National Centre for Research Methods Phase 3 (2011-14)

Hub: University of Southampton

This period saw continuation of the second round of hub funding based at the University of Southampton, under the directorship of Prof Patrick Sturgis (now at the London School of Economics) and a third phase of research nodes was commissioned, again comprising a mixture of continued and new awards.  The separate ReStore project was subsumed into the main NCRM award while the programme of Centre-linked PhD students and collaborative projects continued. The centre organized the Research Methods Festival 2012 and Research Methods Festival 2014. During this period the NCRM nodes were:


LEMMA 3: Longitudinal Effects, Multilevel Modelling and Applications

Principal Investigator: Professor Fiona Steele (now at London School of Economics)

Host Institution: University of Bristol

Legacy Website: Centre for Multilevel Modelling

Node Publications: Node Publications

Social science is all about understanding complex social processes. For example, the processes by which people from families with differing socio-economic status obtain markedly different life outcomes are complex and develop over time. It has long been recognised that understanding such processes requires longitudinal data comprising repeated measurements of the key factors over time, and there has been substantial investment in the collection of such data.

The overarching objective of LEMMA 3 was to build capacity in the analysis of longitudinal data. LEMMA 3 aimed to

  • review and synthesise important developments in longitudinal data analysis;
  • develop and adapt new methodology that addresses important problems in social research today;
  • apply the newly developed methods to substantive research projects in collaboration with experts from medical sociology, health psychology, economics, education and developmental psychology; and
  • implement the methodological research in the user-friendly STAT-JR software environment. STAT-JR has been developed to overcome one of the biggest barriers facing social researchers, namely, learning to use statistical software packages.  

LEMMA 3 ran an extensive programme of training and capacity building activities for academic and non-academic users. LEMMA 3 also provided support to other trainers who wish to develop their own courses in longitudinal data analysis. These activities are augmented by further developing online training materials and continuing to make available free software to UK-based academic users.


MODE - Multimodal Methodologies for Researching Digital Data and Environments

Principal Investigator: Professor Carey Jewitt

Host Institution: Institute of Education (now University College London)


Node Publications: Node Publications

MODE developed multimodal methodologies for social scientists, providing systematic ways to investigate all modes of representation and communication in digital environments.

MODE activities were organized around five thematic strands:

  1. Collection and analysis. How to gather, produce, select and analyze digital data?
  2. Transcription. How to represent digital data in different modes and media?
  3. Mixed methods. How to combine multimodal methodologies with other concepts and frameworks?
  4. Time and space. How can multimodal methodologies help investigate time and space in digital environments?
  5. Body. How can multimodal methodologies help investigate the body in digital environments? 

MODE had a programme of research that included projects such as ‘Digital technologies in the operating theatre’ exploring the potential and use of digital data for professional and educational purposes, and ‘Researching embodiment with digital technologies’ investigating the body in digital environments in secondary school.

MODE delivered a programme of training and capacity building activities for social science researchers. These activities included public lectures, seminars, data workshops, training courses and online activities.

Impacts (March 2013)
  • The 6th International Conference on Multimodality (6ICOM). 200 international delegates were welcomed from a wide range of disciplines, with a mutual interest in looking beyond language and examining multiple modes of communication, such as images, writing, sound and gesture. The 125 paper presentations made at the conference represented the full range of ways that multimodality has been taken up and explored a variety of contexts: Health, education, art, business and media, with papers on topics such as multimodality, media and arts; multimodal texts and interaction in learning environments; multimodality and workplace learning; multimodal texts and interaction in second language acquisition and English as a foreign language; digital technologies, and gesture and talk. Through this rich mix of papers from around the world, the conference realised its aim - to contribute to moving forward the field of multimodal research and to help connect the diverse community of scholars working within it.
  • 'How do surgeons learn to operate?’ Public Engagement Event at the London Science Museum’s DANA Centre, 20/2/13. The aim of the event was to facilitate dialogue between social scientists, surgeons and the public about surgical education. The event was fully booked, attracting more than 70 people. It was organised by the team members of MODE’s research project Digital Technologies in the Operating Theatre. Operations were re-enacted, and, drawing on the research project, the event explained exactly what surgical trainees and their supervisors say and do as the trainee applies the scalpel inside a patient to ensure that the trainee does no harm to the patient.


