What makes the NatCen Panel unique?

The NatCen Panel is the first probability-based research panel in the UK that is open for data collection by the social research community.

High quality recruitment

Running since 2015, NatCen Panel members are recruited through established studies such as the British Social Attitudes survey, for which participants are selected at random. This means that, unlike most online panels, the NatCen Panel is not based on a convenience sample and avoids the bias introduced when building other types of panel. It allows us to properly apply common statistical tests, like confidence intervals and significance testing and means that each panellist has a wealth of background information which can be used for weighting and analysis.

While non-random approaches recruit using demographic quotas like age, sex and region, these may fail to account for other unknown biases. This can have a real effect on results. For example, non-voters and people ‘less engaged’ in society are typically less likely to take part in research, so approaches that allow participants to self-select, or only include ‘early responders’, find it difficult to represent this group.

An academic review showed that probability-based samples are generally better than non-probability ones:

“Our literature overview shows that, even in the age of declining response rates, accuracy in probability sample surveys is generally higher than in nonprobability sample surveys. […] Based on the accumulated empirical evidence, our key recommendation is to continue to rely on probability sample surveys.” Cornesse et al (2020)

Inclusive fieldwork design

Fieldwork on the NatCen Panel is conducted both online and over the phone over a one-month period. The use of telephone fieldwork ensures that we reach all sections of society – including the 10% of the public who are not online – while the one-month fieldwork period allows for multiple attempts to reach panellists by post, email, text and phone, giving everyone the opportunity to take part – not just the ‘readily available’.

Our approach aims to be inclusive of the offline population and other groups often under-represented by surveys such as people with lower incomes or lower levels of education. This is particularly important for social research, where the views and experiences of the most vulnerable, or those less engaged with society, will be important and often different to the rest of the population.

Responsive evidence

The time between commissioning questions to data delivery is as little as two months. The NatCen Panel provides a probability-based method within a timeframe that that allows funders to make a timely response to current events.

Enriching your data

Because NatCen is an independent full-service social research organisation, we offer Panel funders reduced rates on other services, like questionnaire design and testing, advanced data analysis and reporting, deliberative research and qualitative follow-up. What’s more, we can provide access and advice on complementary data, including almost 40 years of trends from the British Social Attitudes survey.

Don’t just take our word for it…

In 2017, the NatCen Panel won the Innovation in Research Methods category and the Grand Prix Award for Greatest Impact at the prestigious Market Research Society Awards. Judges for the awards commented:

“NatCen’s paper on the development of their panel is a perfect example of research excellence. It [...] shows that research cares about what it is doing and cares about doing it well.”