As a social research officer, you can use your research and analytical skills to help shape and improve government policy
The Government Social Research service (GSR) provides social and societal behavioural research and advice to support policy decision-making. The research relates to society, groups and individuals, and helps government to understand the issues that affect people.
As a government social research officer, you will be responsible for the research and analysis of policy, and will commission and manage research projects. You will work closely with civil servants and other government analysts, such as operational researchers, economists and statisticians.
As a government social research officer, you'll need to:
- work on a range of research projects and employ a variety of different research methodologies (if undertaking research internally)
- discuss and agree project requirements with be policy officials and ministers
- draft research specifications
- agree the terms of reference for research
- commission and manage research projects
- comment on draft research instruments, such as questionnaires, and edit draft reports
- conduct or commission, then analyse, in-depth interviews with members of the public and large-scale data sets
- manage junior staff (supervising, encouraging and mentoring)
- ensure that research is conducted within a set time frame to meet policy requirements
- manage competitive tendering exercises
- ensure quality control of research
- provide information and analysis on a policy issue and its development
- provide information on what research is already available in a policy area
- work in close partnership with external research contractors, other government analysts, and policy colleagues during the course of the research
- produce both written and oral briefs for policy colleagues and ministers, based on reviews of research evidence
- respond to external and internal research enquiries from colleagues, government departments, academics, local councils, regional development agencies and members of the public
- explain complex ideas and findings in a way that can be easily understood
- keep up to date with developments in policy and social issues, as well as with qualitative and quantitative research methods
- deliver presentations at conferences.
- Starting salaries for graduates (entry-level research officers) range from £25,000 to £30,000. Those entering with a postgraduate qualification may begin on a higher starting salary.
- Graduates entering on the fast stream can expect starting salaries of £27,000, but they'll gain a breadth of experience in a shorter time and can usually expect to get to the level of principal research officer in around four years.
- Pay increases are performance based, but a salary of £45,000 to £55,000 can be achieved after four to five years in the role.
At senior level (principal research officer), salaries may be higher.
Salary scales vary across departments, but most provide additional benefits such as flexible working hours and a pension scheme.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Full-time working hours are usually 9am to 5.30pm, but some flexibility may be required to accommodate busy workloads and project timetables.
You may be able to work part time or job share, but there are no opportunities for self-employment.
What to expect
- You'll mainly be office-based, but will attend meetings, events and conferences.
- At times the work may be stressful, as you'll need to deliver a high standard of work to deadline in response to shifting priorities.
- The role is challenging, fast-moving and diverse and has a direct impact on many government activities, often at a high-profile level.
- In terms of geographic availability, locations include Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, London, Newport and Titchfield, Hampshire.
- Some travel within the UK may be necessary, such as if you're working on a project with other government departments in another city, or you need to conduct interviews or hold meetings with external research contractors.
For entry into government social research, you need a good first or higher degree in a social science subject, with a substantial social research component. Mathematics and statistics graduates are sometimes employed.
If you have a second class honours degree (in any subject) you can gain entry by first taking a relevant postgraduate qualification.
The following subjects may improve your chances:
- political science or politics
- social policy
- social sciences
- social statistics
If your undergraduate degree does not include training in social research methods, you could pursue further study. Search postgraduate courses in research methods.
A Masters degree or PhD in a social science subject is not a requirement for new research officers, but many people with these postgraduate qualifications do apply for government research officer posts. Such qualifications demonstrate commitment and may be useful for future career development.
The Civil Service runs the Civil Service Fast Stream, a fast-track scheme for graduates to work as social, economic, statistical and operational researchers. Visit the website for further information and entry requirements. Visit Government Social Research Fast Stream scheme for further information and entry requirements.
For more information about the role of a government social researcher and for details about entry to this career, see the Government Social Research (GSR) profession.
You'll need to show:
- strong research and numerical skills
- knowledge and experience of using statistical theory and techniques
- the ability to use the internet for research
- a strong interest in the policy process and its impact on government decisions
- a high level of knowledge in the use of database software and specialist packages, such as SPSS
- strong communication and interpersonal skills
- an understanding of the political process
- a high level of motivation and initiative
- a determination to explore issues thoroughly
- the ability to think analytically
- good organisational skills
- the ability to work well as part of a team.
The Civil Service operates a Guaranteed Interview Scheme for applicants with disabilities and also a GSR Summer Student Placement Scheme. Applicants to the scheme should be in the penultimate year of an undergraduate degree which includes around a third of modules in social research methods and must be expecting a 2.1 or first class honours degree. The GSR also provides sandwich student placements for students in their penultimate year of their undergraduate degree with a substantial social research methods component.
Although not essential, work experience in an applied research setting is desirable.
Each department undertakes its own recruitment. New graduates are usually recruited as research officers; for senior research officer posts you'll be expected to have relevant work experience.
Entry is competitive. Consider writing to the chief researcher in a department to ask for work experience or work shadowing. Industrial placements for undergraduate students on sandwich degree courses are offered by the Welsh Government.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provides opportunities for PhD students, funded by them, to undertake government internships.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Government social research officer jobs arise in the following central departments:
- Cabinet Office
- Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
- Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
- Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
- Department for Education
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
- Department for Transport (DfT)
- Department for Work & Pensions (DWP)
- Department of Health & Social Care
- Home Office
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
- HM Treasury
- Legal Aid Agency (LAA)
- Office for National Statistics (ONS)
- Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
- Scottish Government
- Welsh Government
There are also opportunities within local authorities in areas such as:
- economic development
- neighbourhood renewal.
These roles often involve a crossover with policy and information work. Local authorities tend to advertise vacancies through national and local press and on their own websites.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Civil Service Job Search
- Individual government department websites
- Local Government Jobs and individual local council websites for research officer vacancies with local authorities
- Local Authorities Research and Intelligence Association (LARIA)
- National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)
- Social Research Association (SRA) Jobs
As a government social research officer, you'll find that considerable emphasis is put on training, both on the job and by attending courses. The nature of the role demands the ability to take in a high level of information quickly and develop new skills at a fast pace.
Some departments may support social research officers who wish to undertake a relevant, part-time postgraduate degree. If you're accepted onto the fast stream, you'll have access to a development programme designed to develop your social research, managerial and communication skills.
Training is planned to meet individuals' needs, but might include:
- data collection and analysis
- personal effectiveness, such as communication and presentation skills and people management
- policy process and government procedures
- project management
- research and surveying skills.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is a feature of a career in government social research. Your skills and experience are constantly reviewed and appraised, offering opportunities for further training or on-the-job development.
Experienced researchers can develop their skills through a relevant university course recommended by the Government Social Research (GSR) Service.
Training is also available through the:
It's likely you'll work as a research officer for two years before gaining promotion to position of senior research officer. If you have a postgraduate qualification, it may be possible to enter this career as a senior research officer.
Graduates on the Fast Stream undertake an accelerated development and leadership programme, giving them access to more resources in order to reach senior levels quickly. Fast streamers can expect to move jobs every 18 months to two years in the first few years of their career.
After about four years, you'll typically reach the level of principal research officer. From there you can progress to becoming a chief research officer, where you'll be head of social research in a department. As you become more senior, you'll be more involved in staff management and strategic projects and research programmes.
Career opportunities are diverse, with plenty of scope for secondments and moving between departments, and for working on different policy areas. It's possible to transfer out of research into mainstream Civil Service policy or administration roles. Secondments outside government are also possible.