Best Masters in Big Data Analytics & Data Science for Public Policy | Social Data Science & Public Policy Analytics

Today data is everywhere. Big data, data science, and analytics are impacting each and every domain – education, healthcare, energy & environment, banking & finance, transportation, travel & tourism, national security, etc. The public policy sector is also not an exception. In this post, we will cover the Best Masters Programs in Social Data Science and Public Policy Analytics.


As government decision making has become more data-driven, issues of data usage, data sharing, transparency, privacy, and accountability have become extremely important – both from public policy and technological perspectives.

This intersection of data science and public policy is an exciting development in the policy world. While the idea of data-driven public policy is certainly not new, datafication—the ability to transform non-traditional information sources such as text, images, and transactional records into data—has allowed quantitative analysis to penetrate the policy process more deeply than ever before.

Why Data Science & Analytics in Public Policy?

Data science can inform a better policy-making process and lead to more adequate, more efficient and more effective public policies.

Therefore, policymakers and policy advocates often tend to provide data-based arguments for particular policy solutions, usually gained through sound empirical research or analysis on that topic.

Role of Data Science and Analytics in Public Policy

Data has always played a critical role in the lives of public policymakers. For years, they’ve been using it to answer the following questions:

  • What are the effects (intended or unintended) of our policies on different groups?
  • How much will these policies cost?
  • Can we predict whether this policy will be feasible? Can we really get it done?
  • Will we have buy-in from our stakeholders?

The major change has come in the 3Vs—the volume, variety, and velocity of data. Social media, review sites, search terms, cellphones, the Internet of Things, GIS and drones, CCTV cameras, satellites, traffic sensors—the amount of data now available for policy analysis is frankly staggering. Many analysts are finding themselves overwhelmed by the possibilities.

Role of Public Policy Data Scientist

Public policy data scientists know how to use statistics, computer science, quantitative methods, and big data tools to create more effective public policies.

They meld machine-generated data (e.g. sensors) with citizen-gathered data to predict events. They mine social media and the Internet for behavior patterns. They create beautiful data visualization programs to demonstrate the effects of decisions to politicians. Their findings have major applications in:

  • Infrastructure/Smart Cities (e.g. reducing traffic congestion and vehicle pollution)
  • Law Enforcement (e.g. predicting street violence and reducing crime rates)
  • Public Health (e.g. quashing epidemics before they spread)
  • Government Fraud (e.g. finding tax dodgers)
  • Education (e.g. improving high school graduation rates)
  • Employment (e.g. increasing workforce quality)
  • Housing (e.g. creating permanent housing for the homeless)

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Demand for Public Policy Data Scientists & Analytics Graduates

With Data science and analytics becoming increasingly important in government decision-making, there is a huge demand for individuals trained in the ethical application of data science and analytics for public policy.

The goal of the Big Data Analytics for Public Policy is to develop the key data analytics skill sets necessary to harness the wealth of newly-available data. Its design offers hands-on training in the context of real microdata. The main learning objectives are to apply new techniques to analyze social problems using and combining large quantities of heterogeneous data from a variety of different sources. It is designed for graduate students who are seeking a stronger foundation in data analytics.

You will be able to add value to a team, company or organization with a combination of technical skills, knowledge about legal and ethical issues related to data science, and the ability to effectively communicate with professionals and researchers from different disciplines.

Those who are interested to study and conduct research at the interface of data and public policy, there are two options –

  • Pursue Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Public Policy (MPP) with data science or analytics electives or concentrations
  • MS Data Science & Analytics in Public Policy or MS Public Policy Analytics

In this article, we will look at some of the best Masters programs for data science and analytics for public policy.

Best Masters Programs in Data Science and Analytics for Public Policy

MS Data Science and Analytics for Public Policy in USA

MS Public Policy and Management: Data Analytics Track – Carnegie Mellon University

The Master of Science in Public Policy & Management (MSPPM) is a master’s degree program that teaches students how to leverage data and technology in order to analyze, affect, and implement policy solutions that will impact society in meaningful ways.

The MSPPM: Data Analytics pathway will train you to harness the power of data and analytics technologies to transform organizations that serve the public interest. Heinz College is a public policy school like no other.

In addition to world-renowned faculty with deep expertise in analytics, Heinz College houses several analytics-driven research institutes, including iLab, Living Analytics Research Center, Metro21, and Traffic21, providing even greater exposure to real-world problems and decision-making while in school.

MSPPM program builds well-rounded thinkers prepared to change the world at the nexus of people, policy, and technology. You will emerge as a leader with the ability to convert data into evidence-based action for a better world.

MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy – University of Chicago

The University of Chicago’s rigorous two-year Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program is among the first in the US. The program is jointly offered by the University Of Chicago Harris School Of Public Policy and the Department of Computer Science.

