Social research

Social research is scientific enquiry which measures, describes, explains and predicts changes in social structures, attitudes, values and behaviours and the factors which motivate and constrain individuals and groups in society.

Good social science research helps make good government strategy, policy and delivery. Social science research informs the development, implementation and evaluation of a wide range of government policies. The best results are often the result of teamwork, with Government Social Research (GSR) members, other analysts and policy/ delivery officials working together throughout the development and implementation of an idea to ensure it is as evidence based as possible. Engagement as early as possible in this process helps ensure the results of any analytical work are as useful as possible.

The research commissioned and conducted by GSR uses the methods of social scientific enquiry including surveys, qualitative research, analysis of administrative and statistical data, case studies, and policy evaluation methods.

Analysis and Use of Evidence: Research and analysis in government (PDF 230 KB)

Social research in Defra has been used in a number of situations:

  • Helping policy makers and analysts within Defra and across government think about influencing behaviours from a policy perspective
  • Increasing our understanding of farmers and the importance of behaviours for policy-making across Defra’s farming area of responsibility
  • Assessing, working with other experts, the level of risk climate change poses to the UK – our society, economy and the environment – to inform where our priorities for adaptation to our changing climate in the UK should lie
  • Providing a strategic overview of the evidence required to support policy development and supporting colleagues to design and develop policies and services built around our customers;
  • Strengthening business planning and the development of key strategy documents;
  • Establishing, with colleagues, a centre of expertise to find out what people really want from public services and how these frontline services can effectively deliver for the diverse range of people who use them – particularly those who are in greatest need; and
  • Understanding individual’s behaviour and working to develop more effective approaches to enable people to live more sustainable lives

GSR Resources:

Page last modified: 17 February 2011