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Economic Development & Institutions (EDI) was a five-year collaborative research programme launched in 2015 through funding from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).


The importance of institutions in shaping trajectories of economic development is broadly acknowledged, but research to date had neglected the impact of institutional change and the policy implications of this. EDI addressed these knowledge gaps and build the evidence to inform further analysis and policy change in support of inclusive, sustainable economic growth.

Our work is divided into four research activities:

  1. Producing path-finding papers that take stock of existing evidence on specific issues
  2. Developing an institutional diagnostic tool that identifies institutional weaknesses critical to economic development
  3. Conducting coordinated randomised control trials (RCTs) that seek to provide robust evidence on the effectiveness of different levers for change
  4. Undertaking research for in-depth case studies that analyse interactions between formal and informal institutions in relation to growth and development

Through these activities, and ongoing active engagement with policymakers, we aim to promote a deeper understanding of the key processes that influence economic growth across the globe – and the role of institutional change in shaping these processes.

Our findings will provide the basis for a better understanding of what really drives economic development. By focusing on the practical questions that matter for policy, our work will help support evidence-based decision making that can underpin real change at both the national and international level.

Research challenges

Over recent years, academic research has driven major advances in our understanding of the relationship between institutions and economic development. However, the existing literature suffers from a number of limitations.

Firstly, by focusing on the question of which institutions matter for growth rather than how institutions change over time, the current research agenda often fails to answer the practical questions that policymakers face. Academic research needs to start from the challenges imposed on decision makers by current institutional constraints rather than simply flagging historically-determined barriers to growth. At the other end of the spectrum, action-oriented research has frequently ignored the question of institutions altogether, and as a result addressed marginal, rather than transformational, changes.

Further, conceptual vagueness has made it difficult to build a body of evidence that synthesises findings. And, finally, the lack of integration between different research disciplines has resulted in the emergence of fragmented knowledge, duplications, and limited triangulation of results.

Our programme of research and policy engagement activity intends to address these knowledge gaps, help shift the research angle towards the impact of institutional changes, and provide a detailed conceptual framework to approach further analysis in the area.

Our approach

Our approach is guided by the principle of ‘pluridisciplinarity’, where we apply disciplinary approaches that are relevant to each research question, rather than a standard set of disciplinary lenses to every problem. Alongside economists, our research benefits from the input of political scientists, legal scholars and historians, leading to a more comprehensive analysis and greater policy relevance.

Ensuring the policy value of findings is a key focus of the programme. We are working closely with policymakers at every stage – from framing the research questions through to dissemination of final outputs. We also coordinate with existing research initiatives – such as WIDER’s ‘Gender and Development’ research programme – to help maximise the impact of our collective findings.

How we are organised

EDI comprises a consortium of institutions responsible for the overall management and intellectual leadership of the programme. These are: Oxford Policy Management (the contract holder), the Paris School of Economics, the Centre de Recherche en Économie de Développement (CRED) at the University of Namur, and ADE – Analysis for Economic Decisions.

In addition, EDI has a team of world-leading academics who have been structured into Scientific Committees for each Research Activity, and an overall Independent Advisory Committee. We are grateful for the engaged support of over 70 world-class academics, who provide oversight and technical inputs to the research through membership of these Scientific Committees, and our partner institutions, which enable us to extend the reach of our research and policy engagement around the world.

Find out more about key people involved
Find out more about our partner institutions


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