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Investigating Contemporary Policy Problems - SPY00169M

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  • Department: Social Policy and Social Work
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Chris Holden
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Public and social policies seek to address, with different degrees of success, societal problems that affect individual wellbeing and that require collective solutions. But policies also create challenges, due to a lack of action, the preservation of particular interests, the irreconcilable nature of conflicts, or the functioning of the state, markets and civil society organisations. By exploring policy responses to major contemporary issues and the complex interplay between states, markets and key policy actors at the local, national and global scale, this module will enable you to investigate the role of governments in shaping, tackling and causing these issues. Drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives and evidence sources and with problem-focused learning, you will gain the skills and the knowledge to critically analyse policy responses to ‘real world’ problems and to offer an informed commentary not only on current societal challenges themselves, but also on how social and public policies attempt to address, and in that process shape them.

Module aims

  • To develop a detailed understanding of key policy tools and governance approaches that can be used to address societal problems

  • To equip students with the analytical and conceptual thinking skills to examine policy responses and the ways in which they shape, address or create societal challenges

  • To explore the embeddedness of societal problems in their social, economic and political context, and its impact on designing and implementing successful policy responses

  • To enable students to actively engage in problem-solving processes within the exploration of social and public policy, furthering their understanding of different ways of researching and understanding the social world

  • To develop group work skills and build experience in the presentation of material to diverse audiences

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • Understand how theoretical concepts and evidence are brought together and applied to the critical analysis of social and public policy

  • Identify and critically assess different policy tools and governance approaches for tackling social challenges

  • Analyse and discuss the ambivalences of social and public policies with regards to their ability to address social challenges

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical development of social challenges and policy responses between continuity and change

  • Apply analytical tools to ‘real world’ policy responses, in order to investigate these responses within their interconnected social, economic and political contexts

  • Work independently and collaboratively on exploring policy responses to contemporary social challenges, with reference to different types of theoretical and empirical evidence

  • Present arguments in relation to social and public policy responses effectively to diverse audiences


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 70
N/A 30

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 5000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback on the group work is given verbally during the seminars.

Essay feedback will be given in accordance with the University Policy on feedback in the Guide to Assessment as well as in line with the School policy.

Indicative reading


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.