How Would You Engage People in Public Policy?

    by Steven Clift
    March 25, 2008

    The one million figure is my number, but seriously, the UK government wants advice on how to engage lots of people online.

    Engage is the key word, the British Prime Minister already receives e-petitions online (nothing like that with the White House, Congress, or even one U.S. governor despite our constitutional right to petition) which is more about political expression than engagement.

    From the UK-based OpenDemocracy site you can learn about UK government’s “desire to hold a national debate on a British Statement of Values as part of the Governance of Britain Green Paper.” You can read a summary of input thus far and comment here.


    In citizen media/online news space we seem to be stuck in a reactionary rut – we put up news and people react through mostly disparaging reader comments. Sure people are more likely “respond to a draft,” but perhaps there are other more two-way models you’ve experienced and can share with us and the UK government.

    From my base in Minneapolis – I’ve done past work for the UK government on e-democracy issues (governments in the U.S. haven’t invested squat in using the Internet to connect with citizens other than one-way information access) – I was asked to contribute my detailed thoughts,

    I’ve cross-posted my detailed response on my Democracies Online blog along with related links. I proposed:

    • Distributed Online Survey with Comment Submission and Rating
    • Networked Engagement through Multiple Partners, National Promotion
    • Online Deliberative Participation

    What would you do online to “engage” 1,000 or even 1,000,000 people in important public policy matters of our time?

    Tagged: citizen media e-democracy public policy UK government

    One response to “How Would You Engage People in Public Policy?”

    1. Stephen:

      Market research outfits are expert is getting good input from individuals. While they typically will select a sample size of from roughly 500 to 1500 respondents, the reality is that the processes and techniques used can be expanded to involve larger samples.

      The task of involvement in a particular issue or set of issues then becomes a matter of how you design the survey instrument. We all know that those who seek a particular answer or outcome can design a questionnaire to elicit those responses, but if done carefully, a survey instrument can be amazingly neutral.

      Indeed, survey instruments can be written to elicit the respondents concepts and even can be structured as a narrative. (I did a mail-in survey once that asked the respondents about the last day they spent fishing. An eight-page questionnaire, 26 percent of the sampled audience – the sample was selected from those expressing fishing interest on warranty cards – responded.)

      Administration of the instrument also a matter of choice and different approaches will have different strengths in the veracity of the data.

      The most costly approach is to have an interviewer who makes appointments and visits with the selected individual randomly sampled.

      On the other extreme is the online survey that is open for anyone to respond.

      Those companies that do such surveys typically provide respondents the chance to win a prize for their participation. An incentive of that nature would go a long way toward increasing the number of participants.

      Lest you consider the ‘element of greed’ a dis qualifier, I might suggest that there be a set sum of money that might be distributed to five or ten established charities. The charities would be incentivized to get not just their members but the greatest possible participation as that would increase their share of earmarked charitable gift.

      Now if you’re trying to do this at little or no cost … good luck ;)

      GP Hughes

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