SP401      Half Unit
Understanding Policy Research

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Biegert OLD 2.54 and Dr Johann Koehler Old 2.59


This course is compulsory 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), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is not available as an outside option.

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



No Prerequisites.

Course content

This course aims to provide an understanding of issues associated with the research process, in the context of the MSc in International Social & Public Policy. The course includes an examination of philosophical issues underpinning research methods in social policy; the place of different research methods (qualitative and quantitative) in international social & public policy; the use of research; and the role of evidence in informing social & public policy.

This is not a ‘how to’ methods course. Instead, students will be equipped to become critical readers and users of research. Students will gain an understanding of the role of research in the policy process, and of the philosophical underpinnings of different approaches to ISPP research, both quantitative and qualitative; they will scrutinise which research designs are appropriate for different kinds of policy investigation; and learn to critique the validity of the implications for policy drawn by researchers, given the methods they have used.


Courses in Social Policy will follow the Teaching Model which has been adopted by the Department of Social Policy during the period of the pandemic. This is outlined HERE. 

This course will be taught through a combination of either a recorded lecture plus a follow-up Q and A session or a ‘live’ on-line lecture; and classes/seminars of 1-1.5 hours (with size and length of classes/seminars depending on social distancing requirements).

Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.

The course will be delivered in Michaelmas term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to answer a set of broad questions every week, which will be similar to the exam questions and related to the lecture and seminar material covered in that week. 

Indicative reading

  • Alan Bryman (2012) Social Research Methods, 4th edition Oxford University Press;
  • C Robson & K McCartan (2015) Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers, 4th edition. Oxford University Press;
  • Justin Parkhurst (2016) The Politics of Evidence: From Evidence-Based Policy to the Good Governance of Evidence, Routledge.


Online assessment (100%) in January.

The course is intended to inform the student’s dissertation in terms of underpinning issues, concepts, methodological choices and the role of research in social and public policy implementation.

Assessment is an online assessment comprising questions requiring relatively shorter answers which aims to test the skills outlined above and reflects the breadth of issues covered throughout the course (100%).

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: Social Policy

Total students 2020/21: 182

Average class size 2020/21: 8

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication