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Research programmes
History and goals of the ISSP programme

The International Social Survey Programme (thereinafter ISSP) represents a particularly exceptional project due to its long-term continuity, which enables a comparison of the dynamic changes occurring across different societies on all continents.

The possibility of comparison as the aim
International dimension of ISSP
Working principles
Module preparation
Module topics
Meaning of ISSP

The possibility of comparison as the aim

The origin of ISSP dates from the 1970s. It originated as a spontaneous and informal project. Behind the initiative of researchers from more countries was the realization of a steadily growing need to compare and coordinate research design and aims in an international perspective. The ISSP was developed in stages, which was originally intended as the creation of an international comparative project without the ambition to formulate it as a long-term research programme it was to develop by stages. The beginnings of ISSP evolve from a bilateral cooperation between ZUMA (Zentrum für Umfragen, Methoden und Analysen) Mannheim, Federal Republic of Germany and American NORC (National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago. In 1982, both institutions decided to use the same research segment in their research. This involved topics such as working values, way-of-life, foeticide problems and feminism. In 1983, the SCPR (Social and Community Planning Research) in London, started a series of research on social indicators called the British Social Attitudes Survey that was drafted similarly as ZUMA and NORC research. In 1984, these three mentioned institutions, together with the Australian national university, founded the ISSP and reached a common agreement, that:
  • together they will create theme modules regarding relevant spheres of social life
  • modules will be drafted as 15 minute complements of regular national research or as individual research
  • formulate common sphere of variables (so called background variables) about socio-demographic profile of the respondent
  • they will place the acquired data immediately at the socioscientific community´s disposal.
The research results gradually started to be centrally archived, which established one of the first social data archives in the world.

International dimension of ISSP

Since its founding in 1983 to the present, the high methodological level of ISSP and thematically attractive content of the research has contributed to the enlargement of ISSP members to include thirty-eight countries. It is noteworthy that the ISSP gradually formed itself as a prestigious corporation of methodologists and specialists on quantitative research. In the year 2004, apart from the founding members from Germany, United States, Great Britain and Australia, the ISSP includes institutional representatives from the following countries: Austria, Bangladesh, Brasil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Flanders (Belgium), France, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Uruguay and Venezuela. As a rule, every country in the ISSP is represented by one research institution whereby the membership is strictly selective and follows the approval of other members. Becoming a full member of ISSP is possible only subsequent to successful archiving of the national research module. Slovakia is represented by the Sociological institute at SAS, and in years 2000 - 2002 the Institute for Public Opinion Research at the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic served as next cooperating institution. All coordinating works in the ISSP frame are executed by the so called secretariate, the management of which is generally placed in command of one elected member country (or institution). The secretariate is always appointed for the duration of three years. Mandate can be prolonged one time so that the maximum term of office is six years. In the year 2004, the running of the secretariate is placed in the command of Norway, represented in ISSP by Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD).

Working principles

There are strict working principles for functioning and working in the ISSP. These principles were last revised in April 2003 and are binding for every member. The principal duty of every member is the execution of a regular annual research module, which has to fulfil defined criteria in order that the data can be incorporated into the central data archive. All costs concerning research as well as other connected costs are met by each member country from its own resources. There is no central funding in the ISSP. In view of the fact that the costs on research modules are very high, their execution presents problems for many ISSP members. Therefore a compromise was reached making it possible to avoid a module, but missing only a maximum of two years in a sequence without the threat of exclusion from the programme. The execution of a research module has to fulfil several requirements. A significant requirement is the random (probability) sample selection (quota selection is not allowed) and the measure of national research sample, which has to comprise at least 1000 adult respondents. The recommended amount for a research sample is 1400 respondents. The participation on regular annual plenary meetings is another duty of ISSP members. Although more representatives from each member country take part on the plenary, only one voice of the member country is valid at the decision-making. Participation on the plenary meetings is important not only from a formal viewpoint, but mainly for the reason that content and methodological questions of individual thematical modules are discussed in detail on such meetings. A variety of different business meetings and the presentation of analytical and secondary analyses processed on the basis of ISSP research modules form a traditional component of plenary meetings.

