In this interview Patten Smith, Chair of the SRA Board of Trustees explains why he became involved with the SRA and outlines plans for the future.
How did you know that social research was the career for you?
After my first degree in Experimental Psychology I did an MSc in social psychology at the LSE. The course was very broad and addressed a range of social issues as well as happily straying into other disciplines. Afterwards I was offered a research assistant job – coupled with a PhD – on a Home Office funded project on alienation in young men run by George Gaskell. This gave me the taste for rigorous research on social issues.
Where do you work at the moment?
Ipsos MORI where I head the Research Methods Centre (RMC). We provide methodological and analytic input to surveys across the UK company.
My main employers were NatCen (when it was called SCPR) and TNS BMRB (when it was called BMRB!)
Who is your social research hero/heroine?
I don't really have heroes! But if I can reframe the question as being about mentors and influences it becomes easier to answer. I learnt a good deal about the craft of social research from the cohort of senior directors who were at SCPR when I joined in 1986 – especially Barry Hedges, Douglas Wood and Gill Courtenay. But to these I should add as an influence the great Roger Jowell who founded and directed SCPR at the time I was there. Roger had very clear ideas about what social research is for and how it should be conducted, ideas which underpinned both SCPR’s work and the SRA’s founding principles. I shared these ideas then and continue to do so now.
How did you first hear about the SRA?
Probably from going to evening seminars in 1986. They were very instructive – so much so that we have reinstated them.
When did you become involved with the SRA - why did you join the Board?
I’ve had low-level involvement over the years, mainly in providing training. But I have to confess that joining the Board had not occurred to me until it was suggested by an SRA colleague. But when it was suggested I realised that this was exactly the right thing to do. As I mentioned above I have firm ideas about why social research is important and how it should be practised, and the SRA gives me a platform from which to preach!
Which of the SRA plans are you particularly excited about?
We have recently been developing a new strategic plan for the SRA – applying our core values to the ever-changing research environment.
And we are also looking into the idea of putting together a journal devoted to UK relevant social research. Because much of social research is conducted outside Academe we don’t have an obvious place to publish the kind of work we do. This would aim to remedy this situation
Looking forward – where would you like to see social research and the SRA being in 5 years time?
Social research: (i) consistently high quality standards across the board but using methods that embrace new technologies; and (ii) greater, more considered and critical use of the evidence we provide by policy makers.
SRA: playing a major role in making these things happen.
Miscellaneous getting-to-know you
What do you do in your spare time?
I am involved in a wide variety of family activities (my children range in age from 4 to 21). And reading (a range of genres and subjects) and photography (both digital and old-school dark-room based).
I think most of the things people don’t know about me should stay unknown – that leaves open the possibility that they are interesting!