MPA Social Impact

Given the failure of both states and markets to resolve persistent social problems, there is growing interest in the problem-solving potential of private action for social purposes.

The new MPA Social Impact develops students’ capacity to create social impact and to maximise the effectiveness of such private action for public benefit, whether as social entrepreneur, impact investor or policy maker. The stream critically explores both intervention design and evaluation, and also the emerging institutions, organisations and collaborations within this field. It provides students with a set of skills, knowledge and critical understanding which will enable them, in their future careers, to improve the effectiveness of private action for the public good, whether as social entrepreneur, investor or policy maker. 

Core courses

All students on the Social Impact policy stream must take the following courses:

Applying Behavioural Economics for Social Impact: Design, Delivery, Evaluation and Policy (EC452)

(0.5 unit)

This course delivers insights from cutting edge research in psychology and economics, and asks students to use these insights to design solutions to significant social challenges. Students learn how to diagnose, design, deliver, and rigorously test products and services using the principles of behavioural economics and the methods of field experimentation. 

Throughout the course there is emphasis upon the critical importance of effective measurement in the context of the social sector, where traditional market feedback mechanisms are typically absent and where mission-driven leaders’ evaluation of organisational impact can itself be subject to cognitive bias and distortion. Appropriate measurement in turn informs improvements in diagnosis and design.

New Institutions of Public Policy: Strategic Philanthropy, Impact Investment and Social Enterprise (SA4J2)

(0.5 unit)

This course takes a policy-oriented approach towards the new dynamics of private social action. It explores innovation mechanisms of financing, organisation and delivery, including impact investing, new coalitions for social impact (for instance, social impact bonds), venture philanthropy and social enterprise. A central focus is the opportunity created by bringing together market and business mechanisms and the social – but also the consequent challenge and complexity of achieving social impact through hybrid organisations, hybrid funding streams and hybrid mechanisms of coordination.

Cross-cutting themes are how to design incentive structures which respond to the complex web of motivations of actors in this field, and the organisational tension inherent in responding to double or triple bottom lines. Using analytical frameworks drawn from economics, sociology and political economy, the course will critically evaluate the challenges and advantages of these emerging institutions and mechanisms. The course will feature professionals and practitioners working in the social impact field who will share their journeys and experiences. 

Nava Ashraf

Professor Nava Ashraf

Professor of Economics
Marshall Institute and Department of Economics 


Stephan Chambers

Marshall Institute


Professor Sir Julian Le Grand

Professor of Social Policy
Marshall Institute


Dr Jonathan Roberts

Programme Development Lead
Marshall Institute