Norman Bradburn is a Senior Fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago. He also serves as the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He additionally serves on the faculties of the Harris School, the Department of Psychology, the Booth School of Business, and the College. He is a former provost of the University (1984–1989), chairman of the Department of Behavioral Sciences (1973–1979), and associate dean of the Division of the Social Sciences (1971–1973). From 2000–2004, he was the assistant director for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation. Associated with NORC since 1961, he has been director of NORC and president of its Board of Trustees. In 2017, he was elected to membership in the National Academy of Education.
As a social psychologist, Bradburn has been at the forefront in developing theory and practice in the field of sample survey research. He has focused on psychological well-being and assessing quality of life, particularly through the use of large-scale sample surveys; non-sampling errors in sample surveys; and research on cognitive processes in responses to sample surveys. His book, Thinking About Answers: The Application of Cognitive Process to Survey Methodology (co-authored with Seymour Sudman and Norbert Schwarz; Jossey-Bass 1996), follows three other publications on the methodology of designing and constructing questionnaires: Polls and Surveys: Understanding What They Tell Us (with Seymour Sudman; Jossey-Bass 1988); Asking Questions: A Practical Guide to Questionnaire Construction (with Seymour Sudman; Jossey-Bass 1982; 2nd edition with Brian Wansink, 2004); and Improving Interviewing Method and Questionnaire Design (Jossey-Bass 1979).
Bradburn is the chair of the Chapin Hall Center for Children Board of Directors. He was chair of the Committee on National Statistics of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences (NRC/NAS) from 1993 to 1998, and is past president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (1991–1992). Bradburn chaired the NRC/NAS panel to advise the Census Bureau on alternative methods for conducting the 2000 Census. The report, published as Counting People in the Information Age, was presented to the Census Bureau in October 1994. He was a member of the NRC/NAS panel to review the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the panel to assess the 2000 Census. He is currently a member of the Board on Research Data and Information at the National Academy of Sciences. Bradburn was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994. In 1996, he was named the first Wildenmann Guest Professor at the Zentrum für Umfragen, Methoden. und Analysen in Mannheim, Germany. He is currently on a National Academy Committee on the use of social science evidence in public policy. He is also advising the UN Economic Commission on Europe on the development of an annual survey of energy experts in the countries covered by the Commission (essentially all European countries plus the states of the former Soviet Union) to assess risks to energy security.