Evidence Based Intervention and Policy Evaluation Master's programmes

We offer two Master's courses in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation (EBSIPE):

  • MSc in EBSIPE (1 year)
  • MPhil in EBSIPE (2 year)

In all societies, policies are developed and professionals from a range of disciplines and backgrounds intervene to ameliorate social problems, such as poverty, violence, mental health, substance misuse, educational disadvantage, delinquency, health and economic inequality, and support vulnerable groups for example refugees, elderly people, troubled children, as well as those affected by HIV and AIDS. 

Focus on policies and programmes

The EBSIPE courses are about policies and programmes such as child protection and support for parents, education, poverty alleviation, housing, and gun control. The practical imperative of ensuring effective use of finite resources, together with an ethical imperative to demonstrate that an intervention or policy is doing more good than harm, require that practice be based on sound evidence.

Rigorous methods training

The course emphasises research methods for evaluating interventions and policies, such as randomized trials, systematic reviews (quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods), advanced quasi-experimental methods, qualitative and quantitative (using R) methods for social scientists. The course has an interdisciplinary and international perspective focusing on appraising, generating and using evidence in policy and practice.

Structure of the courses

Here's a picture of how the MSc course unfolds over the year:

ebsipe course diagram 2017



In Michaelmas Term (October – December):

Core papers: 1 Module (different for Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation students)

  • Social Interventions (SI stream)
  • Social Policy Analysis (PE stream)

Research Methods papers: Modules are the same for SI and PE students.

  • Evaluation Methods
  • Systematic Reviews
  • Quantitative Analysis

Exams and Research: 

  • Methods Assignments


 In Hilary Term (January – April):

Research Methods papers: Modules are the same for SI and PE students.

  • Evaluation Methods
  • Systematic reviews
  • Qualitative Methods


Options Papers: 1 Module chosen by student.

  • Examples (may change)
    • Welfare of children and families
    • Community analysis and large-scale interventions
    • Health: policy and Inequalities

Exams and Research:

  • Methods Assignments


In Trinity Term (May – August):

Core Papers: Policy Exercise (both streams)

Research Methods papers: Modules are the same for SI and PE students.

  • Evaluation Methods
  • Systematic reviews
  • Advanced Methods (optional/offers vary)


Exams and Research:

  • Exams/Assessments (Core/Option)
  • MSc Thesis

Students on the two-year MPhil will have a further option course, and research thesis submitted in the second year.

Pathways: Policy Evaluation and Social Intervention

There are two distinct pathways structured around a shared core that enable students to focus on the evaluation of micro level social interventions or macro level social policies.

The shared courses comprises classes on research design, statistics, qualitative analysis, systematic reviewing and critical appraisal.  The courses prepare students to be critical consumers of research, and to design and implement their own research projects. It covers key research designs as well as quantitative and qualitative techniques for measuring process and outcome. There is a particular emphasis on appraisal and design of randomised controlled trials, quasi-experimental designs and systematic reviews, and their application to social interventions and policy evaluation.

In addition to the common courses students will select (after a trial week in Term 1) from the following two pathways:

  • The Social Intervention pathway covers theories underlying interventions (such as changes to alcohol trading hour or parenting training) ; conceptual foundations of evidence-based practice, and the science behind development, cultural adaptation, testing, and implementation of social interventions in the real world. These are taught through lectures, practicals, and case studies of interventions for different social problems, led by experts in these applications. 
  • The Policy Evaluation pathway introduces students to evidence-based social policy analysis.  Policy analysis examines the process of policy-making, the setting of objectives, the choice and design of policy and the mechanisms of implementation. 

Option ("elective") courses

Students take  specialist courses (one in the MSc or two in the MPhil) from a list of options focusing on a particular policy area, vulnerable group or analytical approach. Past options covered topics such as Children and Families; Community Analysis and Intervention; Health inequalities and social policy.

Teaching in some options may not be available every year.

Thesis & Assessments

Students on both pathways will write a thesis on a topic of their choice and agreed with their supervisor.  Assessment of the taught courses is based on a combination of examinations and/or submitted coursework assignments throughout the year. 

Testimonials and Graduate destinations

Profiles of current students can be found here and as well as a testimonial from a recent cohort. Graduates from our programme have gone on to work for the World Bank, their own data-analysis NGO as well as becoming academics.


Contact and additional information

If you have questions about the course or the application procedure, please check the University of Oxford graduate admissions webpage: here. For specific questions or to hear more about the department, academic staff and our application procedure, please contact our admissions officer: admissions@spi.ox.ac.uk


Some funding is available through the University of Oxford (see below) but applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for non-Oxford funding sources. Applicants should consider funding for their studies as early as possible.

A guide to the fees and funding can be found here: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/fees-and-funding

University of Oxford scholarships

Applications received by the funding deadline for your course will be automatically considered for a number of scholarships available through the university, its colleges and other funds managed by both.

The range of scholarships and eligibility criteria can be found here.


