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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

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Curriculum

This globally unique programme provides an in-depth understanding of innovation in economics, technology and organisations—alongside cutting-edge thinking around public administration and governance.

MPA curriculum

Students graduate the programme understanding the theories that shape current practice and with the tools to re-imagine the role of the state. These skills are in demand. 

The course takes place across three terms, moving from theory to practice. The course begins with foundations in economics and politics in Term One. In Term Two, we focus on organisations and design practice; students also choose optional modules from across UCL, allowing them to focus on particular areas of interest. The course culminates in Term Three with students either taking part in a placement or writing a supervised thesis. 

The core modules combine weekly lectures, which are often highly interactive, involving debate and case studies, with small-group seminars, where students dive deeper into particular readings and tools. These activities are enriched by regular guest lectures, events, and opportunities for students to contribute to IIPP’s on-going research and policy action.

Course structure

Term one

New Economic Thinking and Public Value (15 credits)

The module will consider the alternative models for public policy, governance and administration from those focussed on ‘market fixing’ to new ones that can be expressed as ‘market making’. The latter requires all organisations, including those in the public sphere, to be equally ambitious around experimentation and exploration. This requires building new competencies and dynamic capabilities inside public institutions, which are oriented towards producing, nurturing and evaluation the creation of public value.

Economics of Innovation and Public Purpose (15 credits)

The module introduces students to the economics of innovation and technical change, with a focus on theoretical contributions in evolutionary and structural economics – including techno-economic paradigms, national, regional and sectoral systems of innovations, industrial ecosystem and diversification dynamics. Students are also encouraged to understand innovation dynamics in different country contexts, and what context-specific factors constraints innovation and the translation of innovation into new markets, products and purposes.

Politics, Power and Systems Change (15 credits)

The module focusses on understanding systems, actors in the systems, and institutions. This includes an introduction to systems analysis and mapping, encouraging students to take a wide view of problems and their interconnection to other issues, and an exploration of systems change cases.
Particular attention is paid to policy actors and how they act within, and are shaped or constrained by, the systems that they seek to affect. As such, the module critically interrogates simplistic, linear notions of policy making. It also explores theories of power, introducing ideas of agenda-setting and knowledge-production, along with more conventional views bases on conflict and formal hierarchy.

Making Decisions: Evidence and Evaluation (15 credits)

This module combines a survey of policy evaluation methods, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method approaches, with a deeper discussion of the connection between a phenomenon, measurement, interpretation and, ultimately, decision-making.

Students will also engage with literature on how policy-makers use and interpret evidence and how this shapes their decision-making. This will be explored further through the use of case studies.

Term two 

Creative Bureaucracies (15 credits)

Rooted in the study of public administration, this module looks at governance frameworks geared to developing dynamic capabilities within organisations, enabling them to become more flexible, adaptable and willing to experiment. The module begins by exploring the concept of creative bureaucracy – and whether that is an oxymoron! – before for looking at topics including the history of public administration, non-Western public administration traditions, and questions of ethics and representation. The module, in the second half, considers issues of digital transformation in depth.

Transformation by Design (15 credits)

This module helps students develop strategic design skills and techniques for creating policy innovation cultures, processes, environments and organisations, particularly addressing the dynamics of digital transformation. The module uses tools from design thinking and applies them to issues in public administration, including policy design, public service design, and policy labs. As design has a significant practice component, the seminars are often practice-based, allowing students to apply the tools and thinking introduced in the lectures.

Optional module (30 credits)

Students also take 30 credits of optional modules. Please note that the list of optional modules given here is indicative rather than exhaustive. This information is published in advance of enrolment and availability and is subject to change: 

  • Digital Transformation (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Contemporary Political Philosophy II: Social Justice and Equality (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Democracy and Accountability: Holding Power to Account (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Urban Innovation and Policy (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Development, Technology and Innovation Policy (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Smart Cities: Context, Policy & Government (15 credits) [Term 2]
  • Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty (30 credits) [Terms 1 and 2]
  • Rethinking Capitalism: (15 Credits) [Term 2]

    Term three

    Students choose one of the following pathways:

    Placement Programme (60 credits)

    During Term Three of the MPA, students may take part in a placement with one of IIPP’s partner organisations. During the placement, student groups work closely with their placement organisation on a policy problem; the placement culminates with a group presentation and individual written reports. To date, we have partnered with over a dozen public sector organisations, both in the UK and abroad. The projects have ranged from analysing data collected from a Covid-19 support hotline to helping a regional revitalisation programmes become more mission-oriented.

    Policy Analysis Thesis (60 credits)

    In the third term, the thesis option presents students the opportunity to undertake a substantial written analysis. Students work independently with an IIPP supervisor and focus on a policy problem or organisational and institutional challenges in the public sector. The analysis is based on thorough academic understanding of the challenge and its context, and students are challenged to develop viable alternatives.

    For these projects, students carry out empirical research to support their conclusions. Students have high-level interviews with policy actors, as well as conducted sophisticated quantitative analysis. Successful theses have taken on topics ranging from digitalisation in Indonesia to the role of creative industries in the United Kingdom’s national innovation system. In many cases, these theses are shared with the organisations under examination upon completion.