In the age of big data, social surveys haven’t lost their appeal and interest. Surveys are the instrument through which governments, for a long time, have gathered information on their population and economy to inform their choices. Interestingly, surveys conducted by, or for, governments are the best in terms of quality and coverage: because significant resources are invested in their design and realization, and especially because participation can be made compulsory by law (they are “official”), their sampling strategies are excellent and their response rates are extremely high. (Indeed, official government surveys are practically the only case in which the “random sampling” principles taught in theoretical statistics courses are actually applied). In short, these are the best “small data” available — and their qualities make them superior to many a (usually messy) big data collection. It is for this reason that surveys from official statistics have always been in high demand by social researchers.
In Europe, Eurostat has a programme of surveys that are mandatory for individual countries to undertake. They include the Survey on Income and Living Conditions, EU-SILC; Labor Force Survey, EU-LFS; Adult Education Survey, AES; Structure of Earnings Survey, SES; Community Innovation Survey, CIS; European Health Interview Survey, EHIS, and a few others. The interest of these surveys is that owing to the use of common standards, they are largely comparable across countries; Eurostat assembles Europe-wide files that are made available for reserch use at its data laboratory in Luxembourg.
In March 2015, there is going a User’s Conference at GESIS in Mannheim, for all researchers who have been using these data. It is an opportunity to encourage discussion within the research community on substantive issues (what do we learn from these data on, for example, poverty, migration, household and family, education, and labour markets?) as well as on methodological issues. It is also a way for researchers to give feedback to Eurostat, discussing needs and wants of the social science community directly with the data providers.
Researchers of all disciplines who are interested in EU-LFS, EU-SILC or other European microdata disseminated by Eurostat are invited to attend. Interestingly, the conference is sponsored by the European Commission this year (via the Data without Boundaries project) so there are no fees; but places are limited, so prior registration is required.