Published on April 17, 2015

Bored in purdah? Here’s some reading

By Amy Pollard

Dr Amy Pollard is Deputy Director at Involve. She has over 10 years experience working on accountability, policy and power, and a passion for using effective public engagement to drive positive change.

Cute cats and politics:  It must be purdah

Purdah is in full swing. For those who are unfamiliar, this is the period before an election when civil servants are prevented from doing anything that might favour one political party or another – and it makes for unusual lull in the normal cacophony of Whitehall announcements. A very broad range of activities are off the menu for civil servants during for this period: one Cabinet Office Director recently advised his staff to stick to cute kittens in their social media work.

If influencing the outcome of an election was within the gift of any civil servant who talks about a case study or recommends an article on twitter, then winning a political campaign would surely be as easy as pie.  As an aside, it’s an illuminating thought experiment into how different the challenges around ‘policy impact’ look when you are aiming *not* to influence anything.  This is worth bearing in mind next time your initiative is being grilled on whether it has any evidence of it achieving impact and policy influence.  Thinking in purdah mode, there’s an equally valid question of what evidence exists that an initiative hasn’t had any influence.

But anyway, if you are taking the opportunity of the purdah lull to catch up on some literature – or to think about some issues that are usually outside your normal role, here are three recommendations for reading:


  • Pathways through participation
    An Involve classic, the Pathways through Participation study revealed the different ways that real people participate in society as active citizens – and what pathways there are between their different types of activities.  Based on a two and a half-year qualitative study, it’s a fantastically comprehensive guide to what motivates people to take part in different aspects of civic life, and reveals how participation is usually not a one-off activity but part of a journey in people’s lives.


  • Data policy and the public
    Whichever government we get, data is going to be high on the agenda of the next government – and with a new head of Digital in the Cabinet Office we can expect this ethically contentious area to maintain a high profile.  This recent Sciencewise briefing by my colleague Josephine Suherman-Bailey is for civil servants who expect to be making policy related to data over the next 5 years and are considering how to bring the public into this potentially controversial area.


  • Two things you need to know about public engagement
    Possibly my favourite ever Involve blog post, this short post by Simon Burall boils down the complex issues around public engagement to just two key points.  Both the post itself and the thread of comments below are a really revealing insight into the critical questions that anyone looking to engage the public needs to ask themselves.

Photo credit:  Ken Bosma

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