ESRC is developing the Early Life Cohort (ELC) Study: a new social science-led longitudinal birth cohort study for the UK. The study will be based on a household-based interview of the parents of a population-representative sample of UK-born babies in the mid-2020s.
Funding a new birth cohort study is a priority infrastructure investment for UK Research and Innovation. ESRC has funded a feasibility study to develop and test the design and methodology for the main-stage ELC Study.
It is therefore important to recognise the following distinction:
- Early Life Cohort Feasibility Study (ELC-FS): an active ESRC investment led by Professor Alissa Goodman (UCL), in operation from April 2021 to December 2023
- the main-stage ELC Study: a major new data infrastructure for UK social science-led research, that will begin in the mid-2020s and potentially endure for the very long term. This work has not yet been fully specified or commissioned. Within this, ‘the core ELC’ refers to the core survey of the main-stage ELC, to which supplementary qualitative studies would operate in parallel
The core ELC will have the following features, subject to testing by the ELC-FS and business case development:
- a UK-wide, interviewer-led, quantitative survey, with biomarkers and, potentially, other novel measures, and the use of alternative modes where appropriate
- means to maximise representativeness of the target population (babies born in the UK). This will include an initial sample of babies drawn from administrative data held by public agencies across the UK to ensure a representative sample with boosted numbers of minority groups
- use of data linkage to enhance the value of other data collection and to understand non-response
- harmonisation to facilitate comparative work with other longitudinal studies
The main-stage ELC Study must be as representative as practicable of the target population (babies born in the UK in the mid-2020s). The core ELC Study will use a random probability sample drawn from a sampling frame with high population coverage to do this. Boosts of low-income and minority-ethnic families are also likely in the core ELC Study to ensure research outputs using the study data can consider these groups’ experiences.
Members of very seldomly heard groups are unlikely to be included in the core ELC Study in sufficient numbers to enable robust quantitative analysis. Therefore, ESRC is considering commissioning separate longitudinal qualitative studies, running in parallel to the core ELC study and potentially using alternative participant recruitment, engagement and information gathering methods, to enable additional insights to be generated about such groups. The qualitative studies would be secure, open data collections that can be used to address a range of research questions.
How the parallel qualitative studies will be set up and managed in relation to the core ELC is not yet fully established.
Funding opportunity objectives
The overall objective of this opportunity is to provide evidence-based recommendations on the design and implementation of parallel longitudinal qualitative studies which would supplement ESRC’s core ELC Study. The delivery of the parallel studies themselves is outside the scope of this opportunity.
‘Seldom heard’ is defined here as groups who tend to be underrepresented (or not represented at all) in general population studies.
At minimum, the scoping study should cover the following aspects of the study design (you can supplement these with other relevant areas):
- effective approaches to participant recruitment, including recommendations on the numbers of participants that could be achieved. This may include options for nesting qualitative samples within the core ELC survey sample and alternative approaches to sampling
- approaches for optimising recruitment and minimising attrition over time
- data collection methods
- data curation and archiving (which must be in accordance with the ESRC data policy)
Within this it is expected that the commissioned investment will:
- identify practical and methodological challenges and suggest how to overcome them
- develop design options and advice for recruiting 2 or more particular groups to be aligned with the objectives of the ELC Study, a social science-led birth cohort study
- review approaches used in similar studies in the UK and internationally, and synthesise learning from these
- engage meaningfully with organisations and relevant non-higher education institution (HEI) experts interested in ensuring the inclusion of individuals and groups of particular interest likely to be missing from the core ELC Study
- draw on the expertise of individuals and organisations with experience of designing and managing studies with qualitative data collection with seldom-heard groups
- hold a networking event or discussion forum involving people with lived experience or other expertise relevant to the selected seldom-heard families of interest
- engage with the ELC-FS team as necessary, and their partners the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, who are working with them to deliver recommendations about the inclusion of children supported by the child welfare system (including looked after children) in the main-stage ELC, potentially through a parallel study
- recommend how to make the data generated by the qualitative studies of maximum value to data users, including users from the policy and practice communities
- recommend best practice in the creation of a longitudinal, qualitative data resource
It is required that, very near the start of the project, the grant holders will organise a project initiation workshop. Invited participants will include ESRC, members of the ESRC-convened ELC advisory group, and (for certain agenda items) the ELC-FS co-directors, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and any other key stakeholders.
