How you can help decide the important societal issues tackled by longitudinal studies

Joe Ellery is an ESRC Policy Manager supporting the council’s strategic interests in Longitudinal and Biosocial, Data and Resources and International Strategy.

Part of his role includes trying to better understand the range and type of international longitudinal and cohort studies, with a view to promoting collaboration with ESRC-funded studies.


Every once in a while it’s important to take a step back and evaluate whether the path you’re travelling is leading you in a direction towards success. This is no different in the case of the UK’s world-leading longitudinal studies; in particular the ways in which these are funded and supported by the ESRC.

Despite their status as internationally-renowned sources of longitudinal data that span up to 60 years, it’s important to understand the future scientific needs for evidence over the lifecourse, in order to ensure the development of meaningful, robust and impactful research resources: resources as relevant to society as those we currently support.

In order to better understand these needs and how these can be met, ESRC invites you as a valued member of our diverse community to participate in this consultation exercise.

Longitudinal studies – what are they all about?

To start with I’d better explain what longitudinal studies are. Essentially longitudinal studies track a group of individuals over time and ask them a carefully selected set of questions at various intervals (usually between one and five years).

What’s unique is that because the same people are asked related questions it’s possible to build a picture of their lives and measure how these have changed over time.

This picture of social change enables researchers to attempt to understand the underlying genetic, health, educational, social and economic dynamics that influence individuals’ lives.

cigarette-1299556_640As an example, the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) revealed the link between smoking during pregnancy and poor infant health, greatly enhancing our understanding of this phenomenon, catalysing decades of research into this area, and driving major policy and societal changes that have resulted in behavioural change and reduced risks.

ESRC funds a number of studies, including the 1958 NCDS, the 1970 British Cohort Study, the Millennium Cohort Study (all hosted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies) and Understanding Society.

So how can you get involved?

We are seeking input on the key scientific questions, and the methodological and technological issues that our longitudinal investments should focus on or address in the future.
We are looking for a response from a wide range of people, and are keen to understand your thoughts on these key questions, through a focused consultation survey which closes on 4 November 2016.math-1500720_640

The survey is part of a wider project led by the ESRC, our longitudinal studies review.
The review aims to assess the continuing social and interdisciplinary scientific need for our longitudinal studies and to consider how longitudinal investments individually and collectively should be positioned to meet the needs of future interdisciplinary research challenges. The Longitudinal Studies Review 2017 will be undertaken by an independent international panel.

Why we want to hear from you

exeter-high-711804_640Engaging a diverse community of people interested in longitudinal studies will help us to understand what you think is important to address in the future.
The ESRC is funded by the public, therefore it’s important for us to understand the needs and opinions of our community as this helps us to reflect upon our thinking and develop a considered strategy within the area of longitudinal studies.

Respondents have the opportunity to reflect upon the 2006 Longitudinal Studies Review, as well as identify additional priorities in the scientific, methodological and technological areas.

Outputs from the focused consultation survey will be analysed and the findings will be used to further explore the continued and future scientific and policy-relevant needs for longitudinal resources.

Your input will inform our future strategy, funding, management and commissioning decisions; including what to continue, to change, to stop and to start.

We thank you in advance for engaging with the consultation process.

Take part in the focused consultation survey before 4 November 2016.

2 thoughts on “How you can help decide the important societal issues tackled by longitudinal studies

  1. Due to the rising cost of longitudinal studies and difficulties of recruitment, it is time for ESRC to plan a survey of the babies born to members of Understanding Society. It is such a large study someone calculated it would yield quite a few babies, and we already know a lot about the parents. Huge economy of costs as well.


  2. Pingback: How you can help decide the important societal issues tackled by longitudinal studies | Real Media - The News You Don't See

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