What is the future for social surveys in the UK?

Social survey data collection in the UK, like other countries, faces some complex challenges.

This is just one of the questions that a new Survey Data Collection Methods Collaboration aims to address with £3.3 million funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), to explore the future challenges and opportunities for survey data collection in the UK.

Social survey data collection in the UK, like other countries, faces some complex challenges. 

The digital revolution, combined with increasing cost pressures, has seen the beginning of a move away from single-mode face-to-face survey data collection to more affordable online and mixed mode options. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated these trends but also highlighted the important roles that survey interviewers play in engaging all sections of society in research and in collecting high quality data on complex and sensitive topics. Whilst the sector may be moving towards a mixed mode future, there are significant gaps in researchers’ knowledge about the pros and cons of different mixed mode designs and innovative approaches, such as push-to-web, knock to nudge and video interviewing. In addition, there are capacity issues – in field interviewers and research staff – that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the pace of technological change

Recognising these challenges, the ESRC has commissioned the Survey Data Collection Methods Collaboration to 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. It builds on earlier work funded by the ESRC, including the Survey Resources Network, two iterations of the Network for General Population Web Surveys (2013-14 and 2020-21) and the Survey Data Collection Network. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has played a leading role in each of these. The latest collaboration seeks to deliver a step change in survey research to ensure that it will remain possible in the UK to carry out high quality social surveys of the kinds required by the public and academic sectors to monitor and understand society, and to provide an evidence base for policy.

The first stage of this project, named Survey Futures, involves seven specific research strands to explore in-depth over the next three years. Additional research strands will be developed throughout the life of the project. Gerry Nicolaas, Director of Methods at the NatCen is a co-investigator on this project, and we are proud to be leading two of the research strands, as well as examining training and capacity building for the social surveys research sector.

Survey Futures is a collaboration between the 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, City, University of London and University of Lausanne, in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).

More than 30 researchers from across the partner organisations are directly involved in this programme and this collaboration aims to reach out and engage with a variety of stakeholders, from survey commissioners and data users, to share knowledge and good practice for the benefit of wider society. Areas to be addressed throughout this collaborative project include the future of face-to-face survey data collection, data quality, adjustments in mode effects, improved sampling, and the changing role of survey interviewers to name but a few.

Over the next three years, the Survey Futures project team will be hosting a series of open Survey Practice Forums which survey commissioners, methodologists, questionnaire designers, statisticians and data users are encouraged to attend to contribute to the discussion and exchange ideas around the future of survey data collection. The second of these Forums is being held on 9th October 2023 in London. Click on this link to find out more and register your place.

Here at NatCen we continue to be innovative as we see the increased development of the mixed mode approach to surveys. We strive towards methodological leadership and expertise in this changing environment to ensure the top priority in our approach to research is the benefits for the wider research community. 

We are delighted to collaborate on this project and play an active part in exploring what comes next for social surveys. For more information on upcoming Survey Futures events, please visit