Fundamentals of Research Design for International Development

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Eleanor Power


This course is compulsory on the 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.

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 course is centred on exploring principles of research design for different types of research questions.  The course will provide a platform for students to consider a range of research design options, as well as methodological techniques. It is intended to help students become more informed and critical readers of social scientific, and specifically International Development, research. It is also intended to help students become more critical producers of research, able to articulate the various rationales, strengths, weaknesses and trade-offs entailed in research design choices so that they can make decisions about which 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 “methods” course, but it will familiarize students with the important design considerations involved in adopting particular approaches and incorporating various forms of evidence and information into their dissertations. The course therefore has the dual aim of helping students become both critical “consumers” and “producers” of International Development research. In doing so, it should make positive contributions to students’ learning experience both in their dissertation process, and 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 topics covered will include discussions of the alignment between research question and research design, questions of inference, issues of measurement, uses of literature and secondary material, and the relationship between theory and evidence, as well as brief introductions to particular methods, with a focus on when they will be appropriate to particular questions and projects.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Michaelmas Term. This year, some or all of this teaching may be delivered through a combination of virtual seminars and flipped lectures delivered as short online videos.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of MT.

Lectures for this course will be delivered by staff from the Department of Methodology. Seminars will be led by LSE Fellows recruited jointly by ID and MY, to assure experience in and familiarity with international development research.

Formative coursework

Plan for an Annotated Bibliography analysing the research design choices of published work, 1 page, due in MT.

Indicative reading

  • 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


Annotated bibliography (33%) in the MT.
Research proposal (67%) in the LT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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: Methodology

Total students 2020/21: 320

Average class size 2020/21: 16

Controlled access 2020/21: 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