Learn to design a robust research question and use the most appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods with the help of Oxford’s world-renowned academics and expert practitioners.
In addition to your classes, you will be expected to undertake self-directed reading, all of which will lead to the final thesis and policy briefing.
This page gives you an indication of recent content and is meant to be taken as guidance only.
The MSc has been designed to give students an outstanding education in how to design and conduct rigorous, applied and impactful research that can inform public policy-making. Each component of the programme has been designed with that aim in mind.
The MSc consists of five compulsory modules and one specialist optional module chosen from a wide range of topics. Students will also conduct research for a 10,000-word Thesis and an accompanying Research Brief.
In both Michaelmas and Hilary terms, you will be expected to undertake at least six hours of reading, preparation or follow-up work for each module per week. One day per week will be available for extended reading, individual project study, workshops and attending seminars elsewhere in the University.
During Trinity term, most of your time will be devoted to undertaking the reading, data collection, analysis, and writing up of your thesis research.
The MSc programme includes five compulsory modules which will be completed over the course of Michaelmas and Hilary terms. The modules are:
- Theories and Approaches in Public Policy Research;
- Research in a Public Policy Context;
- Research Design;
- Qualitative Methods for Public Policy;
- Statistics in Public Policy.
In Trinity term, you will take an option module that enables you to explore in-depth a particular public policy topic of your choice, selected from the wide range of option modules that are offered each year to students on the Blavatnik School’s Master of Public Policy (MPP).
Some of these options are taught by the School’s faculty, but more than half are taught by world-leading academic experts from other departments in Oxford or by expert practitioners.
THESIS AND RESEARCH BRIEF
In addition to the option modules, your main focus in Trinity term will be working on your thesis. Most of your time will be devoted to undertaking further reading on your chosen topic, data collection, analysis, and writing up of your thesis research. You will also produce an accompanying research brief that distils insights from the research for decision-makers in government.
Your thesis will be supervised by a member of the Blavatnik School faculty or an academic working in a policy-focused research group or centre elsewhere in Oxford. In addition to your academic supervisor, you will also be assigned a policy advisor from a public policy organisation to provide advice and feedback on the research from a practitioner perspective.
Prepare for your thesis and beyond
An overview of course content for 2023–24 MSc, for illustrative purposes only. This syllabus is subject to change and should be used as a guide only.
THEORIES AND APPROACHES IN PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH
Learn how concepts and theories help researchers to identify and define policy problems, construct explanations about causes and effects, and generate applied research questions or hypotheses to be tested empirically. You will be introduced to a broad range of theoretical approaches that are employed by public policy researchers in the social sciences, law and philosophy.
Develop an understanding of and the practical skills necessary to identify, clarify and define public policy problems; devise policy-focused research questions and formulate hypotheses that address those problems; and design research projects that answer those questions and test those hypotheses. You will also come away with an understanding of how to design research projects, as well as research ‘objectivity’, bias, and values in public policy research.
QUALITATIVE METHODS FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH
Explore the main principles, considerations and techniques of qualitative research as relevant to the policy-making process. Develop your understanding of, and practical skills in, the design, implementation and analysis stages of a qualitative research project. Outside of class, you will undertake reading, attend workshops in NVivo run by the IT Learning Centre, and complete formative exercises to develop your practical skills. These exercises will chart the typical qualitative research process as the term unfolds, including generating an interview topic guide, conducting and transcribing a short semi-structured interview, and the selection and application of appropriate analytic techniques.
THESIS DEVELOPMENT SEMINARS
Define the policy problem you wish to research, develop your thesis research questions, and to consider the appropriate research methods to answer those questions. The seminars will supplement the regular meetings that you will have with your academic supervisor and your policy advisor.
RESEARCH IN A PUBLIC POLICY CONTEXT
Build your awareness of the nature, characteristics and demands of research undertaken in a public policy context. The opportunities and constraints within which applied research for public policy is undertaken are often different from those facing academics. In making decisions about policy design, politicians are often influenced, not only by research and science, but also by ideologies, policy fashions, personal histories, whims and media stories. Research to inform government needs to be communicated via media other than (or in addition to) academic journal articles and monographs, such as verbal presentations, podcasts, oral Q&A at parliamentary and public enquiries, blogs, policy briefs and research reports. The sessions will be highly interactive, drawing extensively on case studies and the latest body of scholarly and applied policy research.
STATISTICS FOR PUBLIC POLICY
Examine the main principles, considerations and techniques of statistical methods as relevant to the policymaking process; develop your understanding of and practical skills in the design, implementation and analysis stages of a quantitative research project; and enable you to critically evaluate quantitative research. Through interactive lectures and workshops you will be confident in major statistical social science research techniques; have the practical skills to conduct quantitative research and analysis for a research project, including use of statistical software, and be able to critically evaluate quantitative research done by others in public policy research.
In Trinity term you will select one option module, allowing you to have a ‘deep dive’ into a topic of particular interest. The option modules cover a wide range of contemporary policy issues (the availability of which may differ from year to year).
Previous years have seen modules on Africa, big data, the challenges of democratisation, climate change, COVID-19, cybersecurity, economic development, education policy, housing policy, governing in a digital age, international economic relations of governments, international migration, legal and illegal politics, police and policing, political communication, social policy, sustainable nutrition, urban challenges in developing countries, and taxing business.
Some of these options are taught by the School’s faculty, but many are taught by world-leading academic experts from other departments in Oxford.
In addition to the Option modules, your main focus this term will be working on your thesis on an applied public policy topic of your choice. Most of your time will be devoted to undertaking further reading on your chosen topic, data collection, analysis, and writing up of your thesis research.
You will also produce an accompanying research brief that distils insights from the research for decision-makers in government. The thesis will be supervised by a member of the Blavatnik School faculty or an academic working in a policy-focused research group or centre elsewhere in Oxford. In addition to your academic supervisor, you will also be assigned a policy advisor from a public policy organisation to provide advice and feedback on the research from a practitioner perspective.
Over Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity terms
PROFESSIONAL SKILLS PROGRAMME
To complement the MSc and its learning outcomes, the School offers a range of professional skills sessions designed to help you acquire, develop and enhance practical and transferable skills necessary for a successful career in public policy. You are encouraged to reflect upon your own professional experiences and to identify skills that you wish to acquire, develop or enhance during your time on the course. You are also strongly encouraged to draw upon the extensive range of experiences within the student cohort and share your own.
By way of illustration, the opportunities for students in the MPP 2022–23 cohort included:
- the UK Public Policy Seminar Series – learning first-hand from practising ministers and senior civil servants;
- one-to-one meetings with senior professionals from a range of organisations to discuss career options;
- one-to-one training in verbal communication and presentation skills from an award-winning public speaking executive coach;
- writing policy briefs and reports; and
- engaging with distinguished and diverse external speakers.
Once you have successfully completed the MSc, you will be invited to return to Oxford in the autumn to take part in the School’s end-of-course event and to graduate in person with your College.