CPT869: Researching Spatial Planning and International Development

School Cardiff School of Geography and Planning
Department Code GEOPL
Module Code CPT869
External Subject Code K400
Number of Credits 20
Level L7
Language of Delivery English
Module Leader DR Brian Webb
Semester Spring Semester
Academic Year 2017/8

How the module will be assessed

There will be 2 summative assessments as described below. In addition to those, there will be formative assessments throughout Part A, undertaken mainly as interactive discussions with the lecturer.

GIS report

25% contribution

1,000 words


Written Assignment

75% contribution

3,000 words


How the module will be delivered

Part A: The generic part of the module will begin by introducing students to the epistemological bases of social science research for “planning”. This part of the module will then go on to outline the dominant research traditions in the social sciences and explain how these are intimately linked to choices made at each stage of the research process.  The connections between epistemology, methodology and method are established here.  The logic of enquiry for undertaking effective research is then explained along with an introduction to using quantitative methods, qualitative methods, mixed methods, case studies, secondary, documentary and archive research, visual research methods and field observation/ethnography.  This part of the module concludes with discussions on data analysis and presentation.

Part B: In the course-specific part of the module students will complete a dissertation research proposal and undertake a GIS mapping exercise  Training for completing the structured coursework will be given with an opportunity to discuss specific problems related to different dissertation topics. The GIS sessions will concentrate on the use of GIS Mapping, covering: data handling; mapping and geo-visualisation; spatial analysis; and querying.

Outline Description of Module

This module provides a foundation for research methods in the social sciences at post-graduate level, introducing the main approaches to research traditions and ethics; and data generation and analysis for the social sciences. The module is divided into two parts. 

Part A is taught across several masters' programmes within the School, and covers generic approaches to research methods in the social sciences. 

Part B is specific to the MSc International Planning and Development, preparing students for research in spatial planning and international development and related professional practice.  Part B has two elements.  First, in preparation for the dissertation and drawing on the lectures in Part A, students undertake a research proposal as the first step in their dissertation. Second, students will undertake a GIS mapping exercise to develop skills in spatial analysis.

On completion of the module a student should be able to

Part A - Generic                 

(1) critically assess alternative approaches to social research and to recognise their strengths and weaknesses;

(2) examine the empirical content and relations of ideas introduced in other modules;

(3) identify suitable methodological approaches for a given research question;

(4) understand the epistemological principles (theories of knowledge) that govern the activities of social research;

(5) critically examine different strategies of data presentation and analysis;

(6) develop a dissertation project and conceptualise and plan the research process and its component steps:

(7) apply skills in selected methods relevant to a postgraduate dissertation.


Part B - Course Specific    

(1) critically assess different research approaches and methodologies relevant to international planning and development;

(2) compare different approaches to knowledge production in the area of research they have chosen for their dissertation;

(3) reflect on the role of social and institutional contexts for the research process in their area of expertise;

(4) identify and evaluate different sources of evidence in their own field of research;

(5) identify and reflect on major ethical issues relating to their own research;

(6) develop a dissertation project and conceptualise and plan the research process and its component steps;

(7) apply skills in selected methods relevant to the dissertation;

(8) through a GIS exercise, appreciate and present the spatial implications of various planning and public policy initiatives.

Skills that will be practised and developed

In Part (A) students will practise and develop a number of skills.  Students will learn to identify the relative merits of contrasting epistemological and methodological perspectives on the research process.  They will learn when and how to use different research methods.  They will develop skills in ideas generation and in the identification of a researchable topic.  Students will also develop skills in writing research proposals and undertaking literature reviews.  Whilst not actually carrying out independent research in this module, students will be given the necessary skills to design and implement a piece of research on their own.

In Part (B) students will improve the skills they already have, and: (a) be able to discuss their topic of research with the lecturer, dissertation supervisor and/or fellow students; and (b) present in a clear manner (both orally and in writing) the reasons behind their choices of research topic, key readings, methods, sources of information, to name but a few. Students will also learn the key principles of GIS and develop skills in map-making through the use of specialist software.

The module provides an excellent opportunity to practice and master a number of skills related to research design and implementation, but also self-discipline, organisation and critical reflection. Students will be expected to:

  1. Reflect on the alternative approaches to their research, choose one approach and give a clear and concise justification for this choice in writing
  2. Be able to select a topic of research, which is focused, interesting and worthy of study
  3. Read the latest research in the topic they have chosen and be able to grasp the main points
  4. Reflect on the use of GIS as a research method for their dissertation

Assessment Breakdown

Type % Title Duration(hrs) Period Week
Written Assessment 75 Written Assignment N/A 1 N/A
Written Assessment 25 Gis Report N/A 1 N/A

Essential Reading and Resource List

The readings will vary with the topic chosen by the student but some books which students may find helpful include:

Research Methods

Burns, R. 2000. Introduction to research methods. London: Sage.

Bryman, A. 2012. Social research methods. 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press (or Bryman, A. 2008. Social research methods. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Dawson, C. 2009. Introduction to research methods: a practical guide for anyone undertaking a research project. Oxford: How To Books.

Denscombe, M. (1998) The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects Open University Press, Buckingham.

Franklin, A. and Blyton, P. (eds.) (2011) Researching Sustainability: a guide to social science methods, practice and engagement.  London.  Earthscan.

Hennink, M., Hutter, I. and Bailey, A. 2011. Qualitative research methods. London: Sage.

May, T. (1993), Social research: issues, methods and processes, Buckingham: Open University Press.

May, T. (2011) Social Research: Issues, methods and process.  Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Seale, C. ed. 2004. Social research methods: a reader. London, New York: Routledge.

Silverman, D. (2010) Doing qualitative research: a practical handbook. London: Sage.

Singh, K. (2007) Quantitative Social Research Methods,  Thousand Oaks, Sage.


GIS and Planning

Burrough,P.A, and McDonnell, R.A. (1998) Principles of Geographical Information Systems. Oxford University Press

Longley, P., and Clarke, G. (1995) (eds) GIS for Business and Service Planning GeoInformation International

Longley, P., Goodchild,M.F, Maguire,D.J., and Rhind,D.W. (1999) (eds.) Geographical Information Systems: Principles and Applications, New York – Chichester, Whiley.

Longley, P., Goodchild,M.F, Maguire,D.J., and Rhind,D.W. (2001) Geographical Information Systems and Science. Wiley & Sons

Martin,D. (1995) Geographic Information Systems and their socio­economic applications, London: Routledge. 2nd edition.

RTPI (1992) Geographic Information Systems (GIS) - A Planners Introductory Guide. RTPI, London.

Scholten, H.J. and Stillwell, J.C.H. (1990) Geographical Information Systems for Urban and Regional Planning (especially chapters by Ottens and le Clercq). Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Worboys, M. (1995) GIS: A Computing Perspective, London: Taylor and Francis.

Background Reading and Resource List

Syllabus content

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