Britain thinks - or does it?

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I’ll be fascinated to see what becomes of BritainThinks, a website for collecting public opinions, which was launched last week and is the subject of an extensive (and presumably expensive) poster advertising campaign.

I have visited the site and it seems to comprise a capacity for people to vote (as often as they like) on a selection of random topics – from the state of education to the outcome of the 2010 World Cup, plus a kind of soap box YouTube where people send in clips of their opinions to be rated by viewers.

There doesn’t seem to be any attempt at a methodology that would enable an assessment of the statistical validity of any ‘findings’. Maybe this is an attempt to be even cheaper than on-line pollsters YouGov if so it will have to rely on clients who don’t care at all about accuracy. Nor is there – as yet – any scope for deliberation whereby people with different views are invited to work through their disagreements to get to their core, or even change their mind. (Over the years I have heard lots of ideas for creating deliberative on-line spaces but none seem to have taken off).

Maybe the site will be a great success, and I don’t suppose it is doing any harm (although the lack of information about who is backing it is a bit suspect), but I would have thought with incessant opinion polls, multiplying blogs (including my own) and social network sites, and ever more newspaper and magazine commentators (occasionally including me) the last thing we are short of in the UK is opinion.

My slightly elitist concern that BritainThinks doesn’t encourage its participants to ask themselves whether their opinion is wanted, useful or soundly based is reinforced by the site’s slogan….

 ‘if you’ve got an opinion, here’s where to stick it

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