MSCAPP gives you the skills and analytical savvy to bring modern technology to bear on the societal problems that matter most.

The curriculum is a three-legged stool, building foundational knowledge of computer science, statistics, and public policy analysis. Students then go on to advanced coursework in econometrics, machine learning, big data methods, data visualization, and application development all while learning how to apply these skills in the policy realm.

The core set of UChicago MSCAPP courses builds foundational knowledge in computer science, statistics, and public policy analysis. Students then go on to complete advanced coursework in econometrics, machine learning, big data methods, data visualization, and application development—all while learning how to apply these skills in the policy realm.

MSCAPP graduates go on to successful careers as civic technologists, data scientists, policy researchers, and everything in between.

MS in Data Science for Public Policy – Georgetown University

The MS-DSPP is a joint degree offered by Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and Georgetown’s Graduate Analytics program combining the historic strengths of McCourt’s public policy analysis curriculum with the cutting-edge computational, mathematical, statistical methods training of Georgetown’s Analytics program.

A unique curriculum at the intersection of data science and quantitative public policy analysis, the MS-DSPP equips graduates with cutting-edge computational, analytical, and leadership skills.

MS in Public Policy Data Science – University of Southern California

The MS program at USC is jointly offered by the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

The program builds unique, in-demand proficiencies and the necessary expertise for leveraging big data and analytics to:

  • Increase transparency and accountability
  • Improve the efficiency and quality of services
  • Enhance security and address matters of defense and intelligence
  • Oversee emergency management
  • Influence policy and the policy-making process broadly

MS in Government Politics – Johns Hopkins University

The 1-year Master of Science in Government Analytics prepares students to become leaders in the data revolution. Students will develop expertise in analytical methods that are increasingly relied upon by government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. Through the use of cutting-edge tools and skills, students will be able to address contemporary political, policy and governance challenges.

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Masters in Social Data Science and Data Analytics for Public Policy in Europe

MSc Social Data Science – University of Oxford

The multidisciplinary MSc in Social Data Science provides the social and technical expertise needed to analyze unstructured heterogeneous data about human behavior, thereby informing our understanding of the human world.

You will take a combination of core and optional papers and produce a dissertation of up to 15,000 words with the support of a dissertation supervisor. The dissertation provides you the opportunity to apply the methods and approaches you have covered in the other parts of the course and carry out a substantive piece of academic research.

In addition to this full-time taught course, the MSc in Social Data Science is also offered as part of a combined taught and research (1+3) program, for students wishing to continue on to doctoral study.

MSc Applied Social Data Science – London School of Economics and Political Science

With a background in social sciences, you will be trained to use data to answer interesting social science questions. You will take a series of project-based programming courses specifically designed for students without a formal computing or statistical background. A typical student will also have taken a prior course in quantitative methods or applied statistics at a basic level, although this is not a formal requirement.

You will become fluent in a variety of programming languages and applications, particularly R and Python, and will learn to create and manipulate large databases and think creatively about how to deploy these skills in the context of specific projects.

You will also have the opportunity to choose substantive electives, allowing you to tailor the program to your particular interests. The program will culminate in a Capstone project where you will creatively apply the technical skills you have learned to a project of your own design. Read more about the MSc Applied Social Data Science program at LSE.

MSc Engineering and Policy Analysis – TU Delft

The central focus of the EPA program at TU Delft is on analyzing and solving complex problems that involve many parties with conflicting interests. The two fundamental themes of the EPA program are policy & politics and analytics, modeling & simulation. Such problems require solutions that not only solve the technological aspect of it but also to address the societal and political aspects by the interactions and participation of different parties involved.

You will work on real and actual cases, such as the Ebola outbreak, the banking crisis, scarce metals or the introduction of hydrogen as an energy carrier, often with the real commissioner of the work at arm’s length. Also, climate change policy adaption is a topic commonly analyzed through EPA lenses: which policies would be feasible in specific contexts, what will the future look like and how can different societies adapt to it in better ways?

MSc in Science, Technology and Policy – ETH Zurich

The ETH program focuses on political analysis and evaluation and economic, social and political processes and institutions in the context of which policy issues arise and are addressed.

With the MSc STP, you deepen your knowledge of science and engineering at the Master level and complement it with rigorous skills in Policy Analysis. Policy Analysis is a distinct academic field that draws on concepts, models, and methods from economics, political science, psychology, and other social sciences. In the MSc STP, you will apply the acquired policy analysis skills to substantive real-world issues, whose analysis also requires science and engineering know-how.

MSc Data Science and Society – Tilburg University

MSc Data Science and Society is a multidisciplinary program that offers you the opportunity to specialize in one of four domains, BusinessGovernanceMedia, or Health. Your specialization will be stated on your Master’s diploma.

