Foundations of Social Policy Research

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kitty Stewart OLD.2.36


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.

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 give at least one class presentation during the course of the year, 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 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT.

The essay in MT will be a short article critique (500 words), with a longer essay (1,000 words) due in LT. Students will receive feedback on both to help them build towards their final essay. Students will also make and receive feedback on a group presentation in MT, which will provide the basis for their assessed blogpost. Assessed quizzes as well as other class activities will provide further opportunities for students to check their learning.

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 (60%, 2000 words) in the ST.
Blog post (20%) and quiz (20%) in the LT.

Three forms of assessment will make up the overall grade for the course. Students will write up their group presentation on the relationship between research and policy in the form of a blogpost, due at the start of Lent Term (20%). There will be two in-class quizzes on key terms and concepts at the beginning and end of Lent Term; the better of the two quiz scores will count towards the grade (20%). Students will submit a 2,000 essay at the start of Summer Term evaluating published research on a particular social policy question (60%).

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2019/20: 57

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Capped 2019/20: Yes (45)

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