This chapter explores the provenance, development and performativity of the Taking Part Survey, the principal research instrument for national statistics on cultural participation in England. The survey was initiated in 2005 as part of a programme of research and evidence generation led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It involved a group of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) responsible for strategy, decision-making and performance management of sectors within the broad church of the arts, culture and sport under the New Labour administrations of 1997-2010. We explore this recent history of a flagship survey of cultural indicators for policy development through the accounts of several key players who participated in its design and implementation: civil servants, researchers and policy makers within these different cultural agencies. We then mobilise these accounts to help us evaluate and contextualise the significance of Taking Part in cultural knowledge production over this period and since.
The methodological approach we take here is therefore a qualitative one which aims, through a series of in-depth interviews, to capture the narrative accounts of the protagonists involved in developing the survey who both describe their impression of the process of its development from their experience at the time and reflect on the ways in which Taking Part met or failed to meet its original objectives a decade later. Through this approach we are able to expose and unpack the broader narrative of the participation survey itself, which we counterpose to the official presentation of Taking Part as an objective or neutral technocratic device. We draw on critical literature from cultural policy studies, cultural sociology and actor network theory in order to reveal the complex social and political life of Taking Part and its emergence as the expression of a particular administrative culture.