Sussex ESRC Doctoral Training Centre (internal)

Advanced training

ESRC Advanced Training courses take place during the Summer term and are open to Sussex students and external participants.

Sussex research students will be contacted in the Spring term with details on how to book.


Systematic Review
Systematic reviews of research evidence have been described as ‘the cornerstone of evidence based policy and practice in modern welfare democracies’ (Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) (Fisher et al, 2006, p. vi). They have become increasingly widespread in applied social sciences, and popular with policy makers and funders because they are designed to answer focussed research questions and bring rigour and transparency to gathering, appraising and synthesising research evidence. The Department for International Development, the Department of Health, and the Department for Education, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Social Care Institute for Excellence are among those who have recently funded systematic reviews on diverse policy and practice relevant issues

Systematic reviews are distinctive from ‘traditional’ literature reviews because they are question-led, conducted according to clearly stated standards and protocols, and aim to be transparent, replicable and capable of updating. They involve exhaustive searches of all relevant literature, and use explicit criteria to include and exclude research for review. Originally, systematic reviews included only quantitative research and usually only randomized controlled trials. Increasingly, however, other approaches that include qualitative research in review have also become established. So the methods used for appraising the quality of research evidence vary with the kind of research included, as do methods for synthesising research evidence, which range from narrative to statistical meta-analysis. Systematic reviews have had many critics. Not all, but many of the criticisms can be allayed by the fact that these reviews can now gather the best of both qualitative and quantitative research evidence, to inform complex interventions with complex problems.

This course is offered both as an Advanced module on the MSc in Social Research Methods, and as a stand-alone Short Course. It is designed for research students and other researchers who want to develop their understanding and hands-on skills in systematic reviewing, and more generally to develop their critical approach to research literature review. Both David Orr and Elaine Sharland have established experience in conducting systematic and other literature reviews, and will draw directly on this experience in their teaching. Participants in the course will focus on a chosen research question in their own field in order to engage directly in doing the methods of systematic reviewing: searching, screening and selecting the research literature, data extraction/quality appraisal, and research synthesis. At the same time, they will be asked to look critically at the approach they are taking, and to engage with critical debates. In combination, taught input and guided activities across the two workshops will enable participants to develop the skills involved in systematic reviewing, and to introduce greater rigour and critical reflection into their own approach to literature reviewing.

Social Research in Conflict Affected Zones

The workshop explores the particular methodological issues that face social scientists conducting research in conflict affected zones. In the mid-1990s a seminal volume edited by Carolyn Nordstrom and Antonius Robben drew attention to the particular ethical and personal dilemmas anthropologists (and social scientists in general) face when conducting research in conflict affected areas. Drawing on this volume; a recent volume edited by Chandra Lekha Sriram et al.’ ‘best practice’ developed by NGOs working in such contexts and individual case studies, the workshop will consider the generic problems that research in conflict affected areas poses for researchers and will explore the strategies and responses researchers have adopted.  At the end of the workshop participants will have a clear understanding of the following key issues: ethical dilemmas; security of researchers and respondents; coping with stress; and dilemmas of maintaining objectivity.

Multi-sited & Mobile Ethnography

This workshop examines the rise of multi-sited and mobile ethnography, focusing on tensions between what might be conceived as 'the local' and 'the global', where 'place' and 'field' are not only geographic locations, but representations of broader, sometimes invisible relational and symbolic connections. From Marcus' original 1995 proposition to 'reform' anthropology, the potential of multi-sited ethnography has been critiqued and, to a lesser extent, practiced. This workshop will consider theoretical issues but will also be related to practice as students conduct a small multi-sited ethnographic project as the basis for their assessment.

Evaluation of Policy & Professional Practice

Increasingly evaluation research has become central to assuring and underpinning quality, effectiveness and accountability in many public services sectors, including social work, education and health care.

 This short, advanced post graduate course is intended for students with some familiarity with fundamental principles of evaluation research, and with some of the key approaches (including impact evaluation, process evaluation and realist evaluation) that may be deployed to evaluate interventions (if students do not have such familiarity then reading the set texts prior to the course is likely to be necessary and sufficient). The critical focus of the course will be on three key challenges and different theoretical and practical responses to them, namely:

- Issues in relation to bias, particularly in relation to measuring outcomes of interventions

- Paying significant attention to the context of the service and the research itself

-Considering different perspectives on outcomes

The content of the course will be focused on sharing experiences of developing and carrying out current and recent evaluative research, with some review of historical “classics” of evaluative research. Various methods will be presented and the course will explore pragmatic, theoretical and methodological issues in developing effective evaluative designs.

