The following is a summary of a presentation delivered at the Third Sector High Impact Conference on 17 November 2015
The methodological divide over participation
Researchers all consider it useful to consult with large groups, but are split along methodological lines:
- Qualitative and participatory researchers believe it is important to have deliberation for information aggregation, engagement, authenticity and legitimisation, and use interviews, focus groups, deliberative polling, and citizens' juries.
- Quantitative researchers, and economists, think deliberation is detrimental, and people should be consulted independently (see this great paper by Cass Sunstein). Quant solutions include Surveys and prediction markets.
Both are right!
Research needs to be backed by numbers and evidence!
- The quality and quantity of engagement leads to better data! (Survey fatigue affects results, this is a great article about how ulterior motives affect research results in a recent study on Sierra Leone).
- Deliberation can be important for research because participation increases evidence, knowledge, creative thinking, idea generation and sharing, and improves communication on many levels.
Bridging the Gap
New online technology can take the good from Quant and Qual approaches:
- we can get closer to the utopian vision of having the active engagement and legitimacy of a large scale deliberation combined with the statistical viability of the data and outcome generated.
- we can broaden levels of participation
- we can use anonymous interaction to increase statistical validity and get more and more honest feedback.
- we can use participant-led moderation to avoid herd behaviour and individuals having undue influence.
Online tools like Voxter are designed expressly to enable large groups to discuss important topics in a democratised process, and give individual and collective insight that is statistically viable.
Photograph © James Cridland