SP420      Half Unit
Understanding Policy Research (Advanced)

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Biegert


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 (Education), 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 research design skills, including the design of policy evaluations, and an in-depth understanding of the role of different types of research in the 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, some of which has 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 randomised control trials, quasi-experimental methods, longitudinal and life history analysis, systematic reviews and meta-analysis. The relationship between research and policymaking is a theme that runs throughout the course.


All teaching will be in accordance with the LSE Academic Code (https://info.lse.ac.uk/current-students/lse-academic-code) which specifies a "minimum of two hours taught contact time per week when the course is running in the Autumn Term (AT) and/or Winter Term (WT)". Social Policy courses are predominantly taught through a combination of in-person Lectures and In person classes/seminars. Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.

Each lecture will be given by a member of staff or external expert in that particular method or topic and will be followed by a seminar providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively in small groups to examine research exemplifying the approach and the issues raised. There will also be help sessions with the seminar leader to discuss feedback on essays and progress on the course.

The course will be delivered in WT.

Formative coursework

There will be one compulsory formative coursework essay, which will follow from a seminar task. 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 (2017), The Politics of Evidence
  • D Green (2016) How Change Happens

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


Essay (100%) 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 one essay of 2000 words. Students will be given a choice of questions.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25.7
Merit 62.4
Pass 11.9
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2022/23: 46

Average class size 2022/23: 15

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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