Social Policy Research

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Hills, TW1.8.01H


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Social Policy (Research) and MSc in Social Research Methods. This course is available on the MPA in European Policy-Making, MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, MSc in Social Policy (European and Comparative Social Policy), MSc in Social Policy (Social Policy and Planning) and Master of Public Administration. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

The course is capped at 45 students. All students for whom the course is compulsory will be allocated a space. Any remaining places (of which there are usually several) will be allocated on the basis of the statements provided by students in their course choice form. This will be done on the Monday following the opening of the course choice system and every two days thereafter, until the course is full.



Course content

The course equips you with transferable research design skills, including the design of policy evaluations, and an in-depth understanding of the role of different types of research in the social policy-making process. Lectures are given by leading academics engaged in research using the methods under consideration, many of whom have achieved substantial policy impact. Students are encouraged to critically assess applications of a wide range of research methods to contemporary national and international social policy questions. Topics include: the uses and abuses of quantitative and qualitative research, mixed methods, policy evaluation (including both Randomised Controlled Trials and non-experimental approaches); the participatory research paradigm; researching organisations (including organisational anthropology); in-depth interviews (especially with service users and clients); social surveys and the analysis of large datasets; longitudinal and life history analysis; micro-simulation techniques; systematic reviews, meta-analysis and meta-ethnographies; and small area, geographical and internationally comparative research. The relationship between research and policymaking is a theme that runs throughout the course.


12 hours and 30 minutes of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 12 hours and 30 minutes of lectures, 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars and 15 minutes of help sessions in the LT. 2 hours and 30 minutes of lectures and 15 minutes of help sessions in the ST.

The lectures will be given by a member of staff or external expert in that particular method or topic and are followed by a seminar examining research exemplifying the approach and the issues raised. The help sessions are one-to-one tutorial sessions with the seminar leader to discuss feedback on essays and progress on the course.

Formative coursework

There will be three compulsory formative coursework essays, two of which will follow from a seminar presentation. In addition, there will be one optional formative assignment. These formative assignments are designed to prepare students for both the summative coursework and the exam. Written and verbal feedback will be provided.

Indicative reading

P Alcock et al (Eds) (2012), The Student's Companion to Social Policy, 4th edn; C Hakim (2000), Research Design: Strategies and choices in the design of social policy, 2nd edn; A Bryman (2012), Social Research Methods, 4th edn.

Additional references will be supplied at the start of the course and in lectures.


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the ST.

For the summative coursework essay, students will be asked to design a research project to address a specified socal policy research question, and provide a justification for their proposed design.

The exam focuses on assessing students' abilities to critique social policy research approaches. Students will be asked to answer 3 out of a choice of 9 questions based on the research approaches we have studied during the course.

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 19.6
Merit 55.1
Pass 20.6
Fail 4.7

Teachers' comment

In response to student feedback, SA451 is from this year moving to 25% assessed coursework, reducing the exam component to 75%. One-to-one support and feedback will be given to help students prepare for both components of the assessment.

Students from a range of programmes have highly valued this course in previous years. They tell us it re-enforces their learning in other courses and helps them with their dissertations, as well as contributing to their career prospects in policy and research jobs.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2016/17: 26

Average class size 2016/17: 14

Controlled access 2016/17: Yes

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills

Course survey results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 100%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)