NOVELLA - Narratives of Varied Everyday Lives and Linked Approaches

Principal Investigator: Professor Ann Phoenix

Host Institution: Institute of Education (now University College London)

Legacy Website: NOVELLA

Node Publications: Node Publications

NOVELLA was concerned with the everyday habitual practices of families. These are frequently taken for granted, but orientation to the social world and what people do are (at least partly) negotiated within families. ‘Disconnections' between people's narratives and actions also tell us about their identities, values and possible future actions.

NOVELLA's aim was to

  • develop and conduct high-quality secondary analyses on qualitative and quantitative data sets
  • deliver innovative methodological development within the substantive study of habitual practices in everyday family life by exploiting existing datasets for three different purposes: secondary narrative analysis of qualitative data; linking quantitative longitudinal analyses with narratives produced at particular time points; matching narrative data across studies
  • interrogate data to identify continuities and divergences between different forms of narrative analysis and other methods
  • use case-based narrative methods to capture the complexities of differences and commonalities in everyday practices between countries

NOVELLA's research programme consisted of projects that are socially relevant and of concern to policymakers and practitioners in the UK and internationally. Projects included ‘Parenting Identities and Practices’, ‘Families and food: Methodological innovations for studying habitual practices' and ‘Family lives and the environment: Cross-national perspectives on habitual practices’.

NOVELLA also ran a training programme designed to improve methodological skills in narrative analysis and linked approaches.

Impacts (March 2013)
  • The Families and Food project has analysed Mass Observation data from 1950-1 and devised a means of contextualising it by looking at other archival material such as moving images from the British Pathé film archive of the period and government papers from the National Archives. This contributes to the delivery of innovative methodological development within the substantive study of habitual practices in everyday family life.
  • The Family lives and the Environment project has collaborated with the Young Lives ESRC investment in devising methods of sampling cases for secondary narrative analysis and comparisons of thematic and narrative analysis of habitual family practices on data collected for other purposes.

PATHWAYS - Biosocial Influences on Health

Principal Investigator: Professor Emily Grundy (now at University of Essex)

Host Institutions: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cambridge

Node Publications: Node Publications

PATHWAYS aimed to identify pathways that link socio-demographic circumstances and biological disadvantage to adult health, and parental family and socio-economic circumstances to infant mortality, with a particular emphasis on the mediating factors that lie on these pathways.

PATHWAYS aimed to

  • promote cross fertilisation of research methodology used in the social and biomedical sciences with a view to enhancing the capacity of social scientists to investigate hypothesised causal pathways between biological and social factors while fully exploiting new biomedical information, as it becomes available in a number of important UK data sources;
  • adapt, develop and facilitate the rigorous use of methodology for the identification of causal pathways, to relate their underlying assumptions to the subject-matter of interest, and to jointly address the expected limitations of observational data, namely those arising from measurement error and missing data;
  • develop and provide training in all methods mentioned above, including the use of biomarkers, latent indicators to capture health related measures affected by measurement error and principled methods for handling missing data.

PATHWAYS research programme consisted of projects that explore pathways to and from particular fertility histories and their implications for later life health; pathways to and from marital status trajectories and health in mid life; pathways from parental socio-economic and demographic circumstance to birth weight of infants and infant mortality; and use of genes as instrumental variables in causal analysis.

In addition to research projects PATHWAYS ran a training programme.

Impacts (March 2013)
  • PATHWAYS have derived a measure of allostatic load (a composite measure based on biomarkers conceptualised as an indicator of accumulated stress) using data in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. A working paper 'Allostatic load - a challenge to measure multisystem physiological dysregulation' is available online.
  • PATHWAYS have developed an approach which allows the testing of a non-linear causal effect in Mendelian randomisation analyses using a binary genetic instrument and the formal comparison of the structural equation modelling and modern causal inference approaches to mediation.
  • Work by PATHWAYS, comparing the ethnic breakdown of the Clinical Practice Research Databases (CPRD) to that of the most recent 2011 Census, has shown that the CPRD population is representative of the UK population in terms of ethnicity, age, gender, and geography. Therefore, population-based studies that utilize this source of routinely collected ethnicity data are generalizable to the wider UK population. The working paper Availability and use of UK based ethnicity data for health research is available online.


