SP420      Half Unit
Understanding Policy Research (Advanced)

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Tania Burchardt 32L 3.30


This course is compulsory on the MPhil/PhD in Social Policy and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is available on the MSc in International Social and Public Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Development), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (LSE and Fudan), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Migration) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All Social Policy Courses are ‘Controlled Access’. Please see the link below for further details on the allocation process.




Course content

The course equips you with transferable quantitative and qualitative 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 and public policy-making process. It is an advanced course and students are expected to already have a grasp of basic research design principles and their application to social and public policy, for example as covered in MY400 Fundamentals of Research Design or SP401 Understanding Policy Research, both of which run in the MT, although these courses are not a formal pre-requisite. 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 complex research methods to contemporary national and international social and public policy questions. Topics may include uses of: mixed methods, policy evaluation; participatory research; researching organisations (including organisational anthropology); 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.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour 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 one compulsory formative coursework essay, which will follow from a seminar presentation. This formative assignment is designed to prepare students for the summative coursework. Written and/or verbal feedback will be provided.

Indicative reading

  • A Bryman (2016), Social Research Methods, 5th edn
  • J Parkhurst (2016), The Politics of Evidence
  • P Alcock et al (eds) (2012), The Student's Companion to Social Policy, 4th edn
  • K Hendren et al (2018), 'The State of Mixed Methods Research in Public Administration and Public Policy', Public Admin Rev, 78: 904-916. doi:10.1111/puar.12981

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


Essay (100%, 2000 words) in the ST.

The summative assessment focuses on assessing students' abilities to devise and justify a research design to address a specified social policy research question. It will consistent of two essays of 1000 words each. Students will be given a choice of questions.

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: 30

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half 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