Survey methods in an age of austerity: driving value in survey design

Joel Williams



The Labour government was a voracious consumer of research data, and consequently the size of the social research sector increased hugely over a 13-year period. The new government has reversed some of this growth, partly because of budget pressures, but also because it is dismantling the Labour government’s target-based performance management system. A lot of the data produced over this period were collected as much to support this system as to generate new understanding of social forces or of the various effects of government programmes.

Nevertheless, even if the need for survey data is reduced, budget squeezes always lead to a renewed focus on ‘smart’ survey design. So, what is smart design? Sometimes it means a design that achieves equal or higher quality for a lower level of investment. However, while smart design may bring valuable efficiencies it is often bundled together with a re-evaluation of minimum quality thresholds. Typically, the pressure is downwards, forcing ever greater compromise on both research commissioners and research designers.1