  • You are trained to identify patterns and gather insights from large and complex datasets.
  • You learn how to translate those insights into actionable solutions and recommendations to meet practical needs in the chosen domain.
  • Besides that, you get acquainted with laws and regulations that are relevant for data science and data scientists, particularly private and public law.
  • Finally, you learn to take ethical issues into accounts, such as issues regarding privacy, accountability, or human autonomy in decision making.

Typical courses are:

  • Machine Learning
  • Data Mining for Business and Governance
  • Data Science Regulation and Law
  • Deep Learning
  • Programming with R

MSc Social and Economic Data Science – University of Konstanz

The MSc in Social and Economic Data Science is tailored for students with a BA degree in the behavioral and social sciences, and a proven interest in quantitative and computational methods.

The modular structure of the program covers the methodological, mathematical, computational and statistical foundation of data science, advanced computational and statistical methods, programming and scripting, and applications to question of crucial interest in economics, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The departments involved offer many opportunities for student exchanges, internships, and collaborations with ongoing research projects. The program’s broad methodological and substantive scope prepares the students for a rapidly growing job market for data scientists in industry, government, NGOs, and academia.

MSc Social Data Analytics – University College Dublin

The MSc in Social Data Analytics is a one-year taught program, delivered by schools within the College of Social Sciences and Law (Sociology), and College of Science (Computer Science). It equips students with a range of social scientific, computational, informational, statistical, and visual analytics skills, for the analysis of large or complex data that arise from human interaction.

The MSc in Social Data Analytics at the UCD is designed to enable graduates to combine their social science and/or cognate training with strong technical and analytical skills, and to exploit the wide range of digitized and digital data now accessible by public and private sector organizations.

Students will receive training in sociological analysis, as well as core coding and programming skills, allowing them to avail of emergent technologies to manage real-world challenges, and conduct informed decision making. Students can also opt to complete an internship as part of their studies.

The MSc in Social Data Analytics is suitable for graduates of social science or computer science programs, or related disciplines such as psychology, politics, geography, or economics who want to develop their analytical skills further.

A wide range of different organizations including government departments, semi-state bodies, private companies in IT, finance and consultancy, as well as sectors such as education, health, and social welfare are now exploring the benefits of combining large and complex data resources, including administrative data, for decision making and resource use.

MSc Applied Social Data Science – University of Exeter

The MSc Applied Social Data Science program will equip you with the technical understanding of a range of social data science techniques and the practical software and programming skills to implement these methods to address your research questions, allowing you to pursue other professional research activities.

You will develop a number of skills that are valued in academic, professional, and managerial careers. The understanding you will gain of complex political and cultural issues, often in continually changing environments, can also be relevant to both business and public sector appointments, or for Ph.D. level study. Previous students are now working for organizations such as the ONS Data Science camp, YouGov, the FCA, and Defra.

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MSc Data Science for Politics & Policymaking – University of Strathclyde

The MSc in Data Science for Politics & Policymaking is designed to meet the growing demand for graduates with the ability to use big data to solve complex political and social problems. The program is taught in collaboration with academic experts from both the School of Government & Public Policy and the Department of Computer & Information Sciences.

It is perfectly suited to those looking for careers in political campaigns, think tanks, interest groups associated with shaping public policy and the civil service. It combines advanced training in social science research design and policy analysis with classes that allow you to understand the mechanics behind capturing and organizing large amounts of data.

This Masters-level course equips you with the ability to design, commission, and implement projects that capture and analyze large quantities of online data from a diverse set of sources. The course looks to solve the key challenge of the use of big data in the public sphere, the lack of specified research and policy goals, by providing you with the know-how via core classes in Research Design, Public Policy, and Qualitative Methods. Alongside these classes, you’ll receive training that allows you to understand the mechanics behind capturing and organizing large amounts of data.

Other Top Masters Programs in Big Data Analytics and Data Science for Public Policy

Master of Public Policy: Policy Informatics Concentration – Arizona State University

Master of Public Policy and Analytics (Dual Degree) – University of New Hampshire

MS Analytical Politics – Claremont Graduate University

MSc Econometrics: Data Science and Business Analytics Track – University of Amsterdam

MS in Applied Urban Science & Informatics – New York University

Master in Applied Data Science – Frankfurt School of Finance and Management

MS in Urban Informatics – Northeastern University

MS Social Data Analytics and Research – University of Texas at Dallas

Elective on Social Data Science – Bologna Business School

MS in Public Policy & Administration: Data Analytics Track – Northwestern University

MPA: Public Finance & Fiscal Analytics Concentration – University of New Haven

MS Social Policy and Data Analytics – University of Pennsylvania (Certificate) (Alternative Link)

MPA Policy Analysis and Analytics – Norwich University (Online Degree)

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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