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Prof. Dr. Lisa Calderwood

University College London | United Kingdom

"Innovation, engagement and inclusivity: a feasibility study for a new UK birth cohort"

Professor Dr. Lisa Calderwood, from the University College London (UCL) is going to give a lecture as part of the LIfBi Lectures series.

Longitudinal birth cohort studies are vital for understanding the health, development and outcomes of successive generations of children. The UK has a long and unique history of such studiesThe Early Life Cohort Feasibility Study (ELC-FS), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is testing the feasibility of conducting a new UK-wide birth cohort study, by collecting information about several thousand babies aged between 8-10 months old and their families. It is led by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at University College London. Evidence from the feasibility study will be used to inform the potential commissioning of a much larger main study which, if a decision is made to proceed, is expected to begin in 2026.

Evidence from previous birth cohort studies has had very significant scientific and policy impact. However, there is increasing recognition that often those families who are of most interest from a research and policy perspective are less likely to be recruited and retained in national studies. To address this, the ELC-FS has a very strong focus on inclusivity and is designed to maximise representation of ‘less often heard’ groups through sample boosts of babies born into disadvantaged and ethnic minority families, as well as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We use tailored participant engagement strategies and have designed the study to be accessible and inclusive to all types of families.

As the study is designed for public benefit, we have undertaken a wide range of public engagement with parents of children and young people to ensure acceptability of the proposed sampling, data collection and record linkage approaches, and to inform the study design and implementation. This work has allowed public voices from a diverse set of backgrounds to be heard and acted on, helped ensure the study serves the needs of the people it represents, and enabled the study to build trust and deliver transparency in the use of personal data.

The study includes a number of scientific and methodological innovations. We are collecting saliva for DNA extraction with a randomised subgroup (to test the impact on recruitment), and experimentally testing different approaches to collecting data linkage consents. Interviews were carried out using web, phone and video-interviewing as well as face-to-face, fathers (including those living in their own households) are directly recruited to the study as well as mothers. We included experiments to test the effectiveness of targeted differential incentives, both conditional and unconditional, and use a web-only non-response follow-up. Separate to the survey component, we are also carrying out small-scale field tests to evaluate the feasibility of fieldwork agency staff collecting a range of specialised objective measures, for potential inclusion in the future study. These novel measures are neuro-scientific (looking-time task, eye-tracking and mobile EEC, with an acimetry device), early language environment (placement of LENA device in the home), biosampling (feasibility of collecting and assaying hair samples) and anthropometry (including weight, length, head circumference and adiposity).

This lecture will give an overview of the design and implementation of the ELC-FS, with a focus on innovation, engagement and inclusivity, and will present some early findings from the survey relating to response rates, data quality, and the experimental components of the feasibility study. 

Lisa Calderwood is Professor of Survey Research, Co-Director of Early-Life Cohort Feasibility Study and Managing Director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. She has over 20 years’ experience of the design and implementation of complex, large scale longitudinal surveys.
Her research areas include non-response, surveying children and young people, innovations in participant engagement, new technologies and mixed-modes of data collection, administrative data linkage and integrating bio-measures in social surveys. Lisa has strong national and international networks within the cohort studies community, is a co-ordinator for the cohort network of Society of Lifecourse and Longitudinal Studies and is involved in the European-wide COORDINATE and GUIDE initiatives.