Global Social Comparisons: A Review of International Survey Resources and Research

Lead Research Organisation: City, University of London
Department Name: School of Social Sciences


The last twenty years have ushered in changes of arguably unprecedented scale and scope, confronting the world with a new set of 'Grand Societal Challenges'. At the same time the infrastructure underpinning social inquiry has also been revolutionised through improvements in telecommunications and computing capacity. The same forces that are leading to social transformation are at the same time providing tools for its analysis. This is certainly true in terms of survey research where the amount of high quality cross-national research has increased in the last thirty years. Mergers and acquisitions in the social research market have resulted in a smaller number of influential players with global reach.
In the foreground of these longer-term developments, the UK's vote to leave the European Union has given new stimulus to the question of Britain's 'place in the world', and how its should be positioning itself after Brexit. Will it remain closely tethered to the continent of Europe, continuing to see it as a point of reference for social and public policy? Or will it turn its face away, westwards towards the Americas, or eastwards to face the emerging nations and the newly emboldened Asian capitalism? In the context of both this background and this foreground, the project aims to explore the feasibility of creating a global social survey (GLOSOC) that could inform the study of global change, and the role of the UK within that process. Should there indeed be a case for such a piece of infrastructure, what form is it to take and how (and by whom) is it to be created?

The proposed work proceeds as follows: by way of preliminaries it will undertake a rapid review of the international survey landscape, in order to assess what has been achieved, and whether there remain significant data deserts in either substantive or geographical terms. These will include the International Social Survey Programme, the World Values Survey, the Generations and Gender Programme, the Gallup World Poll and Pew's Global Attitudes Survey. It will be complemented by a parallel evaluation of the UK's participation in, and exploitation of results from, such international surveys. On the basis of the landscape mapping, potential stakeholders will be contacted to discuss the project and some recruited as expert members of advisory panels. The consultation process will include interviews, expert groups and the development of a communications plan.

The next stage of work will establish the strategic aims for a GLOSOC and with them the basis parameters within which it will be developed: its scale, its geographical coverage, its size and range of content, its frequency, and the central questions for any new survey - measuring what, for whom, and to what end? Once the strategic purpose is defined, the next phase of work will have three strands: firstly the strategic vision for the survey will be refined by a Technical Advisory Panel, in order to put firmer numbers to the guiding parameters, and even at this preliminary stage, identify items for testing in potential candidate countries. Another key concern for the panel will be the question of 'interoperability', essentially ensuring that the new piece of survey infrastructure will be harmonised to a degree with pre-existing cross-national resources, in terms of its subject matter, its geographical composition, and its methodological principles. At the same time it will explore the legal and operational issues presented by the need to manage and keep secure future respondent data; there will also be a blueprint for governance and operations structures that ensure fair representation and use and develop scientific capability.

The final phase of the work will produce an 'options analysis', in which a spectrum of models for a GLOSOC will be presented and evaluated. After receiving feedback on an interim version, the project will produce its final position paper, with recommendations for action.

Planned Impact

We note that this is a feasibility study rather than a piece of research in the conventional sense. However, it is still a self-contained endeavour, with aims and objectives, an underlying hypothesis (there is sufficient demand and supply to bring a new survey to market), and a set of users/stakeholders with whom we wish to engage and to whom we will periodically report. WP2 could be regarded as an overarching exercise in impact, as the stakeholder engagement starts on Day 1 and continues up until and including the final report and its recommendations are released and publicised. Where user involvement is built into the design it is self-evident that the later task of 'selling' the relevance of findings is a less challenging task. Likewise we regard the participation of technical and scientific experts in WP4 and WP5 as the laying of bricks on the impact pathway. Where the basic form of the eventual product has achieved widespread consensus through a collaborative approach to its design, the possible applications of the resulting product should be more keenly perceived more quickly.


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Description The project team was asked to produce a range of options for future data collection to accompany a draft call for an infrastructure network. Having reviewed the landscape, the results of past exercises and experiments, and input from stakeholders in the quantitative cross-national field, we feel that a scaled-up 'online first' panel with both national and comparative elements is the best form for a future infrastructure investment. Anything short of this will not be able to meet the criteria of innovation, interdisciplinarity and outreach set by the project steering group.

Our working paper sets out a draft of a call specification for a future piece of infrastructure. A future network should involve a consortium with national and international representation, which draw on expertise from the relevant skillsets - survey design, social media analysis, programming (of web platforms and smartphone apps) and substantive subject experts with experience of comparative work. The brief should be two-track. Firstly, there should be networked activities focused of the type described in section 6, and events (virtual and physical) to consolidate baseline data and expertise in global social comparisons (but focusing primarily on large countries with the potential to participate in a global panel). Second, the network should be tasked to produce a blueprint for a Global Social (panel) Survey, led by the UK and a small number of international partners, drawing on the recommendations in this report, and previous experiments and scoping exercises.

The Infrastructure Network is a necessary, but not sufficient, step towards a Global Social Survey. But even in the absence of new data collection, it could still add value by collating and curating existing cross-national data resources for research, education, and wider public engagement. To go further and construct a global social survey is an ambitious undertaking, and should be guided by the following principles:

a) It should create additional capacity for researchers
b) It should enable methodological and analytical innovation
c) It should be global in its coverage and its content
d) It should be responsive to changing events and the demand for rapid data collection
e) It should be freely accessible and serve multiple disciplines and user-constituencies.
Exploitation Route The report and its accompanying materials will hopefully inform future planning and help establish funding priorities within UKRI.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice