Understanding Society Waves 17-22 - centre activities

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


Understanding Society is world leading longitudinal resource designed to address key scientific and policy questions. By collecting consistent data from individuals and households over time, it provides unique insights into the causes and consequences of social change for different subgroups of the UK population. Understanding Society focuses on five core domains of people's lives - education, employment, family, health and income and wealth - as well as providing enhanced data on ESRC strategic priorities. The Study has additional dimensions that enable the detailed exploration of the circumstances of key ethnic minority groups; investigation of inter-relations between different family members within and across households; and it collects biomarker and genetic data to understand how people's health and wider circumstances interact. We have a growing body of data created by linking to participants' administrative records (with consent) such as NHS, education and credit histories. Understanding Society is part of a family of household panel studies internationally enabling comparative research and learning. We work closely with Study users in a wide range of ways to ensure the data we collect meets their needs. By having a broad focus both in terms of population and topic coverage, Understanding Society is a unique infrastructure resource in the UK, meeting the needs of a wide-range of researchers and policy makers, and hence creating significant economies of scale for funders.

This bid is for Waves 17-22 of the Study (2024 to 2030) adding to the rich data already collected since 2009, and for a smaller subsample since 1991. This makes it possible for researchers to investigate life course trajectories and intergenerational relationships as well as short run dynamics. As well as collecting data on the existing study members, at Wave 20 we propose adding an ethnic minority and Celtic boost to expand the numbers in these population subgroups. At Wave 22 we have proposed collecting biological data from participants again so that research can investigate changes in people's health over time. In addition, we are proposing a continuing programme of Enhancements, based on research and development to create new content, new samples, new methods, new kinds of data and new ways of supporting users. Our work is based on robust methodological research using our Innovation Panel, an annual platform for experimentation led by us and external researchers. As a result, our methodological research creates learning for other studies nationally and internationally.

Understanding Society data shared with users are functionally anonymised and made available via public data archives. We support researchers in universities, government, third sector and businesses by providing a wide range of resources, tools, services and support to enable users with different backgrounds and from different kinds of organisations to make effective use of the data. Following their success in earlier phases of the study, we are proposing holding fellowship competitions to build capacity in the wider research community and to promote the use of the unique features of the data. We have a Policy and Partnership Unit that works directly with government departments and third sector organisations to help them use Understanding Society data, and we undertake a wide range of activities to promote findings based on the Study to policy users. We plan to continue to promote research from the Study widely through events, publications, briefings, on our website and through social media. Drawing on the Study's data and findings we plan to create resources to engage the public in data collection and promote public understanding of science.

Taken together, the continued collection of data on a longitudinal core and the new data enhancements proposed can significantly increase the high-quality impactful research based on the Study and hence its value to society.


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