Data treasure trove for sound decision-making - German Academies call for more reliable funding of population-based longitudinal studies
Pension funding, health care, educational policy, family support - policy decisions in almost all fields are made on the basis of past, current and predicted social developments. Population-based longitudinal studies provide much of the data underlying these decisions. In a joint statement, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech - the National Academy of Science and Engineering and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities outline ways of achieving the sustainable design, funding and implementation of such population-based longitudinal studies.
Population-based longitudinal studies form the backbone of empirical research in the social, economic and behavioural sciences as well as in epidemiology and health research. They provide the information that serves to test theories and make new observations, while also constituting the basis for evidence-based policy advice. Over 30 such studies are currently being conducted in Germany. Well-known examples are the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) and the National Cohort (NAKO). Germany is also involved in a number of internationally comparative studies, such as the longitudinal Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Longitudinal studies are defined by the fact that instead of taking representative samples just once, they conduct several rounds of surveys over long periods of time with the same group of people, as far as this is possible. This enables researchers to record developments over time.
The longer the regular surveys have already been carried out, the more valuable their data is for scientific evaluation. The "oldest" of the longitudinal studies still in progress in Germany began in the mid-1980s. Keeping these large studies going over long periods of time is very time-consuming and cost-intensive. They are rather like the "large-scale devices" of social science research, comparable with particle accelerators and research ships. Unfortunately, however, there are shortcomings in the current infrastructure of longitudinal studies, particularly with regard to the funding instruments and the education and training of staff working on the studies, as reported by the academies in their statement entitled "The relevance of population-based longitudinal studies for science and social policies".
To address the challenges involved in the sustainable implementation of longitudinal studies, the study recommends that the funding of longitudinal studies should be regarded as a national responsibility and that specific tenders should be made for interdisciplinary research collaborations. Funding should not be limited in terms of time but should be continued for as long as the scientific relevance and the quality of the surveys can be proven. The academies also call for improved coordination of the surveys on the European level. This would involve creating cross-border funding mechanisms and improved international data transfer systems. With regard to the scientific personnel for the studies, the academies recommend establishing more reliable career paths and advanced training opportunities in project management for senior study staff. The statement also outlines ways to improve the training of students, doctoral students and post-docs in the design, implementation and evaluation of longitudinal studies.
The relevance of population-based longitudinal studies for science and social policies. A statement by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, 95 pages, ISBN: 978-3-8047-3553-8
The statement and the summary of the statement are freely accessible at:
Further information on the publications of the academies on this topic: www.leopoldina.org/en/politikberatung/wissenschaftliche-kommissionen/demografischer-wandel
The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech - the National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities provide policymakers and society with independent, science-based guidance on issues of crucial importance for our future. The Academy's members and the other experts are outstanding researchers from Germany and abroad. Working in interdisciplinary groups, they draft statements that are published in the series of papers Schriftenreihe zur wissenschaftsbasierten Politikberatung after being externally reviewed and subsequently adopted by the Standing Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina was lead coordinator of the project "The relevance of population-based longitudinal studies for science and social policies".
Caroline Wichmann, Head of Press and Public Relations
German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
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