External scholarships

Given the strong competition for funding applicants are strongly encouraged to also seek out scholarships offered by non-University of Oxford bodies.

A list of outside funders linked with the University of Oxford can be found here.











Last updated: 2019/09/09

Further details

The master programmes in EBSIPE are designed to provide high quality graduate level research training in concepts and methods for evaluating social interventions and policies. We emphasise research methods for evaluating interventions and policies, as well as the advanced study of evidence-based policy and practice, in areas such as poverty reduction, child and family services, education, violence and injury prevention, mental health, refugees, drug and alcohol abuse, and HIV prevention.

The central aim of the course is to help students develop the ability to design and critically appraise intervention and policy evaluation studies and to critically apply the findings of research to informing policy and practice questions.

In particular, the educational aims of the course are:

  1. To develop critical appraisal, problem solving and research methods skills in the field of evidence-based interventions and policies for social problems, which will allow students both to be critical consumers of research, and to carry out small scale projects.
  2. To develop in students, the skills necessary for carrying out further research in this field, and where applicable, to progress as leading practitioners or senior managers in agencies for social intervention and policy, and where applicable, to progress as leading researchers, practitioners, senior managers in agencies for social intervention, policy makers, policy analysts, and policy and programme evaluators.
  3. To develop understanding of the ways in which research findings concerning evidence-based interventions and policies can be transferred into practice and to an understanding of the challenges and possibilities associated with such transferability.
  4. To develop understanding of the socio-cultural, ecological, and other societal factors that contribute to social problems, and appreciate the need for interventions that empower communities to mobilize themselves, develop awareness of their strengths, achieve and sustain desired results.
  5. To contribute to the dissemination of high quality research methods and findings about social intervention and policy to the wider international community of practitioners and academics, and to promote a better understanding of the issues involved in transporting research findings into policy and practice settings, and across different cultures.

Course element



Research methods taught via classes, seminars and workshops:

- Evaluation methods

- Quantitative methods

- Qualitative methods

- Systematic reviews

Examined through five assignments

Examined through five assignments

Pathways: Evidence-Based Social Intervention or Policy Evaluation taught via a series of lectures and classes.

Examined through a written exam and/or assessment

Examined through a written exam and/or assessment

Option papers provide the opportunity to explore a particular policy area, vulnerable group or analytical approach.

One option taken, examined through a written exam and/or assessment

Two options taken, examined through a written exam and/or assessment

Thesis on a topic of your own choice and agreed with your supervisor

Design and write a 10,000 word thesis

Design and write a 30,000 word thesis

The central paper for both streams of the EBSIPE programme is the Research Methods (RM) paper  which trains students to be good consumers and producers of research on evaluation of social policy and interventions and includes a range of experimental designs, research synthesis, statistical analysis, and qualitative methods. There is a particular emphasis on appraisal and design of randomised controlled trials, quasi-random experimentation and systematic reviews, and their application to social interventions and policy evaluation.
The RM paper includes four different (but related) modules:

  • Evaluation Methods – a two-term module about the design, analysis and appraisal of evidence-based evaluation, that runs through Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, with a compulsory group exercise held in Trinity Term
  • Systematic Reviews – a two-term module covering both quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method systematic reviewing.
  • Quantitative Analysis using R– a one-term module that runs in Michaelmas Term, with a set of weekly applied seminars with an EBSIPE focus and a set of lectures 
  • Qualitative Methods – a short one-term module that runs in Hilary Term

The RM paper is examined through submitted work throughout the academic year in the form of five RM Assignments. Each RM Assignment assesses a different aspect of the topics covered across the paper’s modules. Students typically have a number of weeks between receiving the RM Assignment instruction sheet and the deadline to submit their work. 

    There are two distinct pathways structured around a shared core that enable students to focus on the evaluation of micro level social interventions on the Evidence-Based Intervention pathway or macro level social policies on the Policy Evaluation pathway.


    This pathway will examine major theories underlying social interventions.  It will use exemplary intervention research studies to illustrate important theoretical, ethical, methodological and practice issues.  Topics will include critical examination of:

    • the ethics of intervening and of researching with vulnerable groups;
    • the cultural factors in intervention research;
    • theoretical approaches to intervention including: ecological, cognitive-behavioural, developmental;
    • the application of evidence-based approaches in practice using exemplary research studies (for example, combining quantitative and qualitative methods in large cohort studies to inform mental health practice; community based randomised controlled trials; practitioner evaluation studies);
    • the dissemination and transportability of research into policy and practice and across cultures;
    • the limitations of evidence-based practice.

    The paper is taught in the first term through lectures, seminars and tutorials. 

    Students write two formative (not included in final mark) essays for discussion with their supervisor in supervision tutorials as well as prepare class presentations.


    This course introduces students to social policy analysis.  Policy analysis examines the process of policy making, the setting of objectives, the choice and design of policy and the mechanisms of implementation. 

