Computational Policy Modelling MSc

The Department of Sociology offers a stimulating and supportive environment for our Computational Policy Modelling students.

Why Surrey?

The MSc Computational Policy Modelling will equip you with the skills to become an expert in simulation of complex policy-relevant real-world social problems.

Programme overview

This degree trains computational-policy modellers who can tackle complex policy problems by integrating traditional and computational social science methods.

Interest in simulation has been growing rapidly in the social sciences as a result of increasingly powerful computational tools and an interest in applying ideas of complexity, evolution and adaptation to social systems. This interest has recently found its way into policy making through a growing recognition that many social problems - from health over welfare to environmental sustainability - are insufficiently served by traditional modelling approaches. The integration of traditional and computational social research methods will give you theoretical understanding, together with technical modelling skills of social phenomena. Expertise in both is indispensible when building models to really underpin policy decisions.

The ability to identify and frame social problems and conduct effective research to address them means that Surrey's Sociology postgraduate / graduate students are always in demand. The MSc in Computational Policy Modelling takes this expertise and integrates it into a cutting-edge computational approach to social science and policy modelling.

As a student in the School of Social Sciences, you will become part of an intellectually stimulating and supportive academic environment. As well as our specialism in social research methods, we are home to the Centre for Research in Social Simulation (CRESS) and its world-leading expertise in agent-based modelling.

Programme content

This programme illuminates the connections between social science theory, empirical research and computational modelling, and relates research to the development of public policy and the analysis of substantive social issues. It fully integrates social research methods modules with computational social science and policy modelling modules, providing you with broad insight into all aspects of policy modelling and deep understanding of the power and pitfalls of social and computational research methods.

Wider issues of the social research and process are also covered. These include the model design and documentation, planning and management of research projects, research ethics and the presentation and publication of research findings.

The programme:

  • Provides training in computational social science and policy modelling
  • Provides training across a range of technical and practical social research skills
  • Equips you with a solid understanding of the interrelationships between social science and computer modelling
  • Encourages you to reflect critically on methodological, theoretical, philosophical and ethical aspects of computational modelling

Core modules

  • Computational Modelling
  • Theory Model Data
  • Modelling the Social World
  • Policy Modelling
  • Data Analysis
  • Field Methods
  • Theory and Methodology
  • Dissertation

Optional modules

  • Statistical Modelling or Evaluation Research
Module descriptions

Computational modelling

You will be introduced to foundations of social simulation. The classics of social simulation are introduced, and some famous abstract models and one detailed model are implemented in NetLogo in a series of lab sessions. Through guided implementation you will acquire basic to intermediate programming skills in NetLogo and understand the requirements of models.

Theory Model Data

You will gain an understanding of the relationship between a model, human and social science theories and real world data. The course will examine epistemological and methodological issues in simulation, such as abstraction and idealisation, data in the social sciences, and questions about the use of data for the validation of models. This theoretical knowledge will feed into the understanding of model construction, validation and interpretation of computational models.

Data Analysis

The aim of this module is to provide you with a grounding in the basic principles of data analysis and statistical methods and to familiarise you with the use and capabilities of the statistical package SPSS for Windows.

Field Methods

This module aims to provide you with a firm methodological basis for conducting various forms of qualitative analysis. Principal data sources are observational fieldnotes, interview transcripts and video.

Modelling the Social World

This module deepens the knowledge you obtained in Computational Modelling. The focus will be on advanced issues of social simulation. Different levels and kinds of agents, different kinds and sources of data and different kinds of validation will be covered as well as formal aspects of modelling, such as model documentation. Through guided implementation of your own model you will experience each step of the modelling process and acquire advanced programming skills in NetLogo.

Policy Modelling

This module will provide you with an understanding of the applications of modelling as a decision tool in policy making. The course will focus on stakeholder involvement into the modelling process.  Using case studies, a range of policy relevant modelling techniques are explored with an eye on their applicability in areas such as energy consumption, health and economic markets.

Theory and Methodology

This module aims to provide you with an understanding of the importance of conceptual and theoretical issues in social research and some of the philosophical concepts and assumptions that underpin the practice of research.

Statistical Modelling (optional)

This module provides an introduction to the core ideas and principles of statistical modelling and multivariate data, with particular reference to factor analysis, logistic regression and log-linear modelling.

Evaluation Research (optional)

This module covers the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of evaluative research. Emphasis is placed upon the major research methods employed by evaluators to determine the impact of social programmes and evaluate the effectiveness of planned change.


You will complete a report of not more than 15,000 words based on original research on a computational social science or policy modelling topic.


Workshops in Advanced Methods

The Department of Sociology runs a series of short courses on different methods in sociological research. These workshops are not assessed and attendance is purely voluntary. As a student on the MSc in Computational Policy modelling you are encouraged to attend some of these courses. The series of workshops and lectures introduces you to a range of innovative and advanced research methods. These provide an opportunity to gain an appreciation of developments in methods for collecting and analysing data, to reflect on the pragmatics of their use and to gain some hands-on experience of the techniques involved. Topics may include: data management using qualitative software; focus groups; geographic information systems; random control trials in social research; latent variables/structural equation models; multilevel modelling; event history modelling; and longitudinal data analysis.


