Social Policymaking and Policy Implementation Curriculum

Social Policymaking and Policy Implementation Curriculum


Course work in the Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) doctoral program includes a core curriculum and electives. To obtain a PhD, students entering without a master's degree must complete 27 courses while students entering with a master's degree must complete 18 courses. All students complete a trial research and an annotated course outline. There are no qualifying examinations. Instead, successful completion of the trial research and course outline admit a student to PhD candidacy. Doctoral candidates are also required to serve as teaching assistants for two quarters. The last requirement for the degree is completion of a dissertation.

Core Pillars

Three essential themes undergird the HDSP program as core pillars: human development, social policy and research methodology. Courses in the core curriculum and elective courses offer in-depth learning opportunities in these three areas. 

Human Development

HDSP 413-0 - Theories of Human Development

An intensive introduction to some of the most influential theories of human development articulated in the Western tradition of social science, with an emphasis upon especially broad frameworks that speak to development of human cognition and learning, social and emotional development, and the individual person’s integration into society. The course considers theories that address the emotional foundations of human development, stage models of cognitive development, life-course approaches to understanding the developing person’s integration into family and society, and recent narrative theories of self and culture.

HDSP 402-0 - Child Development

Child development and the well-being of families have not been in the public policy spotlight in the new millennium as much as one would hope. The policy question that I care about the most -- How can our society improve the lives of children and families? – is not on center stage. Contemporary issues such as the economic crisis, the mid-term elections, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, and the budget deficit have been far more pressing. But there is greater potential than ever before for child development research to produce new knowledge that can be useful to policy makers at all levels of government, in addition to community and civic leaders, service and health care providers, educators, parents, and the public.

Research and policy aimed at the goal of improving children’s lives require an in-depth understanding of how and why children develop the way they do. This course is designed to provide an intensive overview of the science of child development, with an emphasis on young children. A broad range of theoretical perspectives from a variety of fields will be emphasized. Students will come away with an understanding of the key factors in healthy child development, defined to include socioemotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. In addition, we will apply the scientific knowledge of child development to several major policy and programmatic issues, such as early childhood education, antipoverty programs, marriage promotion, and health disparities. This course also highlights the role of context: family, peers, child care, school, employment, neighborhood, and policy environments. Ethical considerations as well as measurement (i.e., the tools of the science) will be stressed. In addition, a multidisciplinary perspective is a central theme.

HDSP 403 - Adolescent Development

Biological, cognitive and social development during adolescence. Social institutions and policies that affect the well-being of adolescents.

HDSP 404 - Adult Development and Aging

This graduate seminar aims to introduce students to the core substantive issues and key social science authors in the interdisciplinary study of adult development and aging, drawing mainly from the disciplines of human development, psychology, sociology, education and the cognitive sciences. The course will focus on the substantive issues of (1) personality and self, (2) cognition and learning, (3) generativity and social commitment, (4) love and family, and (5) work and retirement. Across these five domains, we will pay careful attention to the dynamics of continuity and change across the life course and the socio-historical context within which developing lives are situated.

HDSP 415 - Nature-Nurture Revisited

Recent research has demonstrated that, rather than human biology determining human behavior and experience, human biological development is exquisitely sensitive to environmental input, particularly the social environment. In this course, we will discuss theoretical models and data regarding the interplay between biology and social experience in development. Topics include gene-environment correlations, gene-environment interactions, epigenetics, and theoretical models for the interplay between biological systems and ecological conditions. We will learn some basic facts about brain development, stress physiology, and immune functioning, and will examine social-environmental influences on these systems. Special emphasis is placed on the social influences on stress-system biology, a major pathway by which socio-emotional experience affects the body, brain and developmental outcomes.

HDSP 451 - Topics: Identity and Motivation

The seminar focuses on the connection between conceptions of the self and goal-oriented motivation, with particular attention devoted to the influence of social, structural and cultural forces. The first segment of the term will cover classic psychological theory and research concerning the self and identity. Next, we will consider the relevance of a variety of social influences on identity and motivation. Finally, the course will close with a survey of contemporary identity-based intervention research and practical applications relating to trends in social inequalities, such as education and health.

