The Paine of Measurement
Use social media, not polls.
Dear President-Elect Obama,
There's a lot of talk these days about what you should do with all those millions of contact names you've captured in the last two years -- those volunteers, donors and voters that helped you earn your place in history.
As a researcher, I have a novel thought: Listen to them. Hear their ideas and use them to help solve the nation's problems. If Dell can do it with their Ideastorm, why can't you create a national Ideastorm? You used social media to excellent effect in your campaign, so why not use social media to connect people to solve society's problems?
Put all those folks that voted for health care as their number one priority on a giant, virtual brainstorming committee to come up with the answers. Connect all the folks like me that are most concerned with global warming, and get us to commit to reducing our carbon footprint by 25%. I'm guessing there are more than a few economists on your list somewhere, so use them to solve the bailout issues.
I love it that you are limiting the roles lobbyists play in your new administration, and I laugh at those who complain that you are locking out their expertise. Who needs influence peddlers and lobbyists? You've got millions of smart people with good ideas that you can tap into for free.
The power of this idea came home to me yesterday as I was having breakfast with David Moore, author of The Opinion Makers.
(In the interests of transparency, David is one of my all-time favorite people. He's single-handedly taken on the political polling industry, and just might be winning. Remember all those stories about how polls may be flawed because they don't include cell-phone only households and don't determine the extent to which people haven't made up their minds? That's David's influence.)
So we're talking about the future of polling and it hit me: The millions of volunteers and donors that you have brought into the political process could be a giant focus group on what people are thinking.
Sure, there is bias in the sample, but it's no more biased than the leading introductory statements that pollsters are asking these days. And yes, you could debate that a self-selected sample of 10 million isn't as accurate as a poll. But if your polls aren't reaching cell-phone only households, and your response rate is down around 2%, how reliable is your data anyway?
The point is that the polling system, which is supposed to inform politicians about the will of the people, is broken. It's continuously abused by corporations, lobbying organizations, and agenda-setting NGOs, who have warped the process badly with their biased questions, unreliable sampling, and conflicting results. Polls are now no more a reflection of the nation's opinion than Sarah Palin is a reflection of a the typical American working mom.
So my humble suggestion is that you replace them with something more 21st century. Tap into the collective expertise of 10 million people, the wisdom of the crowd.