Our funding environment is changing, as is the availability of data, and as we move forward into UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) it is time to take stock, look forward and review the scientific need for longitudinal studies.
The Longitudinal Studies Review 2017 will explore the studies’ continued and future scientific relevance, sustainability, and contribution to the wider portfolio of data and longitudinal research resources in the UK and internationally. It will assess the continuing social and interdisciplinary scientific need for our longitudinal studies and consider how longitudinal investments individually and collectively should be positioned to meet the needs of future interdisciplinary research challenges.
The recommendations from this review, which builds on the ESRC 2006 Strategic Review of Panel and Cohort Studies (PDF) (external website), will inform our future strategy, funding, management and commissioning decisions, including what to continue, to change, to stop and to start.
The 2017 review will be undertaken by a small, independent, international panel, chaired by Professor Pamela Davis-Kean, University of Michigan. It will examine:
– the future scientific and policy-relevant need for longitudinal studies, including the interests of non-social scientists and elements of the research base that have not traditionally been core users of longitudinal datasets
– the impact of longitudinal studies and where we expect to see impact in the future
– the changing context of large survey data collection, including attitudes to engagement, new technologies and methods of data collection, and the potential for data linkage with administrative, health and commercial datasets
– the shape of our current portfolio, including its UK and international context, and its fit with broader data infrastructure.
The review is planned to start this autumn and run throughout 2017, reporting to the ESRC in the middle of 2018.
The review will begin with a focused consultation to allow us to gain input on the key scientific questions, and methodological and technological issues that our longitudinal investments should focus on or address in the future.
The consultation will launch in early October 2016, closing in November 2016. Key messages from the consultation shared before the end of 2016. Learning from the consultation will form the basis of a Scientific Needs Workshop, planned for early 2017, which will identify key future needs for longitudinal resources.
ESRC and longitudinal studies
Longitudinal studies provide the only means for studying processes of individual lifecourse development and dynamics, and the effects of earlier characteristics and exposures on later outcomes. The UK’s series of longitudinal population studies deliver insight on changing social and technological circumstances from the end of the Second World War and on into the millennium.
They are a flagship component of the social science data resources ESRC funds, and a core commitment in our 2015 Strategic Plan (PDF, 4.6Mb).
For over 40 years the ESRC has been a major funder and proponent of longitudinal studies including birth cohorts. We see these as national social science data infrastructure. As we make significant annual and long-term investment in longitudinal studies, we need a clear, up-to-date vision for the future of our commitment. Any future investment has to be relevant to research and policy communities. The studies and related activities we fund must continue to evolve and innovate to keep the UK at the global forefront of longitudinal study methods and research, connect appropriately to the rapidly developing data-for-research landscape, and deliver value for money.
Our 2006 Strategic Review of Panel and Cohort Studies (PDF) (external website) led to the development of CLOSER and the 2007 Scientific Case for a New Birth Cohort Study (PDF) (external website) – a nationally representative birth cohort study which was planned to begin in 2012.
Life Study, the 2012 birth cohort study, was funded between 2011 and 2016. At its close Life Study had not generated any useable data, but it did provide valuable scientific lessons. CLOSER (the Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resource), also emerged from our 2006 review. CLOSER was funded in October 2012 and brings together eight leading studies, the British Library and the UK Data Service, works to stimulate interdisciplinary research, develop shared resources, provide training, and share expertise
Our Longitudinal Studies Review 2017 will build on the 2006 review, and associated work, and the 2014 MRC Strategic Review of the Largest UK Population Cohorts (PDF) (external website), and will form a core contribution to the development of our future vision.