Sociologists go to Whitehall

By Judith Mudd, BSA Chief Executive

Sitting in the Churchill Room at Whitehall earlier this month, hearing sociologists sharing insights from their research with civil servants, I felt hugely positive about the value of sociology. Revealing the unknown or unspoken, turning the tables on assumptions, showing the disconnect between policy and take up are the kinds of things that sociologists do brilliantly and seeing this happening live in Whitehall was a real privilege. What struck me was how vital it is that civil servants grapple with the difference between what you might want or expect groups of people to do and what they actually do. This was the first time the BSA had organised an event at Whitehall – quite something given that the Association has been around since 1951.

BSA President, Professor Susan Halford, working closely with the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team, teamed up with a group of eminent academics in the field for ‘Digital Futures?’. Computer Scientist, Dave de Roure, joined Sociologists Professor Phil Howard, Professor Sonia Livingstone, Dr Huw Davies, Professor Phil Brown, Professor Jacquie O’Reilly, Professor Helen Kennedy and Dr Ben Williamson shared the platform with civil servants Josie Fraser (Head of Social Technology Security and Online Harms Directorate), Xander Mahoney (Policy Adviser, Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), and Farah Ahmed (Head of Data Ethics at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) to talk about the impact of digital technologies on youth, work and data.

Public Engagement is a big part of Susan’s role and engaging with government is one of the trustees strategic priorities. She is doing us proud. Coverage of the day will appear in The House magazine – Parliament’s in-house journal, delivered to all MPs and Peers – as well as in Network and a blog piece written by Susan is now on the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team’s blog.

As I watched speakers giving their help and practical advice to civil servants in the networking time at the end of the day I thought to myself, there’s impact for you.…