Questionnaire development and fieldwork

Understanding Society is run from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. ISER has a long-standing history of social science research and research data collection and was the home of the British Household Panel Survey.

In ISER the questionnaires for Understanding Society are developed and tested before being released into the field. The overall content of the Study is overseen by the Scientific Leadership Team, with advice from the Scientific Advisory Group, made up of subject experts and survey methodologists from around the UK. Specialist advisory groups also provide input on content and data collection.

The Innovation Panel

Understanding Society has an Innovation Panel, which is a sample of 1,500 households which mimics the main sample and is used by researchers for testing data collection methods and developing new areas of research. Participants are, on the whole, asked the same questions using the same procedures as the main survey. However, the Innovation Panel also includes experiments and methodological tests designed to develop and evaluate methodologies and new content for longitudinal survey research. New collection techniques, such as using apps for data collection, are tested here before being released to the main sample.

Question development

As a longitudinal study measuring change and stability over time, it’s important that participants are asked about similar things each time they complete the survey. This is why we have a core section of questions that don’t change and are asked frequently, plus rotating content which is asked in specific waves, e.g. every two or three years. 

The addition of any new question is tested by the survey development team to ensure that it fits within the time limit for the questionnaire and that it won’t impact on questions that are already asked.

Can I have a question added to the Study?

Researchers and policy makers often want to know if they can have a question added to Understanding Society. This is not possible, due to the long lead-in and planning time needed for new questions (the questionnaire development team works two or three years ahead of the questionnaire going into the field). Researchers can consider applying for an Associated Study using the Innovation Panel, which gives an opportunity for researchers to collect information from participants that is not already asked in the Study.


Understanding Society works with Kantar and NatCen Social Research to deliver fieldwork for the Study. Kantar and NatCen take the questionnaire out into the field, either through interviewers or through an online survey.