Conference reflections 2013

On July 24-26 2013, hundreds of researchers, policy experts and students made their way to the University of Essex – home of Understanding Society. With a truly international flavour, this year’s conference was the biggest and most diverse yet. So what next for the study – and what can we expect at Conference 2015? Professor Nick Buck, Director, Understanding Society, reflects.

As one of the UK’s most internationally diverse campus universities with students from more than 130 countries, we are used to welcoming guests from all over the world.

So it was great to see not just how many countries were represented at this year’s Understanding Society Research Conference but how many very interesting papers were based on other national panel studies and on cross-national comparative work. We’ll be working hard to facilitate comparative research in the coming year.

A landmark event

Now in its seventh year, the conference marked an important stage in the journey of Understanding Society.

It was wonderful to hear the many diverse ways researchers are using Understanding Society alongside the long running BHPS sample and to hear their exciting plans for the future.


The conference was easily the largest since it began in 2001 and the most diverse in terms of papers and subject matter. There was a good balance of substantive and methodological papers and some of the latter exploited the experimental work done in our Innovation Panel, another unique feature of the study.

Hot topics

Talking of papers, our comms team has done a little investigation into the web visits over the conference period. The topics generating the most interest were:

  • Investment in Children
  • Environment and Commuting
  • Measurement and analysis
  • Environment and Wellbeing
  • Residential Mobility
  • Labour Market
  • Marriage

… All food for thought!

Excellent keynotes

This seems a good point to thank to all contributors, both presenters and authors, and to our two excellent keynote speakers. Prof. Anne Berrington’s talk on young adults’ transitions to residential independence was well-received, as was Prof. Maarten van Ham’s opening keynote on the visualisation of residential mobility.

You made it happen

ISER Director Heather Laurie gives her personal thanks to all those who made this year’s conference a standout event.

What next for Understanding Society?

Our focus for the next two years is around the following areas:

Revised ethnicity data

The ethnicity strand is unique feature of Understanding Society and I am very pleased to see this being used so effectively. Thanks to all those who attended our session on the plans for the ethnicity boost sample. Read our plans for the design of the samples.

Enhanced health assessment measures

Our health measures will be enhanced further in 2014 by adding key biomarkers. These are obtained from blood samples provided by respondents that identify significant risks for major health conditions such as anaemia, diabetes and heart disease.

New waves and questionnaire modules – 2015

By the time we meet again, we’ll also have four waves of data available for download, plus some special questionnaire models.

Photo credit: ISER Web