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Sir Humphrey Appleby’s guide to corrupt governmental research

May 3, 2011
Picture of Scottish Government crest

In this classic scene from ‘Yes Prime Minister’ Sir Humphrey Appleby explains to Bernard how opinion polls can be prepared in such a way that respondents are led to agree with whatever you want them to agree with.

In the course of my career I have worked on quite a range of governmental projects (for HMRC, Cabinet Office, Central Office of Information and several bits of the Scottish Government) and you’ll be pleased to know that Sir Humphrey’s example does not represent how they actually operate.

In the UK, the Government Social Research department has a code of practice which holds to account all of the research that is produced by the government.

Research must not be undertaken with a view to reaching particular conclusions or prescribing particular courses of action; it must strive to be objective, and any limitations to objectivity should be made transparent.

Departments/devolved administrations must ensure that they have appropriate quality assurance processes in place, with clear and transparent scrutiny mechanisms from design stage to the point of use, to guarantee the quality of their output.

The Civil Service has highly experienced trained specialists commissioning research and advising on the best use of the findings to influence policy.  As clients they are very hot around checking up on ethics and procedure at every stage.  And they produce some really good stuff – they are regularly nominated for ‘Research Excellence and Effectiveness’ industry awards.

Research doesn’t seem to appear in fiction very often, so it is nice for me to see it in one of my favourite TV shows of all time.  However, in this case fiction is exactly what it is!

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