PEPA - Programme Evaluation for Policy Analysis

Principal Investigator: Professor Lorraine Dearden

Host Institution: Institute for Fiscal Studies, cemmap

Node Publications: Node Publications

Answering questions about the effectiveness of state interventions in economic and social domains – such as "did this training programme help the participants get back to work?", or "did this child health programme improve children's outcomes?” – is the goal of programme evaluation.

Robust programme evaluation is difficult: researchers have to estimate causal impacts credibly and understand the uncertainty in their estimates, and policy-makers have to determine how best to synthesize and generalise the lessons learned from multiple studies.

PEPA's overall objective was to maximise the value of programme evaluation by improving the design of evaluations and improving the way that such evaluations add to the knowledge base.

PEPA research programme aimed to

  • advance our understanding of the value of randomised control trials in social science;
  • improve inference for policy evaluation;
  • develop the key relationships between alternative methods for policy evaluation;
  • combine quasi-experimental methods with dynamic behavioural models; and
  • determine how to measure social networks and then use such data for programme evaluation

PEPA also ran a programme of training and capacity building activities.

Impacts (March 2013)
  • Research under PEPA has contributed new methods for the estimation of models with endogenous regressors.
  • PEPA research has led to the development of a new structural framework for policy evaluation, modelling education choice, employment, hours and human capital formation over the life-cycle under uncertainty and risk aversion. This research has shed new light on the impact of personal taxes and benefits in the short and long run.
  • PEPA research is used to support the ex-ante analysis of what the effects of Universal Credit may be.
  • PEPA collaborated with Pro Bono Economics to deliver a one day impact evaluation workshop 'Charity impact; working out what would have happened anyway' which was attended by over 40 delegates. The event was part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2012.

TALISMAN: Geospatial Data Analysis and Simulation

Principal Investigator: Professor Mark Birkin

Host Institution: University of Leeds, University College London

Legacy Website: TALISMAN

Node Publications: Node Publications

TALISMAN developed methods for geospatial data analysis and simulation in their programme of research, specifically models of spatial systems that emphasise interactions which reflect potential and flows at and between locations. The methods researchers at TALISMAN developed are based on spatial interaction, agent-based models (ABM), cellular automata (CA), and microsimulation methods that span the range from aggregate to individual populations, at different spatial scales and over different temporal periods. Cutting across these models are new developments in computer media that emphasise new ways of collecting data from the bottom up, popularly referred to as 'crowd-sourcing' and new methods of visualising model inputs, outputs and the process of model building using new methods of visual analytics.

TALISMAN developed models which are part of a long tradition in applied geography and urban and regional economics. TALISMAN progressed these models in various forms, developing more generic types of models and methods for their implementation through calibration and use in forecasting. Their emphasis was on developing substantive extensions to these models by embedding them in new media using Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies as well as improving them through participatory involvement of model builders and stakeholders in both the academic community and the outside world.

TALISMAN ran a training and capacity building programme which included a series of modules reflecting the latest progress in spatial modelling as well as new developments in data sharing, sourcing and visualisation.

Impacts (March 2013)
  • Increased awareness in Government and Industry of the value of Open Data initiatives and APIs has meant that TALISMAN are now able to access a significant amount of real-time data that is being used to give new insights into what happens in London on a day to day basis. The main break-through is in the handling of both the quantity and diversity of the data and in the methods for reducing this into a simple visualisation. The main aim of visual analytics is to convey complex topics to the general public in a way which is understandable. The iPad wall developed by TALISMAN researchers currently in City Hall is being used to inform the Greater London Authority about London’s transport system, air quality and financial state.
  • In November 2012 the TALISMAN node ran a public-facing Smart Cities Exhibition over three days at the Leeds City Museum as part of ESRC Festival of Social Science. More than 1,200 members of the public visited the exhibition, and a particularly rewarding feature of the event was its wide reach across social and demographic categories – for example, the exhibits were enjoyed by participants from the ages of two to eighty-eight. Items in use at the exhibition included elements specifically developed or extended by TALISMAN, such as City Dashboard, the London Data Table, and SurveyMapper online, as well as content from linked projects.
  • Six User Fellowships have been awarded to individuals from non-academic organisations to undertake collaborative project with TALISMAN.