Advancing Paradata

Poverty in the UK: Advancing paradata analysis and open access
ESRC cross-investment project

Background and Aims
Peter Townsend's 1967-9 Poverty in the UK survey was a landmark study that laid the groundwork for contemporary understandings of poverty. Lessons from its research process have not been fully exploited, however. This project brought together experts in historical comparative qualitative analysis, narrative analysis and researching poverty from the NCRM Hub, NOVELLA node of NCRM and the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and  built on the collaborative small-scale feasibility study 'The Possibilities for a Narrative Analysis of Paradata and the organisation  of Townsend's Bristol papers and digitisation of the Poverty in the United Kingdom monograph (Townsend Centre).

The project had the following aims.

  • To investigate shifts and continuities in the social process of gathering household survey data about poverty through analysis of macro paradata from the historical Poverty in the UK survey, and compare this with equivalent paradata from the 2012 Poverty and Social Exclusion survey (PSE).
  • To explore the potential of interviewer observations through comparative analysis of the micro paradata in the historical and recent studies.
  • To provide insights into the process of the Poverty in the UK study through conducting video interviews with some of the original researchers and fieldworkers.
  • To open access to the data and contextual material.

Thematic analysis of 23 transcribed audio-recorded PSE UK survey interviews and narrative analysis of one transcribed audio-recorded PSE UK survey interview, and comparison with existing thematic and narrative analyses of marginalia in selected PinUK survey booklets.

Production of comparable PinUK and PSE metadata

Personal contacts and online searching to contact Townsend's PinUK field interviewers and research team, and colleagues.  Potential participants were sent information about the project and most consented to a video-recorded interview which would be made available for open online access.

Digitisation of paper-based materials by the UKDA and cross-investment project team.

Thematic and narrative analysis
Statistical analysis of the 2012 PSE-UK survey micro paradata has been undertaken to investigate the extent and nature of response problems in the PSE-UK study. This analysis has been conducted on the basis of a behaviour coding of 23 PSE-UK interviews transcripts and subsequent matching to the respondent dataset and information on interviewer characteristics. Both the thematic and the narrative analysis of the PSE UK survey interview transcripts reveals that a key skill for field interviewers is the ability to be flexible in interviews, in the face of organisational concerns about standardisation:

Video interviews
We traced and video-interviewed 17 field interviewers, PinUK study research team members and colleagues, exceeding our aim of 10 interviews.  This material provides unparalleled insight into the relational and methodological conduct of the survey, and academic and political reception of its findings.

Open access
Digitisation of a range of paper-based materials associated with the PinUK study has been carried out by the research team and UK Data Archive, ready for posting online for open access at

  • We exceeded our original aim to digitise a third of the PinUK survey booklets held in the UKDA.  and all of the booklets are being digitised in full or in part.
  • Relevant papers from Peter Townsend's personal archive and from documents held by Hilary Land, a researcher on the PinUK study, have been digitised.

We will also upload relevant metadata produced for the project.  We expect that all the materials will be available for open use on the site by the end of 2014.

Historical comparative analysis
We built on the analyses of the PinUK and PSE UK by-products, interviews and contextual materials, to develop an account of the technological, social and professional role changes that have occurred over the past 45 years, to illuminate how the conditions of production have an impact on the data produced.  We have given presentations based on this work and are preparing a journal article.

Publications and output can be found here

Useful links
Poverty and Social Exclusion Study in Bristol University