EU research results


English EN
Multinational Advancement of Research Infrastructures on Ageing

Multinational Advancement of Research Infrastructures on Ageing

Periodic Report Summary 2 - SHARE_M4 (Multinational Advancement of Research Infrastructures on Ageing)

Project Context and Objectives:
SHARE, the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, has been created in response to demands by the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to address the challenges of population ageing and its social and economic challenges. SHARE provides an infrastructure of micro data that combines information on health with the economic and social living conditions of individuals as they age and as they are exposed to the societal changes precipitated by the population ageing process. SHARE is unique and innovative for three reasons: First, the survey is ex-ante harmonized across all 20 participating countries which allows comparing the effects of the different health and welfare systems in the European countries on individuals and families. Second, SHARE is multi-disciplinary and fills an important research vacuum, namely the interaction between health and socio-economic factors. Third, SHARE is longitudinal, i.e. the same individuals are repeatedly being interviewed to understand their individual aging processes and their responses to on-going social and political changes. SHARE provides a high European added value since it is a supra-national survey which draws its scientific significance from comparing social, economic and health developments across countries.
The main challenge in managing SHARE is to keep a well-balanced and comparable survey in all countries involved and to create a harmonized data base. For that reason, the centrifugal forces due to country and disciplinary differences need to be controlled. This is the main aim of the SHARE-M4 project. It includes all tasks that are essential to maintain the European added value of SHARE, especially to keep the national surveys well integrated. It complements the national financing mode of data collection as result of the ESFRI process by financing the (a) central design of the questionnaire, especially the development of new modules, (b) central data base management, dissemination, and archiving, (c) central training for interviewers, user outreach, training, and feedback, (d) software development, and (e) coordination and communication.

