Surveys of representative samples on policies that have been put forward by legislators, agencies, or other policy leaders, that provide respondents with a briefing and arguments for and against each proposal, that have been reviewed by experts on each side of the debate.
Problems and Purpose
Polls show large majorities of the public are demanding that government be more responsive to the will of the people. This is prompted by their commitment to democratic principles. It is also prompted by the growing and now widespread perception that government leaders pay little attention to the voice of the people.
Standard public opinion polls tend to only be an effective means of consulting citizens on issues for which they have already given significant thought.
Mini-publics, such as citizen assemblies, are better suited for complex issues that require deliberation, but are often costly and can take over a year from start to finish.
Public consultation surveys are a middle ground between the two. The surveys can be designed and fielded within a few months, while still providing participants with the necessary information and array of viewpoints necessary to make an informed decision on real policy. The goal is for respondents to have a self-contained deliberative experience that simulates that of a policymaker.
Origins and Development
Public consultation surveys have been used since the 1990s in the US. The American Talks Issue Foundation led by Alan Kay played a pioneering role. The largest such program is the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, directed by Steven Kull, conducting public consultation surveys on the national level, as well as in states and congressional districts. They have gathered public opinion data on over 300 policy proposals that have been put forward by Members of Congress and the Executive Branch, in a variety of areas. Such surveys conducted in particular Congressional districts have also been used as the basis for face-to-face forums in congressional districts, in which survey participants and House Congressional Representative discuss the policy proposals and the results of the survey.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Samples are collected using the same methods for standard polling: through probability-based methods, or opt-in panels. The sample is then weighted to be representative of the population, with regards to key demographics and partisan affiliation.
How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making
Public consultation surveys are conducted online, and taken individually. For each issue, respondents are provided relevant briefing materials, introduced to a policy proposal or position, and read or evaluate arguments for and against various proposals. Respondents then provide their final recommendation on whether they favor or oppose the policy proposal or position.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Public consultation surveys have been cited extensively in the media, as well as by legislators, to show where the majority of the public stands on federal policies. The surveys that have been most prominent are those on issues too complex for standard polls, including: how to address the Social Security shortfall, net neutrality regulations, the US' nuclear weapons posture, and immigration.
They have also been used as the basis for face-to-face forums in congressional districts in the US. A representative sample of that district takes the survey, some of the respondents then meet in person with their House Congressional Representative, and local news media, to discuss the policy proposals and the results of the survey.
Kay, Alan F. (1993). "One Small Step for Democracy's Future: A New Kind of Survey Research".