Media reporting on transport conversation misses the big picture

by Dr Anne Bardsley
A woman cycling along red bike lane with signs of bicycles on street

Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures undertakes many different types of deliberative and participatory engagements with the public on complex issues. This includes using new digital tools and public deliberation approaches such as minipublics and citizens’ assemblies.

Recently, there has been reporting in the media that our work with Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport is a “rogue survey.” Some of the reporting borders on misinformation, so it is important to provide accurate information and context.

The work in question was an analysis of an online conversation. It is not a survey.

The Ministry approached our centre in mid-2022 to facilitate an online conversation using in a pilot format which involved mainly groups of stakeholders, and some members of the public.

This preliminary work was intended to provide insights on stakeholder and public opinion on the question of ‘fairness’ in the lead up to the ministry’s formal consultation on the future of the transport revenue system. At no point did anyone from the ministry indicate they wished to ask about a particular revenue tool or seek endorsement for a particular point of view. Quite the opposite, they were interested in because it is an open and interactive tool to harvest thoughts and ideas from the public, not to plant them. In this case, the online conversation was used to canvas opinions and beliefs around what people think is fair (or not) in the funding system, and how it might be changed.

What is is an electronic conversation platform which begins with a set of statements about a topic representing a broad range of possible viewpoints. The conversation evolves as more people join in, vote statements up or down and add their own statements into the mix to be considered by others.  The votes are used to cluster participants into like-minded groups, showing areas of agreement or disagreement around a topic, while allowing new ideas to emerge. The software visually represents all voices (including minority views) and shows points of ‘consensus’ amongst otherwise disparate groups.

These conversations are open-ended and evolve organically. Ideas and opinions emerge and can be considered in an open and transparent way. This is quite different from survey or polling methodologies, which is neither transparent nor participatory.

Online participatory tools such as are increasingly used overseas in public deliberation processes. It is disappointing our attempt to glean insight from this innovative method here in Aotearoa New Zealand has been hijacked by political mud-slinging and poor reporting.

Our themes