Elite Interviewing

This workshop is concerned with the technique of elite interviewing and explores the variety of issues researchers encounter with this method. Elite interviewing has become an increasingly useful tool for researchers across the social sciences, but it is a method which political scientists in particular favour. Most political decisions are taken by a small group of highly qualified and knowledgeable individuals, where the black box of policymaking is often concealed, and therefore elite interviewing is often the only way of researching such processes. The shared assumptions and meanings that inform these policy communities also require exploration and elite interviewing is the most appropriate technique for such exploration.

The workshop explains what is distinctive about this technique and examines the methodological issues and problems associated with its use, such as the balance of power, positionality, access issues, ethics and analysis of results. Researchers who are employing this technique need to decide who they are going to interview, how they are going to access their interviewees, the best way to conduct the interview and how they should utilize and analyse their results. This workshop is targeted at students who intend to employ this method and want to strategize and plan for the next steps in conducting such research.

Researching Hidden & Hard to Reach Populations

‘Hard to reach’, ‘rare’ and/or ‘hidden’ populations are often of particular interest to social science researchers, yet present obvious challenges to identify and engage them in the research process. Such populations typically include individuals facing stigmatisation who are likely to be unwilling to identify themselves in public contexts. 

This workshop reviews the reasons why we may want to engage such populations in research and assesses the range of methods which have been employed to access them. This includes various chain referral methods, respondent driven sampling, privileged access interviews, engaged or activist research and applications of Internet research. Although some of these applications, such as snowball sampling, are now well established, others are only widely used in health research and are still at the experimental stage in the social sciences more broadly.

In addition, research with hard to reach and hidden populations often generates particular ethical concerns which will also be considered in detail.

The workshop will involve small group work to assess and apply these methods to a series of research contexts and to identify the advantages and potential drawbacks of each.


In-depth Qualitative Survey: Mass Observation

This one day workshop will examine methods and analysis of in depth qualitative survey, using data collected by Mass Observation as a practical case study. Attendees will use examples from the Mass Observation Archive to reflect on how in depth qualitative data might be used in their research, thinking through the following areas: what is in depth qualitative survey and what methods can be used to collect data? What kinds of data can it produce and how can these be analysed?

 Mass Observation was founded in 1937 to undertake a survey of everyday life in Britain. Using both ethnographic and life writing methods, Mass Observation collected diaries, observational reports, questionnaire responses and ephemera to record daily life until the mid-1950s. In 1981, the project was started again, using a volunteer panel of writers to respond to in depth questionnaires reflecting everyday life in late 20th, early 21st Century UK. The project works with academics from various disciplines to gather data which forms part of the Mass Observation Archive housed at the University of Sussex at The Keep.

Effective Research Data Management

Effective research data management is central to good research.

Funding agencies are increasingly expecting researchers to manage effectively the data produced as a result of the research they fund, to enable it to be able to exploit for further research. This is reflected in their data sharing policies and the inclusion of data management and sharing plans as part of research bids.

The course will provide participants with the knowledge to manage their research data at every stage of the data lifecycle, from pre-project planning, data creation, data management, publication, long-term preservation and issues of sharing and re-use.

The course will focus on the specific nature of research data in the social sciences, both qualitative and quantitative, and the challenges that this presents.

Social Inclusion in Education and Social Care

A socially inclusive society is one where all people feel valued, their differences are respected, and their basic needs are met so they can live in dignity. Yet there are multiple barriers, including poverty, difference and identities that contribute to social exclusion. Social exclusion is the process of being shut out from social, economic, political and cultural systems. 

The day long course Social Inclusion in Education and Social Care engages with concepts and theories that provide some explanatory power for understanding social inclusion e.g. intersectionality, misrecognition, social capital, sociology of absences and southern theory.

 It also focuses on methodological approaches, challenges and processes involved in researching social inclusion e.g. power relations, accessing marginalised communities, representation, and situated knowledge.

The course considers the potential ways in which education and social care institutions, organisations, and processes may be exclusionary, and the impact that this may have on equitable access to education and social care in diverse organisational and national contexts. Questions will also be raised about what a socially inclusive, and perhaps utopian society looks like?




Sussex ESRC Doctoral Training Centre (internal)