The use of new technologies to measure socio-economic and environmental concepts in longitudinal studies
New technologies are increasingly being used in market research and more recently social research to improve the breadth, quality and ease of different kinds of data collection, as well as collecting new kinds of data. New technologies that can be used by researchers to collect data include smartphones, gadgets related to the ‘quantified self’ movement, or the internet of things. Researchers can also link to external technologies to draw in new kinds of data such as social media, smartmeters, storecards and barcoding. Finally, new technologies mean the way samples and data are processed can reduce the complexity of data collection, for example, using hair samples to obtain measures of cortisol or dried blot spots for metabolomics. New technologies can be used to respond to emerging research needs by measuring concepts that cannot be captured with survey questions, for example air quality, or by measuring key variables, such as household expenditure, more accurately or in a less burdensome way. In the future, the most effective way of collecting data will require a more flexible and heterogeneous approach with different topics requiring different data collection methods and frequencies to achieve the most accurate and consistent data.
These exciting opportunities also present significant challenges for both data collection and analytical methods. For example, the passive measurement of health and other behaviours enabled by new digital technologies offers the possibility of capturing data less susceptible to the biases usually associated with self report, but creates new sources of bias in terms of who might participate and how well they engage. In addition, the intensive measures of behaviours these technologies can provide (frequent sampling over extended periods, ambulatory measurement in the wild, sensors closely coupled to individuals) bring the promise of far richer phenotyping of studies, but very different kinds of data to those traditionally collected in surveys. Advances like these mean that new technologies will change the nature of the data that can be measured. Incorporating them into longitudinal studies creates additional challenges such as ensuring consistent measures over time despite changing technologies.
Drawing on evidence from across the CLOSER longitudinal studies, this report reviews how new technologies are being used to advance survey measurement of socio-economic concepts and features of the environment. The review focuses on practical considerations, implications for data quality and key methodological research needs.