ESRC launches Survey Futures collaboration to evaluate future challenges and opportunities for survey data collection in the UK.

By Hamish Armstrong (Senior Communications Officer), Published

A new £3.3 million project launched by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) aims to explore challenges and opportunities for mass survey data collection in the UK.

Survey Futures, a collaboration that includes the European Social Survey HQ, based at City, University of London, will carry out a three-year programme of research and capacity-building activities, with the aim of ensuring that it will remain possible to carry out high quality social surveys as required by the public and academic sectors.

The collection of survey data in the UK is facing severe challenges as well as exciting opportunities. Covid-19 came at a time when the public was already becoming increasingly reluctant to participate in social surveys. This was further hampered by the loss of in-person interviews during lockdowns and a greatly reduced number of interviewers. Many survey organisations are still recovering from this setback today.

Against the tide of restrictions, the pandemic created demand for new and quicker ways to collect survey data, and meant most respondents were only completing surveys online.

Survey Futures has been launched with these latest market challenges in mind. Participants in the collaboration will include:

  • City, University of London
  • University of Essex
  • University of Southampton
  • National Centre for Social Research
  • University College London
  • Ipsos
  • Kantar Public
  • University of Warwick
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Ulster
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Lausanne
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS)
  • National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).

Headquartered at City, the European Social Survey is an academically-driven, cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since its establishment in 2001. Every two years, interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples with the aims of providing high quality data to measure change and stability over time, practise and promote high scientific standards, facilitate training and ensure visibility of data among social science researchers.

Professor Rory Fitzgerald, Director of the European Social Survey, said:

“Social surveys are one of the most powerful analytical tools available to social scientists. At the same time, they are becoming harder to conduct in the digital age as traditional face-to-face methods become increasingly challenging.

This timely project from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and ESRC provides an exciting opportunity for the UK social survey community to come together and address those challenges, ensuring we have social survey capacity relevant for the future.

“I am delighted that the ESS team in the School of Policy & Global Affairs at City is part of this exciting collaboration which addresses many of the issues we are facing in transitioning away from face-to-face data collection to self-completion methods.”

Professor Alison Park, Deputy Executive Chair of ESRC, said:

“Population surveys are the bedrock for a significant proportion of social science research. They provide insights into people’s experiences, attitudes, beliefs and aspirations that no other forms of data can fully capture, which is why ESRC invests many millions of pounds in these vital assets.

“Many surveys involve interviews with members of the public in their homes. This was not possible during much of the pandemic, so innovations were introduced to collect data in other ways. There is a huge amount we can learn from this experience – from how to keep innovating the ways in which surveys collect data, to improving our understanding of how different data collection methods affect data quality.

“ESRC is delighted to fund this new collaboration that brings together UK and international experts in survey design and practice, to explore innovations in research methods that will ensure surveys remain valuable and robust sources of evidence for researchers and policymakers over the years to come.”

Read more about the European Social Survey (ESS).

Find out more about Survey Futures.