Policy experts as conversation starters
Our findings on how people like to receive political or policy ideas offers an interesting twist on what engagement could come to mean.
This year’s research explored the formats which people engage with most, in the context of political or policy ideas. Out of the twenty formats tested – which included PDF reports, events, mainstream news, social media and infographics among others – the top five were perhaps unsurprising.
Mainstream news retained a place at the top table, though there was a marked difference between online and print – the latter on a downward trend, the former more stable. Documentaries were also a popular format.
Most notable, however, was the prominence of conversations with friends and social media. And the clear preference for social media among younger audiences foreshadowed what policy communication could look like in 5-10 years’ time.
The question is this: in a world where people prefer talking things through with people they trust, how do we rethink what engagement means?
Rather than playing a paternalistic role of bestowing knowledge on the public, could think tanks have more of a role as convenors? Generating ideas, framing the debate, and then orchestrating an informed public dialogue.
The public wants policy experts to speak out and engage. But they need to speak in a way that resonates with humans – public and policy makers alike – with all their foibles.
Yes, policy experts will win the intellectual argument all day long, based on their vast bank of facts and statistics. But if their facts challenge an individual’s pre-existing frames – be they policy maker or public – the facts will be dismissed almost every time.
This tension lies at the heart of the frustration that is driving populism – a gut-feel that the facts and statistics are not reflecting people’s own lived experience.
If Pittsburgh is anything to go by, the human experience needs to have a voice.