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

  • The essential skills (research design, data collection, data analysis, presentation of results and recommendations) for conducting high quality research on issues of concern to policy makers and practitioners in public service organisations.
  • The broader social, political and economic context in which research is carried out and applied in policymaking process and social work practice.
  • The epistemological, methodological and ethical aspects of conducting social work research.
  • The requirements for effectively managing and commissioning research, including the utilisation and dissemination of research findings to policy makers and practitioners.

Programme structure and delivery

The programme is delivered through a series of intensive three-day block visits held in Bristol so as to be most accessible to postgraduate students, busy policy professionals and practitioners. Each unit is delivered during one of these blocks, allowing you to accumulate credits flexibly and organise the patterns of visits to suit your own needs and circumstances.

The structure for the MSc and PG Diploma consists of four mandatory and two optional units. A dissertation of 10-15,000 words is required for the MSc. The PG Certificate is awarded for the successful completion of three units (two of which must be mandatory units).


Through the course of the programme you will be able to extend your knowledge and understanding of:

  • the scope and distinctiveness of social work research;
  • models of the relationship between research and the development of evidence-based policy and practice;
  • academic debates in the epistemology and methodology of social work research.
  • ethical questions that arise when undertaking research on policy practice, including research with and for marginalised and oppressed groups.

Through the course of the programme you will have opportunities to develop your skills:

  • designing research appropriate to the requirements and questions of policy makers, practitioners, service users and carers;
  • employing appropriate methods of data collection and analysis in a rigorous manner.

You will also have the opportunities to develop your skills in:

  • appreciating and building into research an appropriate ethical framework for the collection, analysis, presentation and storage of data;
  • collaborating with service users and practitioners in the design, conduct and interpretation of research
  • designing research which recognises the resource constraints set by others in various policy and practice settings;
  • communicating effectively the findings and recommendations from research to a variety of audiences.


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 on methodological choices in policy research proposals
  • data analysis and interpretation exercises.

Teaching methods

While most lectures and presentations take place in SPS building teaching rooms, there are also computer lab sessions which are located in other parts of the University precinct.

SPS is located close to the Arts and Social Sciences Library, a number of faculty computer rooms, the University's Sports Facility and Students' Union.


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 Social Work Research, as defined above and may use any of the methods taught on the programme. The dissertation itself is up to 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 in Social Work 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 practice-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 practice 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 students).

Students are encouraged to present an initial outline of their proposed topic and approach at a dissertation workshop. Following critical review from their peers and from the Programme Director a revised proposal is submitted to the Programme Director, who is then responsible for approving the proposal and allocating a supervisor. In order to comply with the School’s research ethics governance framework, all students are required to submit a research ethics proposal to the School Research Ethics Committee (REC), which is reviewed in the first instance by the Programme Director.

Programme handbook

You can download the current handbook here: MPR-MSWR-MDS-Combined programme handbook 2018-19 (PDF, 1,024kB). If you have problems accessing the documents please contact the Postgraduate Student Administrator who will email or send you a copy.

Meet the staff

Programme Director

Demi Patsios


Unit convenor: Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences and Supervised Independent Study

Dissertation unit convenor: MSc Policy Research

Val Williams


Programme Director: MSc Disability Studies

Unit convenor: Inclusive Research with Disabled People

Nadia Aghtaie


Unit convenor: Domestic Violence: Research, Policy and Activism

David Berridge


Unit convenor: Researching Child and Family Welfare

Ailsa Cameron


Unit convenor: Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences 

John Carpenter


Unit convenor: Further Qualitative Methods

Eldin Fahmy


Unit convenor: Further Quantitative Methods and Researching Poverty, Inequality and Social Exclusion

Laura Johnson


Unit convenor: Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences

Rachel Lart


Unit convenor: Researching Health and Social Care

Alex Marsh


Unit convenor: The Economics of Public Policy

Beth Tarleton


Unit convenor: Citizenship and Participation

Margaret Thompson


Postgraduate Student Administrator

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