As a method of determining policy or measuring anything I’ve always been nervous about the use of focus groups. My nervousness was rationalised when I read the review in New Statesman by former Labour MP and government minister Chris Mullin of a new book by Deborah Mattinson entitled “Talking to a Brick Wall: How New Labour Stopped Listening to the Voter and Why We Need a New Politics”.
Whilst neither the author of the book nor author of the review appear critical of New Labour alone for their reliance upon feedback from focus groups, I do wonder whether we can rely upon the simple mechanism of collating feedback, until the confidence of the citizens in public service is regained?
Having suffered the scandals of MP’s expenses, highly paid ‘public servants’ and others in the press continually, are we ready to accept public duty as a two-way operation? An operation where feedback means something and will be used to improve services by the recipients, because they’re not in it for their own gain.
Are focus groups just a pretence of consultation?