Programme structure

For students undertaking full-time study, the programme runs for two semesters (12 months). Students on the part-time mode of study will undertake modules over four semesters (24 months, attending one day per week - Fridays in Year 1 and on Tuesdays in Year 2 ).


On the MSc Computational Policy Modelling, we offer the opportunity to take a research placement during the Easter vacation. This will provide you with first-hand experience of real-life policy research in action. Organisations in which placements might be possible are a number of consultancies (e.g. Sandtable), government departments (e.g. Defra) and academic research centres (e.g. Centre for Policy Modelling at Manchester).

Teaching methods

A variety of teaching methods is used. In addition to formal lectures, you will have interactive seminars and practical programming sessions. You will have full access to University and departmental facilities and resources, including a well-equipped computer laboratory with relevant modelling software and a wide range of statistical packages and qualitative data analysis software.

Scholarships for 2015/16 entry

One scholarship may be available; to be awarded on a competitive basis to self-funding students offered a place on the MSc for the academic year 2015/16. Scholarships will be paid in the form of a partial fee remission. Scholarships and deadlines for 2015/16 will be advertised on the departmental website.

Surrey manages the ESRC-funded South East Doctoral Training Consortium which offers doctoral training in association with the Universities of Kent, Reading and Royal Holloway. The MSc Computational Policy Modelling, Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Research Methods can comprise the training component of a 1+3 PhD studentship in Sociology within the Doctoral Training Consortium. Opportunities to apply for ESRC doctoral funding via the Doctoral Training Consortium will be advertised annually on the departmental website.

Centre for Research in Social Simulation

The Centre for Research in Social Simulation (CRESS) is a world-leading research centre in computational social science. Nigel Gilbert, the founder of CRESS, is one of the pioneers and key figures in the field of social simulation. This reputation attracts many international visitors to CRESS and MSc students will be able to attend seminars by eminent experts in the field of computational social science and policy modelling. CRESS consists of around 15 post-doctoral and PhD researchers working on simulation related topics and with a range of backgrounds and expertise. Within this research-intensive environment you will be at the cutting edge of computational social science and policy modelling.

Department of Sociology

The Department is a leading centre of applied social research and methodological innovation, with an international reputation for excellence in both research and teaching. In the 2008 RAE we were ranked joint sixth out of all the sociology departments in the UK. This reflects our excellence in research and publications, and the high quality of our research environment. The Guardian, reflecting our commitment to high-quality teaching and research, ranked the Department of Sociology sixth in 2014.

A particular area of strength is research methodology and research training. Our research is organised into six groupings, which reflect contemporary concerns:

  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Developments in Methodology
  • Identities, Generation and Everyday Life
  • Media, Culture and Communication
  • Science, Environment and Technologies
  • Work, Organisations and Inequalities

In addition to the research groups, members of staff undertake a wide variety of internationally renowned individual scholarship including work on gender, employment, organisations, cross-national survey, culture, ethnicity, language and communication, sociological theory, childhood, youth and identities, sociology of sleep and the sociology of social policy.

Four leading journals are edited in the Department:

  • Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS)
  • Sociological Research Online
  • Identities
  • Ethnic and Racial Studies
  • Popular Communication: International Journal of Media and Culture

The Department’s commitment to developing technical competence in research methods, and encouraging the use of appropriate information and communication technologies in social research, is reflected in the fact that it houses the UK national centre for software for qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS).

The Department’s Institute of Social Research runs a successful international fellowship scheme, which enables international researchers to visit Surrey each year. These strengths in research, and in innovative research methods in particular, feed into our master’s-level teaching and inform the continued updating of content within modules. A further departmental research centre, the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender (CRAG), brings together social scientific expertise to conduct policy-relevant research on gender and ageing. There are also strong research links between members of the Sociology Department and the Digital World Research Centre.

Residential conference and day conference

The MSc Computational Policy Modelling includes a residential conference, usually in November. The conference provides an opportunity for discussion in an informal atmosphere, around current research issues and debates, technologies and methods at the forefront of social research; it includes lectures from eminent guest speakers and members of staff, seminars and small group discussions.

The Department also organises a day conference for MSc students at the University, with student presentations and guest speakers.

Career Opportunities

Computational methods and especially computer-based simulations, are becoming increasingly important in academic social science and policy making. Graduates might find career opportunities in government departments, consultancies, government departments, consultancies, NGOs and academia.

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Professional development

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Programme leader

Dr Corinna Elsenbroich

Find out more

General enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

Admissions enquiries:


Programme facts

Type of programme:


Programme length:

  • Full-time: 12 months
  • Part-time: 24 months

Start date:

Sep 2016

Entry Requirements

Usually a First or Upper Second class honours degree or equivalent in a social science, natural science, mathematics, computer science or related subject, or relevant professional experience. We also require evidence of basic numeracy (a GCSE pass at grade C or above or equivalent in maths).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS minimum overall: 7.0

IELTS minimum by component: 6.5

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2016 £7,000 £15,000
Part-time Sep 2016 £3,500 £7,500

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2016/2017 only. Annual fees will rise by four per cent (rounded up to the nearest £100) for each year of study.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes


Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumnus of Surrey you may be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught Masters programme fees. Learn more.

For more details

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Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that not all modules described are compulsory and may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.