    Students on this pathway join those studying Comparative Social Policy to study Social Policy Analysis. This course seeks to equip students with the:

    • theoretical and analytic tools necessary to engage in formal policy analysis

    and to provide an

    • experience of applying them to real-world-like problems while receiving constructive feedback.

    It is taught through a series of lectures and case-studies, followed by practical sessions in which students working in groups present and defend policy analyses of their own.

    The options are built around the specialist interests of academic staff, and as such, different options may be offered each year, depending on availability of staff and the interests of students.

    The Option papers are taught during the second term of the course, and assessed through an exam and/or assessment. Study is through small seminar groups (usually 6-12 students).

    For each option there will be 8 sessions with associated work.  The areas from which options may be offered include:

    • Community analysis
    • Promoting the welfare of children and families
    • Addressing Health Inequalities through Social Policy

    Within the Department there may be some capacity for certain other options (e.g. Poverty, Labour Markets, Family policy) to be made available from the MSc in Comparative Social Policy.  

    In their thesis students are asked to analyse a topic within the subject of the course. Thesis preparation is supported through the research methods course, which includes a session on thesis preparation, and through individual tutorial support, with the supervisor.  Students are encouraged to seek guidance on their work from other experts in the university, and to attend relevant specialist research seminars. 

    MScs write a 10,000 word thesis and will normally work on it during the third term of the course and the first part of the summer vacation for submission by the middle of August.  Students have an individual supervisor for the thesis (normally their course supervisor, but on occasions substituted or complemented by more specialist coverage e.g. someone with an area based specialism where this is relevant to the topic).

    MPhil students write a 30,000 word thesis, and are required to develop their topic area during the first two terms of the course. During Term 3 they work up with their supervisor an outline of their proposal, including background reading and other preparation, in addition to input from their supervisor. By the middle of Term 3 they must be in a position to present an outline of their proposal for final approval and over the summer they undertake the fieldwork, data analysis etc. depending on the topic.

    Past theses have led to high-quality publications, for example:

    van Urk (2014)
    Grant (2013)
    Knerr (2013) 
    Vlahovicova (2017) 


    The thesis writing process is closely supported but we also require students to go through steps involved in real-world academic reserach, throughout the year students are asked:

    • to develope and submit a research question
    • to submit a full research-proposal
    • to attend a thesis proposal panel, where two members of staff discuss the proposal with the student
    • to apply for ethical approval of the thesis proposal by the departmental ethics review board.

    Most importantly, students will discuss each of the steps as well as their draft with their supervisors during regular meetings.

    For the MSc, three components of the course (the Research Methods course, the pathway course, and the option paper) all have equal weight (22% each). As the thesis is more substantial, it carries a greater weight (34%).

    For the MPhil, four components of the course (the research methods course, the pathway course, and the two option papers) each carry the same weight, (15% each), and the thesis 40%.

    All components are double-blind marked using a numerical scale. The pass mark is 50% (marks below 50% represent a fail).To pass the examination, candidates must achieve 50% or more in all four components of the course. The examiners may award a distinction for excellence in the whole examination. To obtain a distinction, candidates must achieve an overall (weighted) mark of 70% or more.

    For students commencing from 2018, to obtain a merit candidates must achieve an overall (weighted) mark between 65% and 69%.

    The University of Oxford has three teaching terms of 8 weeks:

    • Michaelmas Term (MT)
    • Hilary Term (HT)
    • Trinity Term (TT)

    The term dates vary each year and can be found here.

    Note: Students will need to arrive the latest in Week 0 (one week before the start of term) and usally stay till Week 9 (MT & HT).

    The submission date for the thesis (the last aspect of the course) is usually mid-August.

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    Each student is allocated a supervisor in the department, who provides academic guidance to the individual student and oversees his or her progress.

     Other departmental staff are available to give guidance, including those leading the lectures and classes, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the department’s administrative team.

    College tutor

    Each student is also allocated a college tutor who is responsible for their general welfare and is available to provide additional guidance over problems that may arise on the academic or social side.

     In addition students can draw on University-wide support as needed, such as Women’s Advisors, Chaplains etc. in colleges and ultimately to the Head of the College.  The University has a counselling service which provides advice, both immediate and long term, to students in need.  There are college nurses and all colleges have a college doctor and many a college dentist.

    Course director

    The course is led by a Course Director who works with a close-knit team of supervisors, takes overall responsibility for the course, co-ordinating teaching, arranging specialist supervision for option papers and thesis writing.

    This course is offered as part of the Oxford 1+1 MBA programme. High calibre candidates have the opportunity to apply to both the Comparative Social Policy MSc course and the MBA course offered by the Saïd Business School. For more information, visit the Oxford 1+1 site.

    These programmes can be part of a 1+3 ESRC University Doctoral Training Centre scholarship.

    Find out more on the Social Sciences doctoral training site: here.

    The TrygFonden Scholarship is available for students resident in Denmark studying the MSc in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation. Find out more here.