Project Results:
We have accomplished keeping up our excellence in service provision as well as in science by the following activities:
(a) Central design of the questionnaire, especially the development of new modules:
The reporting period covers the first preparatory stage of wave 6 in which conceptual revisions of the questionnaire were initiated that will lead to the second phase in which these revisions will be put to the test in the pilot study (February 2014) and pretest (June 2014). An important input to conceptual revision was a thorough analysis of the interview length in the fifth wave. It is our goal to keep the overall interview time steady from wave to wave. A number of innovations were introduced during the reporting period. A new case in point for SHARE’s leadership in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary panel construction was bringing back the Social Networks module and adapting it so that panel respondents will be asked to compare their network in wave 6 with the one they reported in the fourth wave. This is the first cross-national, harmonized large-scale, population-based survey study to measure changes in respondents' social networks over time.
According to our principles of module rotation, we followed through with substituting our measure of lower body strength (the so-called Chair Stand module) which was conducted in wave 5 with the measurement of lung force (the so-called Peak Flow module). This is in line with best practices in panel surveys where modules are rotated to keep respondent burden in check in each wave.
Another innovation concerns the introduction of a short scale to assess the five dominant factors of personality the so-called “Big Five”. We hope to enable our scientific data users to perform new analyses integrating measures of personality, a promising avenue in ageing research. Several nodes financed under the M4 proposal have done extensive work in further streamlining important longitudinal modules, such as modules on pensions and income. Several iterations have been conducted between the involved parties under leadership of Prof. Guglielmo Weber at Padua University and numerous changes and cuts were decided to reduce the burdensomeness of the modules and improve the conversational flow of the modules. To give but one example, we will be piloting a new automated coding of occupational categories based on the latest research by ISCO experts. In practice, respondents will state their occupation in their own words and an autocomplete mechanism will suggest a number of standardised occupational categories upon the interviewer’s entering of the first few letters, much like the google auto-complete function. The interviewer will then confirm with the respondent which suggested category makes for the best match. If successful in the pilot runs, this will be a very efficient way of coding occupational categories in congruence with an internationally harmonized standard.
While revising the English source questionnaire is considered a necessary starting point for better translations into the national languages, SHARE Central commissioned a translation verification of all 27 translations of the fifth wave. The goal was to obtain external, professional feedback on SHARE translations from trained translators that would then be utilised as input for the upcoming translation of the wave 6 questionnaire, to be performed by the scientific country teams. At the time of writing (January 2014), first feedback on this input from country teams is highly positive, confirming SHARE’s excellence in providing high-quality feedback to all stakeholders.
Further improvements were accomplished in devising a module for gathering Dried Blood Spots in wave 6. Several versions will be available and applied according to the national ethical requirements, e.g. whether information about the upcoming blood sample collection is sent to respondents in advance or whether feedback is given about the individual blood results after centralised analyses have been conducted. In each case the interview text that the interviewer has to read out loud has been changed in order to follow as close as possible the flow of a natural conversation. Furthermore more explicit interviewer instructions are given to make the blood collection as easy as possible. All this helps to improve the consent rate on the one hand and the quality of the samples on the other.
Finally, we have increased our efforts in harmonizing the assessment of respondents’ willingness to have their survey data linked to administrative data of their countries. We have successfully done this in Germany with data of the German Pension Fund in waves 4 and 5 and seek to further extend this in wave 6 in other countries. As access rules and laws governing the usage of administrative data are highly heterogeneous between the European countries, it will remain a key challenge to create a unified survey instrument able to handle that heterogeneity.
(b) Central data base management, dissemination, and archiving:
The key achievements in central data base management were scientific releases of all regular SHARE waves, accompanied by detailed release documentation for the users. A milestone was reached with the first release of wave 4 data in November 2012. An updated version of wave 4 data with improved imputations and weights was released in March 2013. At the same time a user friendly job episodes panel data set mainly based on wave 3 data was disseminated to the scientific research community. Data from wave 1 and wave 2 was updated and released, together with programs and data files that enable users to compute their own weights for special purposes in November 2013. In addition an integrated easy to use training data set based on data from all waves was released to further improve our services for less experienced users. The public releases of SHARE now provide data from 2004 through 2012, of more than 85.000 individuals in 19 countries, collected in about 150,000 interviews. User friendly generated modules are provided together with all releases, e.g. standardised information on education, regions or health. A new generated social network and support module was provided together with the release of wave 4 data. It contains indices and variables that combine information from various modules and reduce the complexity of the data for users.
To prepare these scientific releases as well as the data collection of wave 5, data from all previous waves has been checked again for consistencies between waves, e.g. correct linkage of panel respondents. So called preload data files were prepared for all countries and checked for inconsistencies with information from the survey agencies. These files including information on respondents from previous waves are used to make the interview shorter and less repetitive for panel respondents. Not only because interviews in SHARE are conducted in 25 languages, checking cleaning and dissemination of the data can only be done in close cooperation with the country teams. A lot of communication and coordination between the central data base management and the country teams, as well as special training, took place to ensure the high quality standards and the unique ex-ante harmonisation of the SHARE data.
(c) Central training for interviewers, user outreach, training, and feedback:
A prominent example of our success in user outreach and user feedback during the reporting period was the user conference in the fall of 2013 in Liège, Belgium: This conference, building on our experiences of earlier user conferences, brought together designers and users of SHARE. More than 100 international researchers from various disciplines presented and discussed their work. It provided a very fruitful opportunity for the scientific teams dealing with the revision of the actual questionnaire to learn from the scientific data users what was actually used. It is rewarding for all survey designers to see how the output of their efforts helped in advancing the understanding of the population ageing process. In addition, the release of a new training data set was celebrated during that meeting – and is expected to considerably push the use of SHARE data in university courses.
Another important accomplishment during the reporting period was holding the full circle of three intensive training sessions for national head interviewers, the people who later train the fieldwork interviewers that conduct the SHARE interviews. SHARE has successfully implemented a highly appreciated train-the-trainer (TTT) concept, in which all technical, logistical and managerial aspects of successful fieldwork were conveyed and, even more important, trained with hands-on experience. SHARE puts great emphasis on multi-modal teaching methods that ensure that standardised best practices of interviewing (such as active listening and being prepared to deal with respondent reluctance) are being trained at the national level. In addition, we assessed the correct implementation in the SHARE countries with a standardised form and in some instances visited national training sessions to observe national trainings first-hand and compare the curriculum with the template provided through the central TTTs.
(d) Software development:
During the reporting period, we implemented some significant changes in all software tools. The online platform used to translate the questionnaire was overhauled to such an extent that we renamed it to Translation Management Tool (TMT), formerly “Language Management Utility (LMU)” . New features of the TMT include the inline editing of questions, multi-language views, full compatibility to manage multiple surveys simultaneously, a richer overview of the history of the questionnaire translations, advanced options to better document the translation process, a better local management dashboard, new exports and the option to implement more advanced translation workflows like TRAP-D.
During the reporting period, the sample management system (SMS) with the sample distributor tool (SD) experienced their actual test during the data collection of wave 5 from January to November 2013. All innovations in the pilot and pre-test phases of wave 5 paid off as we experienced a much smoother technical run of fieldwork than in wave 4. The most striking innovation was the availability of an advanced database back-end in the Sample Distributor, implemented with MySQL technology. This innovation prevented transmission speed performance issues even with increasing data throughput at advanced stages of fieldwork.
We further refined and beta-tested a multi-mode interviewing facility tailored to the 50+ in order to reduce survey costs. It allows the migration of survey modes from the most costly face-to-face procedure to mail-out and ultimately web-based applications. We adapted the paper-pencil-questionnaire in an online questionnaire and subjected the entire system to a first test run in the Netherlands. This test showed good results and a more substantive test data collection is planned for early 2014 before the final software can be ready for dispatch in a main data collection in the future.
(e) Coordination and communication:
SHARE is in its essence a team-based effort, not only across scientific disciplines but also across professional boundaries and across different interests and goals of the groups involved. Thus, maintaining a culture of intensive cooperation remained a key challenge we had to deal with during the entire reporting period. This was accomplished by very tight communication between central coordination in Munich and the area coordinators on the one side, and the country teams on the other side. Most of the daily communication uses the Internet. Substantial personnel effort is devoted to the cooperation between the central coordination and the country teams. In addition, we had workshops and conferences about every two-three months.
An important area of accomplishments for a tighter coordination was the establishment of coherent standards and procedures with the ultimate goal of an efficient use of the research infrastructure. For example, SHARE has elaborated on the concept of “Compliance Profiles” based on the previously started work of the quality profiles, which were spearheaded by our colleagues from the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, USA. The novelty accomplished under the M4 work packages was the extension of a purely descriptive approach to a quantified internal evaluation of the performance of the national surveys with respect to quality standards outlined in the SHARE model contract. We released this evaluation report on our internal website after presenting a first draft to the Scientific Monitoring Board.

Potential Impact:
The next major steps are pilot and pretest in February and June 2014 and the fielding of wave 6 in January 2015 after the end of this project. The data of wave 6 will be unique as they contain information on the time use and well-being as well as dried blood spots from respondents from all participating SHARE countries. The release of the data, however, is uncertain as the continuation of the data base preparation under a similar grant in H2020 is still open.
List of Websites:

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 261982


Closed project

  • Start date

    1 January 2011

  • End date

    31 December 2014

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 7 663 671,88

  • EU contribution

    € 5 499 991,81

Coordinated by: