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Experimental Political Science: Research Design and Application

Course Dates and Times

Monday 24 – Friday 28 July 2023
Minimum 2 hours of live teaching per day
09:30 – 12:30 CEST

Ulrich Hamenstädt

University of Münster

This course offers an immersive online learning environment that employs state-of-the-art pedagogical tools. With a maximum of 16 participants, our teaching team can provide personalised attention to each individual, catering to their specific needs. The course is designed for a demanding audience, including researchers, professional analysts, and advanced students.

Purpose of the course

For a long time, experiments have been overlooked in political science, despite being considered the 'gold standard' of scientific research. However, there has been a recent revival of interest in experiments as a research method in political science and other social sciences.

This course provides an introduction to experimental research in political science with a focus on practical application. The course covers a range of topics, including the different types of social science experiments, the theories that underlie them, and the design and randomisation strategies in different settings. While statistical evaluations will be discussed, the course places less emphasis on statistical analysis.

In addition to the four main types of experiments in political science (laboratory experiments, field experiments, survey experiments, and natural experiments), the course will also cover the foundations of causality, validity, and ethics in research.

Please bring your own project to the course. There will be a focus on practical applications throughout.

ECTS Credits

4 credits - Engage fully in class activities and complete a post-class assignment

Instructor Bio

Ulrich Hamenstädt is a senior lecturer at the University of Muenster and degree coordinator for the Master’s program in political science.

Ulrich published his first book on experimental political science in 2011. He researches household on energy saving and policy instruments for more sustainable individual behaviour with the help of experimental methods. His teaching includes also political theory, social science methods with a focus on quantitative and qualitative methods, and the impact of popular culture on political beliefs.

Key topics covered

The course will cover the following topics:

Day 1

You will explore the key dimensions of experimental research, including its differences from observational research and surveys in political science. You will also examine criteria for evaluating research designs and findings, drawing on existing experiments as examples.

Day 2

To begin, the instructor will dive right into research examples, with a focus on laboratory experiments and survey experiments. Using selected experiments and foundational literature, you will analyse and discuss the research practices of these two approaches. Our goal is to gain a deep understanding of these methods by examining real-world examples from research literature.

Day 3

On the third day, you will cover field experiments and natural experiments using the same approach as the previous day's topics. These four types of experiments are the most important in political science, and by studying them, you will gain a practical understanding of relevant theories.

Day 4

This session will focus intentionally on political science theory related to experiments, particularly causality and validity. This will allow you to apply theoretical foundations directly to different types of experiments in political science. You will also discuss your projects on this day, though these projects will be the main focus on day five.

Day 5

Together with other students, you will work on projects. For this purpose, detailed feedback will be provided by the lecturer, as well as the opportunity for discussion and mutual constructive feedback and criticism. In addition to that, you will discuss ethics in research, especially as it relates to political science experiments, but also matters of ethical research in general and what the frame of scientific research activities is constituted of.

How the course will work online

The course is structured into ten live Zoom sessions, two per day, each lasting 1.5. There will be online 'games' and work in groups on specific topics. Online apps will be used that support collective work and engagement with the course content.

You will have the opportunity to complete a post-class assignment. The assignment can be either an exposé in which you apply the course insights to your own project, or a short, methods-focused review of a published case study.

Suggested readings

The following books will be the foundation of this course. It is not obligatory to read these books before the course, but instead they are suggested readings for the purpose of orientation. A detailed list with core and additional readings will be provided by the lecturer.

  • Druckman, J. (2022) ‘Experimental Thinking. A Primer on Social Science Experiments’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Druckman, J., Green, D., Kuklinski, J. and Lupia, A. (2011) ‘Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science’, Cambridge University Press.
  • Dunning, T. (2012) ‘Natural Experiments in the Social Sciences’. Cambridge University Press.
  • Green, D. (2022) ‘Social Science Experiments: A Hands-on Introduction’, Cambridge University Press.
  • Gerber, A. Green, D. (2012) ‘Field Experiments: Design, Analysis, and Interpretation’, W.W. Norton & Company, New York.
  • Morton, R. and Williams, K. (2010) ‘Experimental Political Science and the Study of Causality. From Nature to the Lab’, Cambridge University Press.

A general understanding of how a topic and concept can be transferred into a research question and research design.


Each course includes pre-course assignments, including readings and pre-recorded videos, as well as daily live lectures totalling at least two and a half hours. The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

Please check your course format before registering.

Online courses

Live classes will be held daily for two and half hours on a video meeting platform, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time. To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.