Social Policy

HDSP 430-0 - Economics of Social Policy

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of economic analysis in the evaluation of education and social policy. Each week the class concentrates on a different important public policy question, and then uses economic reasoning to explain the economic rationales for policies as well as the potential consequences, expected and unexpected, of the policy. The policy questions considered depend on what issues are currently being publicly debated. Economic concepts covered include constrained choice, market forces and price theory, market failures (such as externalities/spillovers and public goods), and welfare analysis.

HDSP 429 - Social-Community Interventions

This course is designed to provide conceptual tools useful in the critical analysis of social programs and interventions. The course serves as an introduction to important issues in program development, organizational change and consultation. Interventions in the areas of human development, education, and social welfare will receive the bulk of our attention.

HDSP 451 - Topics: Organizations, Institutions and Society: Persistence and Change Among Public, Private and Non-Profit Sectors

This graduate seminar will introduce theories of institutional persistence and change in the context of public, private and nonprofit settings. The course is organized as a seminar and will blend foundational studies in institutional theory with contemporary work from sociology, organization sciences, education and nonprofit studies. An overarching theme of the course addresses how new practices and organizational forms spread (diffusion), how they stick (institutionalization) and how they take the form that they do (emergence). Topics covered will include accountability and performance, organizational learning, contemporary debates about social mechanisms, and micro-foundations of institutional theory. Ideally, this course will provide a platform for students to develop and advance their own research projects, in the form of a research proposal for beginning doctoral students or an empirical analysis for more advanced students.

HDSP 428 - Educational Policy: Design, Implementation and Effects

School reform has become a regular fixture in public, professional and academic deliberations about our nation's schools. In the past couple of decades, educational reform proposals have grown significantly as both state and federal governments have become increasingly interested in developing education policies. This course will provide students with an introduction to key issues in K-12 educational policy. The course is designed to develop students' abilities to examine, analyze and critique education policies, education policy-making, and education policy implementation. Further, students will develop an appreciation for issues relating to policy effects. Given the vastness of the terrain, the course will be grounded in three education policy/reform initiatives that have gained considerable currency over the past decade: (1) standards and accountability, (2) teacher quality and (3) school choice related to vouchers and charter schools.

HDSP 427 - Sociology of Education

How does educational research affect social policy? This course examines theories of the relationship between schools and society, research on educational outcomes and the mechanisms by which schooling accomplishes these outcomes, and policy responses to research findings. How does social research clarify the operation of schooling and policy options? What kinds of research are most useful to policy? How can qualitative and quantitative studies be designed to address theoretical and policy concerns? How can studies of institutions be integrated with studies using national surveys?

HDSP 433 - Modern Theories of the State and Social Policy

This course is designed to acquaint HDSP students with modern theories of the state as they relate to social policy. We look at competing paradigms of the state in contemporary social policy debates and develop a set of categories for assessing the approaches. We then relate the current debate to its historical and philosophical roots. The goal of the course is to acquaint students with the central concepts in the study of social policy and the state and to have students begin to develop their own orientation.

HDSP 442 - Social Policymaking and Policy Implementation

This course will explore the complex processes of social policymaking and implementation, with particular attention to the ways in which these processes shape and are shaped by the development of political institutions and civil society.


HDSP 401-0 - Proseminar in Human Development & Social Policy

This course aims to introduce graduate students to core theoretical and empirical work in human development and social policy. It is designed to offer first-year students in the Doctoral Program in Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) an in-depth overview of the intellectual foundations of the program and introduce students to the programs of research of HDSP faculty. HDSP focuses on lifespan development and the life course from multiple perspectives, emphasizing the influence of historical periods, the timing of events, changing roles, and how individuals shape their own pathways in addition to being influenced by individuals around them, by social institutions, and by public policy. HDSP is a multidisciplinary program bringing to bear anthropology, biology, education, economics, political science, psychobiology, psychology, social epidemiology, sociology, and other disciplines to understand human development and policy. HDSP focuses on contexts that are essential in shaping life trajectories and opportunities—families, neighborhoods, schools, the workplace, and the realm of local, state, federal, and international policies.

