Foundations of Social Policy Research

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart


This course is compulsory on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy, BSc in International Social and Public Policy and Economics and BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

This course is concerned with two questions that are essential to the study of social and public policy. First, how do we know what policies are needed, how they are experienced and whether they are effective? And second, how is this knowledge used: how (if at all) does it feed into the policy process and improve policies and outcomes?

SP101 aims to equip students to become informed consumers of research, able to read and evaluate research outputs that use a range of different approaches and methods to address questions in social and public policy. Students will be encouraged to think critically about the way that knowledge is constructed, about the nature of expertise, and about the influence of values and positionality on knowledge production. They will learn to assess the validity of claims made on the basis of research studies that use a range of different methods. The course will also explore the way evidence is used in policy making and in public discourse.

The course provides the foundations for students to become active researchers themselves in later stages of the BSc ISPP degrees, preparing them for the second year research methods course and for their third year dissertation.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

The course is taught in weekly blocks, consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1.5 hour class. To prepare for classes, students will be allocated two key readings each week. Usually these will be examples of social policy research, including book extracts, journal articles and research reports. Students must come to class having done the required reading. Students will also be expected to give class presentations during the course of the year, usually working in groups. As well as presentations, class activities will include small group work, class discussion, debates and quizzes.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the MT and 2 pieces of coursework in the LT.

Formative work through the year will prepare students for the summative assessment. Students will submit and receive feedback on three 500 word critiques of research articles. They will also have the opportunity to check their understanding in quizzes in class.

Indicative reading

Becker, S., Bryman, A. and Ferguson (2012) Understanding Research for Social Policy and Social Work: Themes, Methods and Approaches. 2nd Edition. London: Policy Press.

Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods, 4th edition. Oxford University Press.

Della Porta, D. and Keating, M. (2008) Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: CUP.

Gilbert, N. (2008) Researching Social Life 3rd ed. London: Sage. 

Hill Collins, P. and Bilge, S. (2016) Intersectionality (Key Concepts). London: Polity Press.

Howard, C. (2017) Thinking Like a Political Scientist. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Parkhurst, J. (2017) The Politics of Evidence: From evidence based policy to the good governance of evidence. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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