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SP50322: Public policy dissertation

[Page last updated: 01 August 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/23
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 30 [equivalent to 60 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 600
Level: Masters UG & PG (FHEQ level 7)
Academic Year
Assessment Summary: CW 15%, DS 85%
Assessment Detail:
  • Dissertation Synopsis 15% (CW 15%)
  • Dissertation 85% (DS 85%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Learning Outcomes: Students will have:
* comprehensive and in-depth understanding of theories of public policy, governance and statehood, their strengths and weaknesses.
* critical understanding of the relevance and applicability of such theories to specific public policy areas or challenges.
* robust understanding of the implications of this case for our wider understanding of public policy, politics and the state.

Aims: This research phase of the Masters in Public Policy provides:
* the opportunity to identify a feasible research question and relate it to relevant conceptual approaches, existing research and empirical material.
* the opportunity to explain and apply theoretical framework(s) to public policy and/or evaluate their political, normative or analytical value.
* opportunity to develop a cogent, credible and sustained argument that addresses the research question, and to do this within a fixed time period.

Skills: Students will be able to:
* systematically review, interpret and deploy existing research to identify a problem or research question in public policy, EITHER in relation to a relevant theoretical approach OR in relation to a specific empirical issue or policy area.
* design a research project to investigate this problem, including specifying strengths and weaknesses of data sources, and selection and application of appropriate methods.
* systematically analyse and evaluate a wide-range of secondary literature, and if relevant, new empirical research, to contextualise and address the conceptual problem.
* synthesise diverse and wide-ranging evidence to construct a robust and systematic argument to resolve the conceptual problem identified.
* work independently without close supervision, including producing extended piece of work to agreed deadlines.

Content: This pathway is oriented to developing students' knowledge, skills and understanding relating to the analysis of policy and policymaking (contrasting with the portfolio pathway, oriented to analysis for policymaking).
The dissertation should make explicit reference to at least one important public policy theory, concept, or analytical issue covered as part of the taught stages of the MSc in Public Policy.
Students may choose to investigate an empirical public policy problem related to that chosen for unit four (Public Policy Case Analysis), and they are encouraged to use a case from their professional context, or from Public Policy Case Library.
Dissertations may be based on any combination of:
* review of published literature
* secondary data analysis
The dissertation may include analysis of primary data collected by the student provided the student has 1) a strong rationale for doing so and 2) the necessary skills to undertake primary research.
The unit mostly comprises independent learning and research. However, students on this pathway will have specialist teaching during residentials 3 (Bath, month 12) and 4 (London, month 18), supported by supplementary online materials. This teaching will address:
* conducting effective literature reviews;
* identification and specification of research problems;
* robust, relevant and practical research design;
* the principles and practice of different methodological approaches to policy analysis and the application of methods and implications for findings.
Students receive online and in-person supervision from a specialist academic member of staff. At residential 4, formative feedback is provided on students' presentation of draft synopses, and detailed feedback is provided on the synopsis as submitted (shortly after residential 4).

Programme availability:

SP50322 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
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