Government, by necessity and obligation, must understand the competing interests and ideologies of the variety of identity groups that it serves. Put another way, those who are in charge must always have an ear to the ground if they want to remain in charge.
That being said, there is no silver bullet in terms of reaching and hearing everybody. There will always be a vocal minority who attempts to dominant the conversation, and in turn, the policy making process. Furthermore, most communities are diverse enough in their interests and beliefs to warrant a compromise of some sort, no matter the issue. Even something as “likeable” as say keeping the streets clean of garbage will be opposed by someone. Consensus is not always possible, in fact, it rarely is. Governing is about balancing the relative weight of those interests in collectively defining who is going to be a policy winner versus a policy loser, regardless of context.
So how can government function better, despite having to acknowledge that not everyone is going to be happy all of the time? The answer lies in developing better tools and methodologies for understanding how these various interests interact and define themselves.
One such methodology is something I like to call targeting event polling, which basically means going to a particular event that caters to a particular constituency and quickly polling them. But, there is a little more to it than that.
First off, the questions you ask should be as much about the event and the community in attendance, as they should be oriented towards your goals. People came there for a particular reason and learned about the event through a particular network. It is just as important to understand how a given community organizes itself as it is to understand why they organize themselves. Learning about those networks and the mediums of communication they use is only going to benefit you in the long run.
Secondly, the experience should be interactive. When interviewing people don’t just ask them questions and bubble in their answers. Explain to them why you want to know more about them. Also, ask them to explain their answers! You may learn something more than had you just kept asking from a set of predetermined questions. The best way to get input is to give output. Both people will learn and engage more about one another if they both feel they are getting something out of the interaction.
Finally, and probably most importantly, value understanding over data. Remember, the raw data is merely a means towards the end of understanding. No survey is perfect or objective. Answers can change 10+ points just based upon the wording of a question, let alone the way in which it is delivered (and no one wants to engage with a robot). So get in there and understand! Don’t worry about whether or not you have a random sample, you are at a targeted event. That community cares more about being understood and acknowledged than it does giving you a better margin of error.
Given this approach, here is a wonderful example of how this tactic can be used to reach a targeted community, in this case local business.
Hope you found this post to be of value,
CMO & Founder,
It’s true, the Chamber of Commerce event was a great opportunity to get in touch with a lot of the business community.