Fundamentals of Research Design for International Development

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Flora Cornish COL8.09 and Dr Diana Weinhold CON7.10


This course is compulsory on the MSc in African Development, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Health and International Development and MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. This course is not available as an outside option.

This course is compulsory for all MSc students in International Development.


No prerequisites are required.

Course content

This course introduces MSc students in the Department of International Development to theoretical and practical foundations of social science research design. It is neither qualitative nor quantitative in focus, but rather is concerned with core interdisciplinary principles of research design that span disciplinary and methodological traditions.

Grounded in examples from International Development research, the logic of the course is to start with principles of research design for narrowly-defined questions.  As the course proceeds we then build from these foundations to consider design approaches for ever more broadly-defined questions. Each week we expand the scope of inquiry, considering increasingly flexible and exploratory research designs and “bottom-up” approaches to research and theory. 

The course will provide a platform for students to consider a range of research design options, as well as methodological techniques, to adopt in their own dissertations. By the end of the course, students will be familiar with a variety of research design options and will be better equipped to embark on their own research projects. The course is not designed to provide students with all the skills and techniques they need, i.e. it is not an explicitly “methodology” course, but it will familiarize students with the trade-offs involved in adopting particular approaches and incorporating various forms of evidence and information into their dissertations.  In doing so, it should also help students become more informed consumers of research, and thus make positive contributions to students’ learning experience in other courses they take in ID (and elsewhere at LSE).

The teaching on the course is premised on the idea that how we do research ultimately depends on the nature of the particular research question and the type and kinds of evidence that are available. There are strengths, weaknesses, and trade-offs to most of the decisions we make when planning and doing research, and as the weeks of the course progress, the strengths and weaknesses, and thus the implicit trade-offs, of the research designs we consider will vary.  Our goal is for students to better understand the consequences of these research design decisions, both in the published research that they read, and that they will need to make in their own research.

The precise topics to be covered, including the order and readings, is to be finalized during the LT and ST 2018 by a team (“content committee”) consisting of staff from ID, MY, and the Teaching and Learning Centre. For now, here is a list of potential topics:

• Introduction: Overview of research questions and research designs

• The challenges of understanding causality in social science research

• Observational research designs

• The challenges of defining concepts and making observations in quantitative and qualitative research

• Exploratory and “flexible” research designs

• The insights gained from case study research

• Why and how do some researchers use mixed-methods approaches

• The role and position of the researcher

• The relationship between theory and data

• The contributions of primary and secondary sources

• The role of literature reviews in dissertations

• Research ethics and writing-up


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Lectures for this course will be delivered primarily by staff from the Department of Methodology (though some lectures may be delivered by ID staff).

To help contextualize the materials covered in the course for the students, and to ensure a good fit with the requirements of student needs in International Development, the seminar materials and research examples will be co-developed by MY and ID.

Seminars will be led by LSE Fellows employed by MY but recruited jointly by ID and MY, to assure experience in and familiarity with international development research. Some seminars may be led by ID core academic staff too, in lieu of or in addition to ordinary teaching duties.

Formative coursework

Students receive two types of formative assessment:

• Written formative assessment will be provided on in-class exercises, such as annotated bibliographies and short essays that analyze the research design choices of course readings, in the MT.

• Oral formative assessment will be provided on the first draft of the dissertation proposal, in the dissertation workshops in the ST. (Formally this latter assessment is DV410, but this should be regarded as an illustration of the integration of these two modules, MY410ID and DV410.)

Indicative reading

As indicated above (3.1), the content of the course is being finalized by a group of staff from MY, ID, and the TLC. What follows is an indicative list of some key texts:

Bennett, Andrew, and Jeffrey T. Checkel, eds. (2014). Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cerwonka, A. & L. H. Malkki (2007). Improvising theory: process and temporality in ethnographic fieldwork. University of Chicago Press.

Desai V. and R.B. Potter (2006). Doing Development Research. London: SAGE

Geortz, Gary and Mahoney, James (2012). A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gerring, John (2012). Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Perecman, E. & S. R. Curran, eds. (2006). A Handbook for Social Science Field Research: Essays & Bibliographic Sources on Research Design and Methods

Robson, Colin and McCartan, Kieran (2016). Real World Research. 4th Edition. Chichester: John Wiley.

Shaffer, P. (2013). Q-Squared. Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches in Poverty Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sumner A. and M. Tribe (2008). International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice. London: Sage


Coursework (35%, 1000 words) in the MT.
Coursework (65%, 3000 words) in the ST.

35 percent: short research proposal (1000 words, due MT11)

65 percent: dissertation proposal (3000 words, due ST3)

Key facts

Department: Methodology

Total students 2017/18: Unavailable

Average class size 2017/18: Unavailable

Controlled access 2017/18: No

Value: Non-credit bearing

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills