Research Commissioning

We actively promote good practice in commissioning social research.

Our Commissioning Social Research good practice guide (revised 2002) offers:

  • practical advice
  • details of the different types of competition
  • information on how to run competitive tenders
  • tips on how research buyers and suppliers can work most effectively together.

SRA/MRS Group on Research Commissioning


The SRA actively seeks to promote good practice in the way social research is commissioned. This continues its long-standing interest in the issue, which began in 1984 with a conference entitled “Can you buy it off the shelf? Alternative methods of commissioning research”, the proceedings of which were published by the SRA in January 1985. Ten years later, in 1994, a Good Practice Guide on Commissioning Social Research was published and a revised version was produced in November 2002. This guide gives practical advice on issues relating to commissioning research, including different types of competition, running competitive tenders, and ways in which research buyers and suppliers can best work together. Click here to download a copy of the 2002 good practice guide. Some sections of the guide, such as some of the EU requirements, are now out of date and the SRA is considering how best to update it. But the fundamental principles of what constitutes `good practice’ in commissioning remain the same:

  • the need for clarity about what is being sought from the research – the concerns and question(s) to be addressed ;
  •  the importance of developing a constructive dialogue between commissioner and commissioned;
  • maximising this dialogue through an open and flexible approach;
  • the need to allow adequate time for the commissioning process and the research.

More practical matters include

  • focusing the research brief more on the aims and objectives than the methods, and including a statement about the budget;
  • awareness of the range of different commissioning formats available to researchers and funders;
  • choosing the appropriate form of competition between research suppliers – direct or indirect – to suit the project;
  • keeping the final list of competitors short;
  • respecting the intellectual property rights of suppliers.

In 2004 the SRA decided to take forward some further work on commissioning and an Initiative was set up, aimed at improving practice. This Initiative was run on the basis of a mailing list of interested people who were invited to one or two meetings a year to discuss different issues relating to commissioning.

A wide range of topics were discussed by Initiative members and a number of actions set in train. These culminated in a small research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, to examine research procurement in government. The work was undertaken by Carol Goldstone Associates and two reports were published in 2011. The full report entitled “Different Ways of Procuring Social Research in Government” was published electronically by the SRA and is available here . A shorter, printed, report with a focus on implications and recommendations was published in June 2011 and is available here .

Following publication of this report, the SRA decided to set up a formal group to take forward the recommendations and promote their implementation. The group met for the first time in February 2012 as the SRA Group on Research Commissioning. But given the co-incidence of interest between market research and social research, and the active involvement of Debrah Harding, the group became the SRA-MRS Group on Research Commissioning in July 2012. It brings together representatives of those involved in commissioning, procuring and carrying out social and market research including those working in central government, the commercial and not-for-profit sectors and independent researchers. It meets three or four times a year depending on the issues being addressed.

The Group's objective is to work to improve the practice of research commissioning/procurement within the public sector in order to improve the quality of social and market research being carried out. It is seeking to do this through:

  • Sharing good practice;
  • Improving competencies
  • Influencing Government and EU procurement processes
  • Liaising with other organisations

From mid-2012 it became apparent that the way in which market and social research was procured by central government was likely to change. This became a major focus of the Group’s work including early discussions with staff from UKSBS. Several members of the Group also attended meetings organised by the Market Research Society, designed to bring the views of supplier organisations to the attention of UKSBS, and the Group and the MRS continue to work together on this, with further dialogue planned with UKSBS and the Crown Commercial Service

These debates have rather overshadowed work on sharing good practice and improving competences but these issues remain on the group’s agenda.

Prior to the group being formally set up some of its members contributed to the SRA’s response to the 2011 EU consultation paper on the Modernisation of EU Public Procurement Policy. Since 2011 group members have contributed to the SRA’s and MRS’s responses to a number of consultation documents including:

  • improved commissioning and procurement in local government in June 2012;
  • the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) Inquiry into public procurement in January 2013; and
  • the Cabinet Office consultation document, Making public sector procurement more accessible to SMEs in September 2013.

Janet Lewis, Chair to the Group.


The membership of the Group has changed over time due to jobs or roles changing.

The current members are:

Richard Bartholomew, Policy Research and Consultancy.

Debrah Harding, MRS

Janet Lewis, (Chair, Secretary)

Nigel Meager, Independent social researcher

Nick Moon, Independent social researcher (Chair)

Emma Gordon, GSR

Cat Doust, Research Programme Team, Department of Education

Nick Pettigrew, Ipsos-MORI

Wendy Sykes, Independent social researcher

Sarah Kitchen, NatCen Social Research

Graham Farrant, SRA