All major survey data collection activities are facing similar budgetary pressures. The costs of traditional interviewer-administered modes of data collection (face-to-face and telephone) are rising faster than the budgets of funding agencies can sustain. Response rates are declining, and the effort to maintain high rates (or reducing the risk of nonresponse bias) continues to increase. This is especially true for panel surveys, where the risks of attrition may increasingly threaten the inferential value of the survey over time. On the other hand, the demand for high quality data continues apace, and the pressure to expand the content of key surveys increases. Understanding Society is facing the same challenges as many other large-scale panel surveys around the world. However, Understanding Society (and BHPS before it) is viewed as a leader in innovations in panel survey methods, and the innovation panel is an important vehicle for exploring new ways of dealing with the challenges facing surveys.
Over the past decade or two, new methods of data collection have emerged that offer the potential to reduce the costs of surveys. Key among these is Internet (or web) data collection. A great deal of methodological research has focused on the design and deployment of web surveys in this time, but not much of it is directly relevant to panel studies such as Understanding Society. Further, recent research is focusing on introducing mixed-mode methods into ongoing surveys, but again much of this is focused on cross-sectional surveys (such as ESS), rather than established panel studies.