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Learning What Works

Key information

Subject area:

Public Policy, Politics & Security

Course type:

Executive Education

Credit level:


Credit value:



4 weeks

Available course dates:

To be confirmed

Course overview

At its heart, policymaking is about problem-solving. It is about identifying real challenges in the wider world and creating responses to those problems. Some interventions designed and implemented by policymakers have resulted in significant benefits: policies have both improved and saved lives, preserved the environment, helped the economy to grow, and made people safer.

But not all interventions work: some simply fail, either in their design or implementation phases. This results in lost resources and time and means the problem continues. Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, policies can make things worse. Interventions that should logically work, occasionally bring about exactly the outcome the policy is designed to avoid. These policies not only waste resources needed to build and run them; they also harm people, communities, and societies.

For this reason, evaluation is critical. Understanding "what works" is essential if we are to establish whether a policy is bringing about the outcomes we want. Unfortunately, establishing "what works" is not a simple task. The very questions we ask are informed by epistemic and ontological assumptions. If we aren’t aware of these assumptions, we risk performing unnecessarily narrow evaluations that deprive policymakers of what they need to know. Furthermore, there are a host of potential pitfalls, methodological mistakes, and design issues that need to be recognised and mitigated if we are to know whether our solutions to problems are really solving those problems.

In this module, we will explore the role of evaluation in policymaking and provide an overview of the tools of evaluation. You will have the opportunity to critique existing evaluations as well as design an evaluation of your own.

What does this course cover?

Week 1: Introduction to evaluation

Without undertaking evaluation, we won’t know if we’re wasting resources on interventions that are ineffective, or even interventions that hinder us in meeting our goals. This week will centre around outlining the purpose of evaluation and how best to articulate the goal of our evaluation.

Week 2: How do we know?

One of the biggest challenges in using evaluation to determine what works is to design the research so that we are convinced that a causal interpretation is warranted. The focus of this week will on how to determine what works.

Week 3: Putting it all together: practicing evaluation

The aim of this final week is to practice applying what we’ve learned so far. We will look at several studies as a practice to thinking through evaluation design.

What will I achieve?

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Analyse the dynamics of the political and epistemic relationship between policymakers, practitioners, citizens, and researchers.
  • Assess the claims that can be made based on different types of evidence and evaluation.
  • Appraise the quality and rigour of an evaluation.
  • Analyse evidence, identify gaps in that evidence, and select appropriate tools to fill such gaps.

Who will I learn with?

Mark  Kleinman

Mark Kleinman

Professor of Public Policy

Olga Siemers

Olga Siemers

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Who is this for?

This short course is for mid-career professionals. Standard entry requirements are a 2:1 degree plus 3 years of relevant work experience. Applicants without a 2:1 or higher degree are welcome to apply and typically require 5+ years of relevant work experience.

How will I be assessed?

One written assignment, plus participation in webinars and discussion forums.

Our modules offer high levels of interaction with regular points of assessment and feedback. Each four week module is worth five Master's level academic credits and includes three webinars with a King's lecturer and peer group of global professionals.

What is the teaching schedule?

Format: Fully online, plus 3 x 1-hour weekly webinars

This module has been designed specifically for an online audience. It uses a range of interactive activities to support learning including discussion forums, online readings, interactive lectures videos and online tutorials.

Fees and discounts

Tuition fees may be subject to additional increases in subsequent years of study, in line with King’s terms and conditions.

Further information

Module Creators

Dr Benedict Wilkinson, Senior Research Fellow, King's Policy Institute. He joined the institute as a Research Associate in 2013, having studied for a PhD under the supervision of Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman in King’s College London’s Department of War Studies.

Professor Mark Kleinman, Professor of Public Policy and Director of Analysis, King's Policy Institute. He has been a government adviser, working at the No. 10 Strategy Unit when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, a civil servant at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and a policy director for all three London Mayors.

Rebecca Benson, former Research Fellow at the Policy Institute. She uses quantitative data to explore a range of social policy issues. Rebecca’s research interests are in inequality and disadvantage. Within this space she has published and presented on the relationship between education and obesity; health, ageing, and work; housing policy; trust in government; and attitudes towards inequalities. 

Please note that this is only indicative information. Lecturers and course content are subject to change. Please contact us directly for the most recent information.

Course status:

Course closed

Full fee £950

Discounts available

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