The first part of the course considers three central questions:

  • What is human development?
  • What is social policy?
  • What is human development and social policy?

Students will examine the entailments of taking human development and social policy frameworks to examine social phenomena. They will also consider what makes a human development and social policy framework unique in the study of key social policy issues.

The second part of the course will engage students in a consideration of some of the core disciplinary perspectives that inform research in HDSP. Each week students will consider the entailments of a particular disciplinary perspective (e.g., economics, sociology) in framing research in human development and social policy. A part of this work will involve discussing with core HDSP faculty their research framed from a particular disciplinary perspective. Our goal in this class is to develop students’ ability to think about pressing social issues (e.g., inequality) from a multi-disciplinary perspective that attends both to human development and social policy.

HDSP 451-0 — Quantitative Methods I

This course serves as an introduction to the quantitative methods sequence and will cover applied statistical methods. The course will provide useful tools for students who intend to conduct their own statistical analyses, as well as those who want to become critical consumers of others’ analyses. Topics to be covered include descriptive measures; basic probability; sampling and sample size estimation; hypothesis testing; techniques for analyzing categorical data; ANOVA; presenting and describing statistical results. I think that quantitative methods are best learned through hands-on practice, so we will do many computer-based assignments that will involve both conducting data analysis and coherently describing the results using both numbers and words.

HDSP 411 - Quantitative Methods II: Regression Analysis

This course is intended to be a continuation of the quantitative methods sequence that begins with Quantitative Methods I. The course will cover applied statistical methods and will provide useful tools for students who intend to conduct their own statistical analyses, as well as those who want to become critical consumers of others' analyses. Topics to be covered include the use of data for descriptive and causal analyses, linear regression, experimental design, panel data methods, hierarchical linear models and instrumental variables.

HDSP 412 - Quantitative Methods III: Empirical Tools for Causal Quantitative Analysis

This course provides an introduction to many of the important tools of estimating causal models, including experimental analysis, difference-in-difference, regression discontinuity designs, propensity score matching, event study, interrupted time series and other regression-based models. Emphasis is placed on understanding the rationales behind the empirical techniques chosen and the interpretation of the analysis. Students develop hands-on technical skills as well as critical research-reading skills in this course.

SOCIOL 404 - Designs for Descriptive Causal Research in Field Settings

Theories of causation. Analysis of the ability of various experimental and quasi-experimental designs to promote the end of two types of causal inference.

HDSP 432 - Field Methods

This course is designed to introduce students to qualitative research, including fieldwork, document analysis and interviewing. Students will explore qualitative research approaches by undertaking their own research study as well as reading and discussing relevant writing on the subject. The readings, topics for discussion and assignments in this course center on three areas: (1) the epistemological underpinnings of approaches to qualitative research, (2) the practice of qualitative inquiry; students will explore sampling strategies, research design, observation and interview techniques, and approaches to data analysis and data presentation, and (3) other key issues that researchers encounter in doing qualitative research, including ethics and social relationships in the context of fieldwork.

HDSP 435 - Advanced Qualitative Methods

This course in advanced qualitative research is designed for students who have taken an introductory graduate course in qualitative research methods and are in the process of analyzing qualitative data for their trial research, dissertation, or some other research project. The course will focus chiefly on: a) Analyzing qualitative data to develop and justify assertions, b) Epistemological underpinnings of various qualitative approaches and c) Issues of reliability, validity, and making generalizations. The course will be conducted as a seminar with class work organized around prescribed readings on a particular issue as well as data and other materials from researchers' and students' qualitative studies.

Contact Us

The Graduate Program in Human Development and Social Policy

School of Education and Social Policy

2120 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-4329