Participatory Polling is an action research methodology through which the general public is consulted on policy related issues, using a questionnaire that has been designed with the contribution of societal and political stakeholders. The results then serve as a basis for public dialogue and feed into the policymaking process. Participatory polling not only observes public opinion, but it opens up substantive avenues of communication between society at large and decision-makers in an attempt to set the policy agenda and identify salient issues. More specifically, Participatory Polling can contribute towards achieving the following strategic objectives:
Bridging of Gap between Track 1 and Society at large
Participatory Polling opens up substantive avenues of communication between society at large and elite policy makers, avenues that in the normal course of events often become blocked due to the realities of political life, even in representative democracies. Participatory Polling carries the voice of ordinary citizens to societal and political leaders in much greater sophistication than is usually achieved through conventional polling, and thus supports and enables the functions of leadership: To guide and encourage the people more effectively wherever it is shown that fear or lack of insight are holding the general public back, but also to listen to the people and accept their lead wherever it is shown that the general public is already ahead of the elites in courage and vision for the future.
Enhanced Awareness and Acceptance between Groups in Conflict
Participatory Polling in divided societies opens up windows of understanding between groups and communities in conflict. By putting each group face to face with the views and opinions of the other groups, stereotypes are dismantled and a more realistic foundation for dialogue on the basis of the underlying concerns and priorities of each group becomes possible.
Development of Consensus Proposals
Participatory Polling makes it possible to compare the level of acceptance for several competing proposals on any relevant policy issue. Through this process, policy proposals that have the potential of becoming consensual solutions that are acceptable to all groups involved become readily apparent, while in contrast polarizing proposals, that are seen as ideal by one group but unacceptable by other groups, are shown to be problematic. A policy proposal tested in a participatory poll that proves to be simultaneously acceptable to all groups involved, may then form the basis for bringing all the parties around the same table to elaborate on the proposal and lead it through to implementation.
Steps involved in participatory polling:
Participatory polling could be considered in any context where:
• Different groups of stakeholders hold radically different opinions on how to address a social/political problem;
• The problem being considered would directly/indirectly affect a large segment of the society in question;
• In the perspective of various stakeholders, the society in question does not possess adequate consultative mechanisms to address such horizontal and vertical gaps in views and perspectives;
• In such contexts, participatory polling can contribute by injecting inclusivity. At the same time, it can discover potential convergences between groups that otherwise appear to be holding opposed positions.
To learn more about participatory polling in action, check “Where we work”, “Participatory Polling Methodological Concept Note" and "An innovation to engage people in peace processes" for more information.