FEATURE26 January 2022

Reflecting reality: The future of ‘nat rep’

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The concept of ‘nationally representative’ samples has been central to the research industry for decades, but is now facing questions over whether it is truly ‘representative’, and if it needs to change. Liam Kay reports.

Mulit-coloured hand prints

We all think we know what ‘nationally representative’ means. It is a sample that broadly reflects the population as a whole, taking into account gender, age,  region and occupation, and occasionally social class. It is a tried and tested method that has been in use in research for decades, and is the backbone of much of the industry’s work with the public.

The question, however, is whether this relatively narrow concept of nationally representative samples is reflective of the modern UK. Since the first census took place in 1801, there have been radical changes across society, and the UK is arguably a vastly different country from what it was only a few decades ago.

Some have argued that these societal changes necessitate expanding national representative samples, to include factors such as race, gender preference, disability and sexuality. “You are marginalising a subset of people if you are not including their voices in a research piece, ” says Graham Idehen, director, customer success ...