Seven New NCRM Methodological Research Projects to start in January 2016

NCRM news
Eva Nedbalova

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded seven new methodological research projects as part of the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM). Each project tackles a specific, cutting-edge topic and promises to deliver valuable insights into new research methods.

Project 1: HomeSense: digital sensors for social research, Professor Nigel Gilbert, University of Surrey
This project aims to investigate the technical and ethical problems of using sophisticated digital devices (smart phones, sensors for heart rate, sleeping patterns and physical activity, fixed sensors in houses to measure sound and energy) to understand what actually happens within households. The project will develop analysis tools that help researchers to interpret and understand the rich data that can be collected with these methods.

Project 2: Innovations in Small Area Estimation Methodologies, Dr Nikos Tzavidis, University of Southampton
Initial demands for small area statistics are now shifting to requirements for more complex statistics that extend beyond averages and proportions to encompass estimates of statistical distributions, multidimensional indicators (e.g. inequality and deprivation indicators) and methods for replacing the Census and adjusting Census results for undercount. This project aims to (a) develop novel Small Area Estimation (SAE) methodologies to better serve the needs of users and producers of SAE (b) bridge different methodological approaches to SAE, (c) apply SAE for answering substantive questions in the social sciences and (d) 'Mainstream' SAE within the quantitative social sciences through the creation of methodologically comprehensive and accessible resources.

Project 3: SOCGEN: Combining Social Science and Molecular Genetic Research to Examine Inequality and the Life Course, Professor Melinda Mills, University of Oxford
Although there has been an explosion in the amount of the data in the UK that contains information that has both social science indicators (e.g., education, social status) and molecular genetic data (data with genetic markers), it has yet to be exploited by social scientists. A primary objective of this project is to bring together substantive social science researchers in the field of inequality and the life course with expertise in statistics, biodemography, and quantitative molecular genetics to develop innovative learning resources, statistical models and packages to address the specific shortcomings in this substantive area of research.

Project 4: Measuring Information Exposure in Dynamic and Dependent Networks (ExpoNet), Professor Susan Banducci, University of Exeter
Information Exposure measurements traditionally rely on self-reports of newspaper reading and television news broadcast viewing. These measures do not take into account that individuals browse and share diverse information from social and traditional media on a wide range of platforms. This project proposes to tackle this issue by developing a set of scalable network-oriented tools to 1) extract, analyse, and measure media content in the age of "big media data", 2) model the linkages between consumers and producers of media content in complex information networks, and 3) understand co-development of network structures with consumer attitudes/behaviours.

Project 5: Participatory Action Research (PAR): Participatory Theatre and Walking Methods, Dr Umut Erel, Open University
This project addresses the UK social science community's need to gain a better understanding of how participatory action research approaches engage marginalised groups in research as co-producers of knowledge. It combines walking methods and participatory theatre to create a space for exploring, sharing and documenting processes of belonging and place making that are crucial to understanding and enacting citizenship. The project is original by creating a model for bringing together practitioners and marginalized groups to engage with each other through creative methods and innovates by developing a toolkit for training social researchers in walking stories and theatre.

Project 6: GRADE extension for complex social interventions, Professor Paul Montgomery, University of Oxford
The most prominent system to guide evidence-informed decision-making has been developed by the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation Working Group (GRADE) in clinical medicine. The GRADE approach provides a systematic and transparent process for rating the "best-available evidence" to inform recommendations for practice. Results from previous investigation on the application of the GRADE approach in complex interventions indicate that GRADE may have limitations for these interventions. By way of illustration, GRADE initially starts with "low" quality rating for all types of observational studies; meanwhile, many social and health policy interventions are not possible to evaluate other than through observational and quasi-experimental study designs. This may lead to misinterpretations of evidence when transferred into practice, and therefore discourage important decisions. The proposed project will develop and disseminate a framework for rating the quality of evidence and the strength of recommendations in complex social interventions. This new framework will be an official extension to the GRADE approach.

Project 7: Understanding Household Finance through Better Measurement, Dr Annette Jackle, University of Essex
The aim of this project is to develop and test ways of collecting data about the household budget identity. Collecting data about the household budget identity would provide a step change in data about household finances and enable research addressing policy questions that are to date unanswered, as there are currently no surveys collecting data about the whole household budget. Collecting data about the budget identity is in addition likely to improve the quality of reporting the individual components, as it can be check during the interview whether a household budget is balanced, and if not, ask the respondent to review and correct their reports. To collect data about the household budget new mobile technologies to collect key information on finances will be used. The information will be integrated with survey information collected through more traditional methods to provide a picture of household financial circumstances and behaviour that is unprecedented in terms of comprehensiveness and data quality. This project was funded through the ESRC Transformative Research call.

The outputs and tools produced by these new NCRM Methodological Research Projects will be shared and distributed via the NCRM website. The projects will also participate at the 7th ESRC Research Methods Festival which takes place from 5th to 7th July 2016 at the University of Bath.