The Role Of Public Information Campaigns
This month we witnessed one of those rare events in the UK - a referendum. Allan Biggar explains how public information campaigns are used to raise large scale awareness and change mindsets
On the 5 May, we experienced a very rare phenomenon in the political culture of the UK. The referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) was only the second time ever a plebiscite has been held in this country. Used by politicians for only the most significant decisions that affect the UK and its unwritten constitution, the referendum is a political tool designed to reach the widest possible audience, and also...
...has the capacity to create high drama and surprise results.
However, the AV referendum created little drama and for most of us, the ‘No’ result was not a surprise. The disappointment was that the referendum campaign felt distinctly lack lustre and failed to engage the public at large.
There were, in fact, three campaigns — the campaign by the Electoral Commission to raise public awareness of the vote, plus the two campaigns led by the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps. With an estimated combined expenditure of £200m, a lot of money was thrown at a public information campaign. The Electoral Commission alone sent out 27.8 million information booklets on the referendum and elections — one to every UK household. It was supported by a nationwide advertising campaign on television and radio. And the net result was a turnout of 42%.
The failure of this campaign shouldn’t distract from the role of public education campaigns and their influence. Done well, they have a considerable capability to inform a diverse range of audiences and affect enormous change.
Information campaigns are nothing new. The Reformation that swept across Europe in the 1500s was fuelled by an information campaign brought... continued on page two >