Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Inst for Social and Economic Research


This proposal includes five work packages that are aimed at enhancing specific aspects of Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study, and synthesising and sharing lessons for the development of longitudinal studies more generally.

Understanding Society is a large longitudinal resource of value to a wide range of UK and international academics, students, researchers in government, civic society and businesses. The Study is multi-topic, and has some key features which make it a unique resource: the collection of annual data on people of all ages allowing analysis of short term dynamics for the whole population; data collection over a long period permitting analysis of life course changes; including all members of the household so family inter-relations and connectedness can be explored; a large sample size from all four countries of the UK, meaning that very specific subgroups of the population can be studied and the impacts of policy variation investigated; the inclusion of biomeasures, biomarkers, genetic and epigenetic information; and, additional boost samples on immigrant and ethnic minority groups.

The projects proposed in this application, include investigating the use of Understanding Society for cohort analysis and for research around birth and early life; further improving the representativeness of Understanding Society and creating opportunities for research on 'missing populations' within the Study; the value and challenges of integrating survey and administrative data; innovation in survey design (such as mixed modes, use of incentives, linkage to social media);and, innovation in content around key life events an d separating parents.

The proposed work packages involve: reviewing and synthesising literature, undertaking empirical analysis of Understanding Society, consulting expert users, conducting qualitative research to explore and improve the design of the study going forward.

Across the work packages outputs will include two think pieces, eight empirical reports (four qualitative reports and four based on descriptive analyses of the Study), three methods briefings, a list of geographical resources, and a substantial methodological review paper. For each work package a short interim summary will be provided at the end of March 2019 and all final outputs will be produced by the end of June 2019. Subsequently, some of the reports and briefings will be published as Understanding Society working papers on our website, and/or in peer review journals. The qualitative data from the shared care research project will be deposited in the UK Data Service.

Lessons from all of this research will be built into the development of Understanding Society going forward.

Planned Impact

The primary aim of the work packages in this proposal is to identify ways of developing and improving UK longitudinal studies in general and Understanding Society in particular. The immediate beneficiaries of this work therefore are ESRC and Longitudinal Review group. The findings will also be of value to others funders and commissioners of longitudinal research and academics, governments, charities and commercial organisations, who run longitudinal and other kinds of surveys.

The ultimate aim of this research is to enhance the quality and scope of longitudinal studies in general and Understanding Society in particular. Understanding Society is a valuable longitudinal resource that addresses key social and policy issues. Beyond, the methodological insights noted above, the Study is beneficial to researchers in two ways. First it is a unique resource for investigating the short and long run causes and consequences of changes in individuals' and families' lives over time. Second, findings from the data contribute to knowledge in ways that inspire new lines of research and inform policy.

Non-academic beneficiaries include a wide range of organisations and stakeholders listed below; Understanding Society has an Impact Fellow and Policy Unit who work directly with government, think tanks and the third sector to raise awareness and capacity to use the data, as well as to generate research that leads to policy impact, and to promote impact.
o Government researchers, politicians and policy makers. The data supports important research in a broad set of policy areas, and is used for statutory reporting by a number of government departments. Key areas where important impacts are emerging include the responsibilities of the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, as well as Whitehall departments such as DH, DWP, DfE, DfT, MHCLG, DEFRA, Home Office and BEIS. Co-Funding Government departments are directed supported in their use of the Study.
o Government executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies, parliamentary select committees, and supported research centres also use the Study's data and findings, e.g. ONS, Public Health England, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England, What Works centres, the Low Pay Commission, etc.
o EU policy-makers and the international policy community. Findings will be relevant to other countries, either directly, if generalisability can be assumed, or indirectly by inspiring new lines of thought and comparative investigation.
o Local government officers, councillors and consortia are responsible for different services that are addressed by the Study - such as public health, social housing, social care, education, policing, recreation and recycling - and have influence over others through local development frameworks, transport plans, planning decisions and potential new powers with increasing devolution.
o Third sector organisations, think tanks, charities and independent and private research organisations. Many organisations of this type, such as the Nuffield Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, MIND, AgeUK, the Children's Society, are employing data from the Study in their work..
o Private sector businesses. Findings on a range of aspects of individual behaviour and decision making and changes in societal outcomes will be relevant to market research, evaluating initiatives, location strategies and corporate responsibility plans.
o General public. Members of the general public will have an interest in Study findings. We are undertake a range of public engagement activities and media collaborations to promote public understanding of social science drawing on the data and findings from the Study.
Description This award was a rapid resposne to ESRC Longitudinal Studies Review for which we produced 16 different briefings about methodological good practice for longitudinal studies. ESRC held a workshop in 2019 to disucss how best to take their work forward. We have used the insights we gained during this work to inform the future design of Understanding Society. Some of the these plans were built into our most recent funding bid, and associated innovations are currently being planned and implemented. In due course, they will provide novel new data for Understanding Society users, for example on emigrants, those in insitutions, and during pregnancy.
Exploitation Route This work was commisioned by ESRC to inform their strategic direction to longtidinal studies in the future. They held a workshop in 2019 to discuss findings and future action. All aspects of this work have also been published on the Understanding Society website to inform our own and other studies' development, specific requests for follow up with ESRC, key UK studies and fieldwork agencies have been met. Additionally, some of this work, the geographic linkage resource is being built into our website for data users and will be a living resource updated to encourage and support their linkage to the Study.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The findings from these reports highlight best practice in designing and implementing social surveys, and have been used by fieldwork industry to inform study designs.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Societal

Title What is Shared Care? An Understanding Society Associated Study of Separated Parents, 2019 
Description This is a qualitative data collection. This project explored how shared care is understood, negotiated and practised by separated families, to assess the appropriateness of existing questions in Understanding Society in capturing the phenomenon, and to suggest changes where appropriate. This data consists of the transcripts of 31 semi-structured interviews of separated parents sampled from the longitudinal dataset Understanding Society: 13 men and 18 women. Included are interviews from 7 formerly partnered couples (14 interviews in total). Separated parents with at least one child under 16, who reported at least weekly contact between their children and the non-resident parent in the Understanding Society dataset were eligible for interview, and a random subset of these were invited to participate. Interviews were conducted from across the UK and with parents with varying current partnerships statuses, number and age of children, and employment statuses. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Data available via UKDS for research 
Description Presentation : The mental load and gendered conceptualisations of care in separated families at the Work Families Research Network June 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Giving talk as part of an invited symposium on the mental load as part of the WFRN conference in New York
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Presentation on What is Shared Care at Understanding Society Conference July 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented initial findings on the two dimensions underlying shared care (decision making and physical care) and fielded questions and discussions from academic and non-academic members of the audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Talk at the ISER 30th anniversary conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on "Innovations in measuring household finances" at the 30th anniversary conference of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, attended by policy makers, researchers, and representatives from private sector and third sector organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019