David Johnson is Head of Research and Evaluation in the Household Energy Efficiency Programme at the Department of Energy and Climate Change
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never really had any idea what I wanted to be. I did have a week’s work experience in a solicitor’s office as that was a fleeting career thought in my teens but I didn’t really enjoy it.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
That was when I got the chance to do a Master’s degree whilst working in an operational delivery post in the Child Support Agency. I really loved the chance to understand the theory behind the front-line delivery and decided I wanted to move into a job closer to that type of work. Social research fitted the bill.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first research job was as a junior researcher with DWP. I was part of the team working on the Job Rehabilitation and Retention Pilot, a four-way randomised control trial of return to work support.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
From there I moved round various research jobs in DWP covering a wide range of social policy research and then spent some time in the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, the Treasury and then to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, where I am now. These moves were partly motivated by promotion, partly by the regular job rotations that are part of the social research fast stream, and partly because I get bored very quickly!
What has been your best professional moment?
That’s a difficult one but I would probably say setting up the CV testing research project. It directly tested racial discrimination in the workplace and was the first time that the UK Government had carried out this type of research. It used matched CVs to respond to job adverts where a name indicating one of three ethnic minority backgrounds was randomly allocated to each CV. The rate of interview offers between the different names types was then measured.
I reckon that would be just after I moved posts for the first time and taking over a newly commissioned quali project. In my first week the main project contractor disappeared after an interview and no-one from her organisation could get hold of her. That was really worrying but luckily it all turned out fine in the end and was a miscommunications issue with her team rather than anything more concerning. It did teach me though the importance of interviewer safety when considering the ethical dimensions of a project.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
If I had to name one person it would be Professor Jane Millar at the University of Bath. She spoke at DWP’s Summer School in 1998 which I was lucky enough to go to and it was hearing her talk that made me think for the first time about social research and encouraged me to apply for DWP’s Masters Programme the year after.
Do you have a favourite quote?
Not really, but I do find myself saying ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’ rather a lot. Perhaps that reflects the applied research work that I do, but I believe that getting on and delivering research that can be used in decision making is really important, even if after the event you can always think of the question you wished you had asked. Rigorous design and well thought through questions are important, but equally important is the need for the research to be influential and have impact.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Social research is a great career but, like so many things, you get out what you put in, so get those technical skills honed and developed early on and those foundations will set you up really well for the future.