Course 18: Surveying large-scale political events

Instructors: Jan Eichhorn, Ben Matthews

Date: August 25-29, 2014
Time: 14:00-18:00

About the instructors:

Dr. Jan Eichhorn lectures in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has run a wide range of research methods courses and workshops for academics and practitioners. He is co- or principal investigator on a range of Economic and Research Council funded projects investigating people’s attitudes towards Scottish independence. Based on his work, he has been providing commentary for multiple media outlets (incl. BBC, Skynews, ZDF). He is also the co-founder and director of the think tank d|part and has provided expert advice to the German, Scottish and UK government on multiple issues.    

Ben Matthews is a doctoral researcher in Criminology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Using his extensive experience in survey based analysis, he has been at the core of the development of instruction and teaching materials for school and university students in the context of the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. He has also designed and delivered successful workshops for practitioners using a number of large-scale datasets. In addition to his academic activities, Ben is currently conducting analytical work for the Scottish government as part of their Reducing Reoffending Programme.     

Short course description:

Crises, referenda, elections, global sports competitions, etc.. Social scientists are often interested in people’s attitudes in relation to particular large scale events that carry a socio-political dimension. Conducting research into this is not easy, however: existing large-scale surveys are usually not event-specific, new surveys can be too expensive and online methods too unreliable. This course engages with the question how to best survey attitudes around such big events. It engages both with traditional cross-sectional surveys and more contemporary techniques such as online instruments and Experience Sampling Methods. Crucially, it discusses how surveying for specific events differs from traditional approaches, including how we have to engage differently with foundations for surveying, such as questionnaire design and adaptation to target audiences.

The course will place a focus on feasibility and takes into account issues such as time and resource constraints, as well as questions about the actual implementation of such projects. It will also enable participants to develop strategies for dissemination and engagement with results to inform public and/or policy debate. The course will be taught in a very interactive mode. Examples from existing research will be used as stimulus for discussions and group exercises in which participants can bring in their own experiences. Practical sessions will be used for participants to discuss their own research projects to develop strategies for their own work while receiving feedback throughout and potentially finding partners for collaboration.

Here you can find the full syllabus (138 kB) of the course with complete information on the topics, literature, and day-to-day schedule.

Course prerequisites:

  • engagement with results from social surveys;
  • understanding of concepts relating to social and political attitudes/values/perceptions;
  • awareness of research processes and cycles;
  • ideally engagement with social surveys as user (data analysis) or creator (survey design), though not a necessary requirement for course participation.

Target group:

Participants will find the course useful if they:

  • are currently conducting or planning to conduct research on large scale socio-political events (e.g. referenda, crises, sport events, socio-cultural events);
  • are interested in expanding their knowledge about survey methods to engage with short-term applications and topic-specific ways of canvassing opinions;
  • are interested in surveying particular target groups for whom survey questions otherwise "tried and tested" may require substantial adaptation (e.g. surveying adolescents, people in specific interest groups);
  • have particular ideas for projects and would benefit from space to develop their ideas into project plans receiving detailed feedback.

Course and learning objectives:

By the end of the course participants will:

  • have a good overview of different ways of canvassing attitudes of people in the context of large scale socio-political events;
  • be able to adjust existing survey designs to match the needs of particular target groups;
  • be familiar with more instantaneous techniques to surveying, such as Experience Sampling Methods;
  • have engaged with strategies of piloting to ensure their research is valid despite potential time and cost restraints;
  • have developed ideas and plans for own research projects.

Organizational structure of the course:

The course will be run in a very interactive and participant-engaged way. During instruction sessions (4 hours per day) participants will engage with particular challenges in designing large-scale event oriented surveying approaches. The instructors will introduce them to particular problems and discuss possible approaches to addressing them based on experiences in existing real-life projects. For each type of challenge course, participants will work in groups to engage with specific exercises in which they can practice their way of dealing with the issue at hand. This will enable participants to identify existing strengths and weaknesses and allow the instructors to adjust the focus accordingly.

In addition to the instruction sessions, there will be 2 hours of project work each day. In these sessions, participants are asked to develop plans for projects based on their own work and interests. There will be daily feedback from instructors on the progress within groups to strengthen the development of these research plans. If considered desirable, participants could use these plans as the foundation for genuine collaborative research projects or as the foundation for their own work. Project presentations will provide peer feedback and scrutiny in addition to the instructor advice.

As course participants work throughout the course on their projects, the amount of reading on the course is kept to a minimum, to ensure the focus of the practical sessions is on the team efforts developing in-depth project designs.

Software and hardware requirements:

Course participants are recommended (but not required) to bring a laptop computer for performing the practical exercises for this course.