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UK Government commissions million-strong online citizens panel to give views on its policies

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UK Government commissions million-strong online citizens panel to give views on its policies

The Cabinet Office has signed a series of deals worth nearly £15m commissioning market-research companies to gather and analyse data on attitudes towards UK Government policy and campaigns.

Five companies will spend at least two years surveying segments of the UK population or businesses about No.10 and Cabinet Office priorities such as business engagement with government, the Union, EU transition, COVID-19, long-term economic recovery and business support.

The findings will often be used to provide “urgent advice to strategy and communication teams in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office”, according to contract documents.

As well as providing the Cabinet Office and No.10 with breakdowns and analysis of the research, the contractors will work with other private contractors including media-buying agencies and strategy planners.

The contracts will support the work of the Cabinet Office’s campaigns, insight and evaluation team, which commissions research for No.10 and other departments that provides “crucial insight into audience views and behaviour, used to shape policy and communications”.

Initially lasting two years, the contracts include the option of an up to two-year extension.

The work is divided into five lots, with the biggest, worth a maximum of £6.85m, going to YouGov to carry out public polls through an online panel of a million people.

It will initially be expected to run around three surveys a week, but this could increase to seven days a week “in a period of crisis/peak demand”. 

YouGov will also run monthly polling tracking studies for the campaigns, insight and evaluation team and the Cabinet Office national security communications team, as well as ad-hoc polls for the two units.

The contract is the second highest-value deal awarded to the market-research firm by any public body recorded on the government’s contracts database – second only to a four-year framework agreement deal with the Financial Conduct Authority last year worth £11m.

The second largest of the five lots goes to Ipsos MORI, which will be paid £3.5m to test the public’s attitudes to various policies, while Savanta Group will be paid £2.25m to poll businesses. 

Savanta has also won a £610,000 lot to carry out research in “localised areas and among specific communities or groups where the use of a nationally representative panel may not be feasible or appropriate”.

Both companies will test campaign messages, track and evaluate campaigns and model behaviour change, and develop “audience segmentations” used to target research and comms messages.

All of the deals require a range of quantitative research methodologies and sampling approaches, while the Ipsos MORI deal also calls for specialist tools such as eye-tracking or implicit attitude testing where needed.

Ipsos MORI will be paid a further £1.54m to carry out further polling, as well as data analysis and modelling using the findings of each of the other four lots.

It will use statistical analysis methods to divide audiences into segments, look at behaviour change and analyse how people’s attitudes, knowledge and reported behaviour can inform government comms. It will also analyse return on investment for government campaigns.

Asked about the contracts, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said it is standard practice for government to commission market research from external contractors.

They pointed to a response to a question about the government's use of polling organisations last year by Julia Lopez, a Cabinet Office minister, last year.

“As has been the case with successive administrations, government routinely works with suppliers to provide polling and market research work so as to understand public attitudes and behaviours to inform our vitally important campaigns and policies,” Lopez said.

“This enables us to deliver strong, national, cross-government communications campaigns, including to support the UK’s response and recovery from the pandemic. Internal policy development work is not normally disclosed.”

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