Module preparation

The preparation of every research module lasts several years and the diverse subject modules repeat after a certain period of time. Repeated versions of a module have to contain at least 60 % of indicators of the primary module. This is very important, since due to this principle the ISSP gains apart from an international-comparative also a time-comparative dimension. Subcommittees delegated from individual countries prepare the research modules, while one country is charged with the preparation management (convenor). In general it is the country that made the proposal of the prepared subject. Subcommittee members take care inter alia of the execution of the pretesting in more countries parallel. The final version of the questionnaire is accepted at the ISSP plenary meeting. At the stage of drafting the questionnaire, a special emphasis is placed above all on the fact that the questions in the questionnaire are meaningful and relevant for all countries and can be adequately formulated in all participating languages. A sample form of the questionnaire is traditionally drafted in British English and is then translated into national languages. A back translation procedure is used as a form of control. At the latest, nine months after the data collection, the national data files and all technical details of the field data collection and "national" particularities are together send to the data archive to add to international data files. Zentralarchiv fur Empirische Sozialforschung at the Köln am Rhein University has ministered this operation since the beginning of the ISSP, and has cooperated intensively with Analisis Sociologicos, Economicos y politicos (ASEP) Madrid since 1997. The central archive is responsible for data integration and archiving, as well as the archiving of standardized accompanying documentation.

Module topics

Topics covering the ISSP research modules are very diverse.
The following subject modules have been executed up to the year 2004:
Role of government, Social networks, Social equalities, Family, Work orientation, Religion, Environment, National Identity.

The first subject module "Role of Government" investigated the attitudes towards civil liberties, education and parenting, social inequalities and economics. The module "Social Networks" investigated with detail the behaviour and contact with friends and relatives in different situations of life, such as financial difficulties, disease, search for emotional support, career gaining. The module "Social Inequalities" involved opportunities for social mobility, reasons for social inequalities, evaluation of social conflicts and attitudes towards income differencies between people of various vocations. The module "Work orientation" deals with work motivation, aspirational characteristics of employment, satisfaction with the profession, problems resulting from unemployment and the question of evaluation of different professions. The module "Religion" investigated the influence of religion and behaviour on social, political and moral attitudes. It included not only questions concerning religion but also questions of personal morality, sexuality, criminality and environment. The module "Environment" concentrated on behaviour problems, attitudes and knowledge about the environment. The module "National Identity" is dedicated to questions of nationalism, patriotism, globalism, localism, diversity, and immigration. Austrian members of the ISSP suggested enlarging the standard questionnaire on a special part for the countries of former Austro-Hungarian Empire that concerned attitudes and relationship of the population towards this historic state system. Some of the results brought interesting and surprising discoveries.
Approximately two-thirds of the subject modules repeat after several years. The main intention of the repetition is to identify the existence and functioning of similar trends and parallels in types of social changes in different countries throughout the world.

The summary of heretofore executed modules:

Role of Government I
Social Networks I
Social Inequality I
Family and Changing Gender Roles I
Work Orientation I
Role of Government II
Religion I
Social Inequality II
Environment I
Family and Changing Gender Roles II
National Identity I
Role of Government III
Work Orientation II
Religion II
Social Inequality III
Environment II
Social Realtions and Support Systems
Family and Changing Gender Roles III
National Identity II

Planned modules:

Work Orientation III
Role of Government IV
2007 Leisure and Sports

Although the Slovak Republic has been a member of the ISSP since 1995; financial reasons allowed the execution of only some of the modules. It was the National Identity in 1995, Religion in 1998, Social Unequalities in 1999 and Family and Changing Gender Roles in 2000. In case of National Identity the module was executed for the first time, the other two were a repetition of older modules. These were not executed in Slovakia before, since it was not yet an ISSP member and the participation of former Czechoslovakia in ISSP up to 1993 had been ensured by the Sociological Institute at AS CR. Therefore archived data do not allow a time comparation of changes within areas in question as was the case of other countries.

Function of the ISSP

The International Social Survey Programme represents an important project cross-linking socioscientific research institutes around a common programme. Some new and very important programmes such as the European Social Survey (ESS) project are the follow-ups of this "heritage". This all-European project was initiated and formulated by people who have been working for many years for ISSP as well.
ISSP offers a database for cognition and comparative analysis to societies that are either geographically or socially very distant from Europe. The methodological importance of the programme is equally significant. The synchronization of research of such a great number of culturally and historically different countries requires searching for new methodological approaches and designs which shift the degree of cognition.

For further information, contact on the ISSP members in individual countries and research data files can be found on www.issp.org. Besides this, the mentioned page offers a very extensive bibliography of works that originated on the grounds of ISSP research.
  (c) Slovak Archive of Social Data, 2004 - 2012