This programme builds on the links between research and policy in developing the particular skills and capacities needed by policy-oriented researchers, professionals and postgraduate students interested in carrying out public policy, social policy and social welfare research. We believe this is vital if researchers are to maximise the impact of their work in addressing issues of real concern to policy-makers.

The programme provides core research training in philosophy and research design in the social sciences, along with introductions to and further approaches in quantitative and qualitative methods in the social sciences. It also offers optional units in areas of the school's particular research expertise, such as child and family welfare, gender and violence, health and social care, poverty and social exclusion, and policy-oriented evaluation.

The programme is delivered through a combination of intensive block teaching and weekly delivery to ensure it is as accessible as possible to postgraduate students, busy policy professionals and practitioners. The way units are delivered means you can accumulate credits flexibly and organise your patterns of attendance to suit your needs and circumstances.

The MSc and Postgraduate Diploma consist of four core units and two optional units. A dissertation of 10-15,000 words is required for the MSc.


This programme aims to develop the student's interest in and knowledge and understanding of:

  • The epistemological, methodological and ethical aspects of conducting social science research;
  • The essential skills (research design, data collection, data analysis, presentation of results and policy/practice recommendations) for conducting high impact and quality research on issues of concern to policy makers and practitioners in statutory, voluntary and charitable sector organisations;
  • The broader social, political and economic context in which policy research is carried out and applied in policy making processes;
  • The requirements for effectively managing and commissioning research, including the utilisation and dissemination of research findings to policy makers and practitioners

On successful completion of MSc Policy Research, students should be able to:

  • Critically interpret and evaluate research on policy making, the policy making process, policy implementation, and policy outcomes;
  • To be able to design and conduct policy research appropriate to the requirements and questions of policy makers and other key stakeholders in various policy making environments and settings;
  • To be able to apply appropriate research designs, methodology, and methods of data collection and analysis in a rigorous manner;
  • To be able to use policy research to impact the policy process.

Teaching methods

A variety of teaching methods are used across the different units. Lectures are combined with seminars, and in many units, students are given the opportunity to develop presentational skills through group projects.


The programme units provide a range of both formative and summative assessment methods:

  • formative (group presentations or individual assignments)
  • summative (essays on given topics)
  • dissertation.

Other methods of assessment include:

  • project proposals
  • research briefs
  • critical evaluations of design/methods in policy research proposals
  • data analysis and interpretation exercises.

Study support

The programme offers support for essay and dissertation writing, and those who need extra or intensive support can access a range of study skills and language classes at the University. Support is offered in study skills, particularly for those who do not have an academic background, or who have had a long time away from academic study. All students will be assigned a personal tutor, and will have an allocated time for a 1-1 tutorial during the course of each unit. During the dissertation phase, a dissertation workshop and individual one-one supervision are key to progress, and students receive support from experts in their own chosen topic area and/or methodological interests.


The dissertation is based on an empirical research project carried out under the guidance of an academic supervisor. It may focus on any aspect of Policy Research, as defined above and may use any of the methods taught on the programme. The dissertation itself is 10-15,000 words in length. The dissertation counts for three (3) units (60 credit points out of a total of 180 credit points) and is mandatory for the student to be awarded an MSc Policy Research.

The dissertation allows students the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge acquired in the taught component in planning and carrying out a piece of research on a policy-related issue of their choice. Students are expected to demonstrate the relationship between empirical research and theory generation and theory testing. In addition, the dissertation must address explicitly the question of research utilisation and reflect critically on the ways in which research has been, or might be used in the policy setting in question.

While students are not expected to apply all of the methods and techniques covered in the programme, they are expected to frame an appropriate question and design a robust research approach within the constraints of a 10-15,000 word dissertation carried out usually within a period of three months for full-time students (up to 12 months for part-time variable students).

Programme handbook

Please refer to the programme handbook MPR-MSWR-MDS-Combined programme handbook 2019-20 (PDF, 1,183kB) for further information.

Meet the staff

Programme director: Dr Demi Patsios (+ 44 117 9546774, demi.patsios@bristol.ac.uk)

Programme Administrator: Mrs Amy Poynter (+ 44 117 3310474, amy.poynter@bristol.ac.uk)

Unit convenors:

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