So. Should governments use public opinion research, including flash polls, syndicated surveys, consultations and focus groups, to test possible policy options and communications strategies? Or should they save those millions of dollars and just wait for the issues activists, paid lobbyists and professional associations to prime and guide the policy development process?
Jeffrey Simpson, writing in the Globe and Mail, argues that true leadership is missing at the head of the Government of Canada: the 593 assorted public opinion research studies commissioned in 2003-2004, at a cost of $25.4M, are apparently evident proof that our government cannot go to the washroom without directions.
He notes that… “for some years now, every departmental memorandum to the cabinet outlining legislation or some other major initiative has required a “communications plan.” These plans have often driven the need for research, since a department has to show the cabinet that it has already pretested public opinion.”
As communications professionals, we know that POR is an essential component of the planning process: assessing our strategic options, shaping accurate messages, designing products and identifying or eliminating possible tactics.
We’ve all incorporated findings from POR in our strategic advice: it’s only logical and practical to base your observations and recommendations in reality.
That doesn’t mean our advice has to be tied to the findings of POR, nor does it have to be unimaginative or uncontroversial. (insert civil servant joke here)
But one thing’s for certain: if a reporter wants to phone in a column, start with a list of government of contracts and build a straw pyramid of logic on top.