at what resources are widely available: phones.

Fowle continues, “In Kenya, for example, almost 90 percent of the population has a mobile device, which represents a significant opportunity for financial inclusion.”

Through money transfer apps available on mobile phones, people can save, send and receive money, creating greater financial inclusion and — ideally — a pathway out of poverty.

Fowle and his EPAR team members trawled through data from four South Asian and four Sub-Saharan African countries to determine both why people adopt mobile money services and how they regularly use it.

In just the eight years since EPAR has been in operation, Anderson has seen the immense benefit of the EPAR experience to students’ careers. “Combined with their Evans School professional training, this makes them phenomenal policy researchers. They learn great technical tools for finding, analyzing and communicating information; they learn from each other; and they push themselves beyond the threshold of what's considered 'quality' work," she says. "They get hired very quickly after they graduate."

EPAR alumni have taken up positions with global development organizations such as USAID, the Center for Global Development, the Research Triangle Institute and PATH.

Fowle plans to earn his Ph.D. and continue to conduct original, innovative poverty reduction research that makes a difference in people’s lives, a decision influenced by his time at the Evans School.

“It’s a rich and collaborative environment,” he says, “and a unique opportunity to conduct research with a dedicated team of talented colleagues and mentors who are renowned experts. Working with EPAR has enabled me to help tackle the complex equity problems that stirred my passions so strongly as a boy.”