A big problem with traditional opinion surveys is that they capture uninformed opinion.
Some things in life are so complex that other people are paid good money to know a lot about a particular subject. E.g. genetically modified food, nuclear power or NHS reconfiguration. So when we ask people to express their opinions about complex things in a short opinion poll, in many situations, there ought to be question marks over the true value of this data. In fact it could be argued that it just reflects what many people have read in the media as they are too rational to spend time considering the complex issue in detail so just repeat what they have read. So we end up polling the media and the media report the polls – with rationally uninformed people acting as a conduit between the two.
We try to overcome the superficial nature of opinion polls by doing more qualitative and participative engagement through focus groups, stakeholder workshops and deliberative events. But many decision makers (often wrongly) demand hard data.
Deliberative polling (Google Fishkin and Luskin (1999)) attempts to overcome this by capturing more informed opinion but still maintaining statistical integrity of the data. In its simplest form a deliberative opinion panel might work like this:
- The NHS has big and complex decisions to make about a health economy that is in distress
- It wants to be influenced by how the public feels about possible changes, but it needs stats not just small sample qualitative data
- So it recruits 500 people from across the health economy in question and asks them to participate in a deliberative opinion panel
- Participants complete a registration form, so that the sample can be representative
- Participants are sent information, mainly online, but not exclusively, about the issue in hand
- They then complete an opinion survey
- They then receive more information
- They then complete another survey
- And so on; this process goes through several iterations.
- At the end of the opinion poll process there is one final survey which captures the most important data – informed opinion poll data.
So you can see this approach delivers informed, representative, opinion data. Many people will think this is much more valuable to decision makers making tough decisions.
The downside is it’s not so cheap to do, but some might say the data is worth it. And because of online polling technology and social media it is probably a lot cheaper than you think.