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PLCY 805 - Public Policy Research Techniques and Methods
This course provides an introduction to public policy research techniques and methods. We will explore: How can policy actors understand the nature of social, political, economic, cultural and environmental problems? Whose problems and perspectives are centered in public policy research, and whose problems and perspectives are left out? And once problems are understood and solutions are implemented, how can policy actors know if their solutions are working or not to address the problem they set out to solve?
How can policy actors understand the nature of social, political, economic, cultural and environmental problems? Whose problems and perspectives are centered in public policy research, and whose problems and perspectives are left out? And once problems are understood and solutions are implemented, how can policy actors know if their solutions are working or not to address the problem they set out to solve?
These and other questions will guide this introductory and blended course on public policy research techniques and methods. We will begin by considering epistemology in public policy research; essentially, the question of “how do we know what we know?” We will contemplate the best ways to frame public policy research questions and how to most effectively answer them using different methods and approaches to research design. We will learn how to decolonize research methods and consider what a decolonized approach to public policy research might look like. We will explore research ethics, including by considering the specific ethical challenges raised by researching sensitive and controversial topics (eg. illegal activities like drug use or forced labour, military sexual violence), researcher positionality, and specific populations (eg. elites vs. marginalized or vulnerable groups). We will consider what each of the qualitative data collection methods available to public policy researchers (eg. interviewing, focus groups, surveys) illuminates and forecloses and their strengths and weaknesses, including with respect to scope and generalizability. We will explore various data sources that public policy researchers can use to understand policy issues (eg. trade, gender inequity, and human trafficking) at local, national, and global scales. We will learn how to analyze data using various techniques and software, centered around NVivo. The course will consider how to make strong and compelling arguments based on the evidence that you gather through primary and secondary data collection and analysis.
Goals and Objectives
The course has three key goals:
1) to critically examine how methods, data, data analysis, and the literature shape existing public policy research [this will be achieved through presentations, readings, class discussion, and in your research proposal];
2) to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different public policy research techniques and methods, including online platforms for data analysis [this will be achieved through presentations, readings, class discussion, and data analysis]; and
3) to learn how to formulate your own public policy research questions, successfully assess what the literature says about them already, and develop ethical research designs to shed light into your questions [this will be achieved through class discussion, your research paper proposal, and your research paper]
Course Format and Evaluation
The course will run as a student-led graduate seminar. Throughout the semester, students will make presentations in which they select an article within public policy scholarship (on a topic of their choosing) and critically analyze the author(s)’ use of methods, data, data analysis, and arguments made on the basis of evidence presented. As well, over the semester students will develop and write a short original research paper on a policy topic of their choice to put their learnings into practice. The course will involve a peer-reviewed in-class writing workshop held prior to the deadline to submit research papers.
- Presentation and participation (20% of grade)
Research paper proposal (30% of grade)
- Research paper (50% of grade)