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50 Years of Shaping Social Change

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Guy Goodwin, Chief Executive

Fifty years ago, in 1969, Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR) was co-founded by Roger Jowell and Gerald Hoinville, working out of the back room of a Belsize Park flat.

It was at the tail end of a decade that brought long lasting social change with comprehensive education, legalisation of abortions, homosexuality, the contraceptive pill, the end of the death penalty, new universities, supermarkets and television arrived, an increasing role for women in politics and, in 1969, the Divorce Reform Act.

Roger and Gerald were passionate about social research and surveys and their vision was for an independent organisation to design, carry out and interpret rigorous studies within the field of social and public policy.

Roger Jowell

Professor Sir Roger Jowell

SCPR grew in the 1970s and 1980s, recruiting teams of exceptionally capable researchers, data collection staff and interviewers. The organisation created a Survey Methods Centre and a high quality, specialist Qualitative Research Unit, as well as running the first British Social Attitudes Survey in 1982; a study of public attitudes that is still recognised today as the leader in its field.

In 1984, Gerald left SCPR after 15 years of service and Roger Jowell became its sole Director. Roger retired himself from the organisation in 2001 and was succeeded by Norman Glass who continued to grow the organisation and established a Scottish presence in Edinburgh (today’s ScotCen) to reflect the changing landscape following devolution. The only other permanent CEO, from 2009 until 2015, was Penny Young, the current Librarian and Director General of Information Services for the UK Parliament.

Fifty years on, now as the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the organisation has 250 staff with revenues exceeding £30 million but its core principles have remained largely the same. The National Centre remains unique in Britain. It’s a non-profit organisation, registered as a charity, that believes by delivering high quality social research to policy makers you can make people’s lives better. It lives outside of academia but works closely with academic researchers; it isn’t part of the commercial sector, enabling it to raise funds from research councils and foundations.

Today, our work and influence are easy to find, most notably with the nation’s household surveys such as the Health Survey for England, the National Travel Survey and the English Housing Survey, and the key longitudinal studies like the British Cohort Study and Growing Up in Scotland. We are recognised for ground breaking work in the public policy arena on mental health, gambling, the Gig economy, gender and equality, children and families and racial prejudice to name a few. Our British Social Attitudes Survey and NatCen Panel continue today to relay back what people are thinking to policy makers.

We enter our 50th anniversary year with a sense of great confidence both in our future but also in helping inform policy makers with the challenges facing society and people today. There have been many, perceived as positive, changes during our lifetime (in our standard of living, healthcare and mortality rates, technological advances and rights and opportunities). Divisions over Europe, the impact of population growth and ageing, financial inequalities and poverty, obesity, mental health and wellbeing, knife crime and climate change are just some of the unresolved issues that continue to challenge us.

During 2019, we will be celebrating by looking forward under the banner "50:50" - 100 Years of Social Research, Shaping Social Change". We will be holding a comprehensive series of events including a selection of lectures examining the key unresolved challenges for our society. We would love you to get involved. You can do that in various ways, including attending events or through becoming a friend or supporter of the organisation here:

At the start to the year though, I wanted most of all to remember and raise a glass to Roger and Gerald, to Norman and to Penny, and to the many others over the last 50 years that have and continue to make this remarkable organisation a success - including, of course, our staff past and present, our interviewers whose dedication makes our work possible, members of the public who tell us about their lives and views, our numerous customers, partners, trustees and friends.

Have a happy 2019!

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