Complex Social Systems

Key information

Start date: To be confirmed

Cancelled due to COVID-19 – to be rescheduled ASAP

Attendance dates:

To be confirmed

Time commitment: 3 days


Stag Hill campus, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH

Contact details:


Complexity social science represents an important new suite of methods that moves researchers beyond the traditional reliance on quantitative or qualitative approaches.

This course will introduce you to complex social systems and the challenges of complexity social science and policy research. You will learn about a range of methods to tackle these challenges, in particular focusing on methods to understand complex causality including qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and process tracing/Bayesian updating. You will encounter real-world case studies, within the research and policy processes.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the challenge of complexity in the social sciences and policy research (C, K, P and T)
  • Be able to use QCA and process tracing/Bayesian updating as methods in social science research (K, C, P and T)
  • Understand how QCA and process tracing/Bayesian updating help elicit causality in complex social systems (C and K)
  • Confidently apply the methods to relevant case studies (P and T),


KSubject knowledge
PProfessional/practical skills
TTransferable skills

Course content

  • Introduction to complex social systems in social science and policy research
  • Causality in complex systems
  • Deep uncertainty and “wicked” problems
  • QCA
  • Process tracing
  • Bayesian updating
  • Narratives and evidence
  • Social science and policy research.

Course leader

Reading list

  • Byrne, D. and Callaghan, G., 2013. Complexity theory and the social sciences: the state of the art. Routledge.
  • Rihoux, B. and Ragin, C.C., 2009. Configurational comparative methods: qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and related techniques. Sage Publishing.

Class size

Maximum of 20 people. Please note, 10 participants will be students from our MSc Social Research Methods course.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this course.

Fees and funding

Price per person:


Government and commercial sector applicants


Education and charitable sector applicants



How to apply

Applications for this course are currently closed.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and following the latest advice from the government relating to large gatherings, we have taken the decision to cancel future dates for this course, until further notice. Those who have registered for this course will be contacted directly regarding refunds. Please bear with us as this may take up to 14 working days to process. We apologise for any disappointment or inconvenience caused.

Register your interest

Terms and conditions

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Further details of our terms and conditions will follow.


This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the commencement of the course. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.