The main outcomes from this will include discussion and agreement of the investment’s documentation and reporting arrangements, and how and when the grant holders will engage with the ELC-FS team. Costs for a 5-hour workshop in a hybrid meeting format may be included in proposals.
Suggestions of potential seldom-heard families are set out in annex 1 in the ‘Supporting documents’ section. You are required to include at least 2 groups in your proposal, though these need not be drawn from annex 1.
You should outline why each of the chosen groups would be a suitable subject for your scoping study, with rationales relating to either:
- the public value of undertaking future qualitative work with the group, particularly in terms of research or policy impact, which would make engagement of the group via a targeted qualitative study a priority
- the value and generalisability of the learning that could be obtained by making the group a subject of the scoping study, recognising that the parallel studies themselves may engage different or additional groups
For each seldom-heard group identified, you are expected to work with at least 1 non-HEI partner either with direct experience as a member of the selected seldom-heard group or experience of working with people from it. Proposals without such a partnership will need to demonstrate how the work could be delivered effectively without such an approach. The nature of the engagement should be discussed in your proposal.
In its initial phase, the core ELC Study’s main participants will be the sampled babies’ primary and additional caregivers, with some direct data collection likely (such as developmental measures, or measures of height or weight) from the child. As the children age, engagement will shift to being with them directly. The scoping study commissioned through this opportunity must therefore focus on ways to engage seldom-heard families who have young children, rather than members of these groups more generally.
Initial data collection is expected to begin in the core ELC Study within the first 12 months of index participants’ lives. ESRC recognises that engaging seldom-heard families may need to occur when their children are older. It is therefore acceptable for scoping studies to consider families with children who may be recruited from birth to age 5. Proposals should state a brief rationale for this, which considers the implications on comparability with the core ELC study.
It is expected that groups whose members comprise a relatively high proportion of the overall target population (UK-born children), but which are at risk of under-representation in surveys would be included in the core ELC Study sample, with oversampling as necessary to enable rigorous quantitative analysis. Indicative examples include families with low-income parents, or minority-ethnic groups that are numerous in the population. These groups are not, therefore, a priority for inclusion in the parallel qualitative studies.
Qualitative work with low-income families (with an ethnic minority boost) and own-household fathers about the potential benefits and barriers to taking part in the core ELC Study has already occurred within the ELC-FS. These groups are therefore out of scope for this funding opportunity.
Funding opportunity deliverables
While funding is available until March 2024, it is expected that high-quality draft deliverables will be available to ESRC by December 2023, so that we can engage with the grant holders in the development of final versions of these.
The main deliverable is a publishable report with an executive summary (maximum 20 pages plus annexes) outlining study design options, as specified in the opportunity objectives. The timely publication of this report in an open-access repository will be a condition of ESRC’s award. A short confidential annex for ESRC can be provided if necessary.
The draft study report may be subject to review and revision processes prior to acceptance and publication. 1 day of investigator time to make revisions may be included in proposals’ costs.
Monitoring and reporting
Requirements regarding monitoring and reporting will be set out in the terms and conditions of the grant award between ESRC and the award recipient. These will be engaged with the wider governance arrangements for ESRC’s Early Life Cohort programme, which includes an advisory group and management board.
At the start of the grant, the grant holders will be required to produce an updated timeline, deliverables list and risk register for the investment, for regular discussion with ESRC.
As mentioned above, the final versions of the project documentation will be discussed and agreed at the project initiation workshop.