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Qualitative Research Skills


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the MSc Governance of Sustainability.


Sustainability issues often involve complex social dynamics. The exploration of these dynamics can reveal why, for instance, certain governance arrangements work while others do not, or how historical context impacts sustainability transition. Qualitative research methods allow scholars and policy makers to gain a deeper understanding of these dynamics. Using these research methods, we can zoom in on the social interactions, problem perceptions, policy processes, preference formation, or processes of empowerment that are so crucial in sustainability transition.

The goal of this course is to help students develop research skills in qualitative methods. While this course cannot be exhaustive, it aims to prepare students for the qualitative methods that they are most likely to use during the Sustainability Challenge course (3rd semester of Governance of Sustainability programme), and the Thesis Research project. The selected methods are also commonly used by policy makers and consultants.

Students will be guided through the research process, from the initial idea, problematization and the formulation of research questions, to the data collection techniques and the analysis of data. The course will cover several qualitative techniques. During the course, students will reflect on several steps of this research process, bearing in mind the singularities of qualitative research. They will also be encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of a researcher using qualitative methodology through several practical exercises and assignments.

Course objectives

After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate various qualitative research methods and their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Develop a research proposal to answer a qualitative research question detailing research design and data collection methods.

  • Assess when and what kind of qualitative data collection method is appropriate.

  • Conduct a mini-research project by performing different types of qualitative data collection techniques and reflect on its methodological weaknesses and strengths.

  • Conduct a mini-research project by performing different types of qualitative data analysis techniques and reflect on its methodological weaknesses and strengths.

  • Critically reflect on the research methods employed in a qualitative research and suggest an improvement strategy.


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

The course follows a lecture approach, in which the instructor will also try to involve the students to have an active participation.

  • The lectures will cover the main points of the readings. Lectures will also be oriented to practice: students will be encouraged to actively engage in the examples and small exercises.

  • During working groups, practical exercises will be carried out, in which active participation of the student is required.

  • Each session ends with self/group study time, where students are expected to spend time preparing the gradable activities and studying the readings and additional materials.

Please keep in mind that certain assessments will be based on the reflection of what happens during the working groups.
Bear in mind that the order of each day session is subject to change from session to session.

Assessment method

All assignments are compulsory and need to be completed to pass the course. There are two short group-based assignments and one individual assignment:

  • Assignment 1 (group-based): 25%

  • Assignment 2 (group-based: 25%

  • Assignment 3 (individual): 50%
    Important: The students are free to make their own groups.

The weighted average of the grades for the group-based assignments needs to be 5.5 or higher to pass the course. The grade for the individual assignment also needs to be 5.5 or higher to pass the course. It is not possible to compensate between individual and group-based assignments. It is possible to compensate grades within the group-based assignments.

Retake policy
In case the grade for the individual assignment is lower than 5.5 there will be an opportunity to retake the assignment before the summer break. Please see MyTimetable and Brightspace page for more information.

In case the average grade for the group assignments is lower than 5.5 there will be an additional assignment. Please see MyTimetable and Brightspace for more information.

In case the retakes do not amount to at least 5.5 grade for the individual assignment or the group assignments, students can request the Board of Examiners to take their partial grades to the next academic year.

Reading list

Every session will have a list of assigned readings. It is advised that students go through each of them prior to the sessions to get the most out of the lectures. A reading list will be available on Brightspace at the beginning of the course, specifying the mandatory readings for each session.

Please keep in mind that all assignments require an embedding in the readings assigned for this course.


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Course Coordinator: Julián Villodre de Costa (


MSc Governance of Sustainabilty students can register for the course and exam via uSis. Other students need to contact the study advisors of the programme via

A Brightspace page for this course will be made available one week prior to the start of the course. On this website, you can find the online modules, readings and assignments. Brightspace will be used for course communication, the distribution of additional course information and for the submission of assignments.