"enhancing the client’s reputation by positioning them as open, engaging, listening and responding."
Take Opinion Leader Research for example. This company has been running the Citizens' Juries for NuLabour. OLR thinks taxpayers money has been well spent. Why does this matter? It matters because if OLR thinks it then you think it too - that is their job. They proudly claim: "Opinion Leader influences". Why do they think the money has been well spent? It has been well spent because a large amount of it has gone to them. The tag-line "enhancing the client’s reputation by positioning them as open, engaging, listening and responding." is also from their website. It tells us clearly what our money has bought. It hasn't told us anything about public opinion; it has been used to give the impression that this government cares about public opinion and thus enhances its reputation.
As an extension of the democratic process the Citizens' Juries are profoundly undemocratic. OLR gets to pick the participants and gets to chose the questions. The participants are only told selected aspects of the argument and, in the atmosphere generated during the "consultation" can be manipulated by skilled moderators (or social influencers as OLR prefers to call them). There seems to be no rigorous audit of the selection or voting process.
OLR conducted the "Your Health, Your Care, Your Say" Citizens' Jury for Patricia Hewitt in 2005. Never heard of it? Pulse magazine said:
"The Government has fixed its flagship listening exercise on the future of primary care to ensure it backs pre-stated plans for dual registration, walk-in centres and an increase in private providers."
Sounds familiar? This seems to have been a dry run for the current Darzi review and had only 89 participants.
Pulse later did a FOI Act inquiry on the event. Its conclusions were:
"The finding supports accusations by GPs and academics (Pulse, 24 September) that the consultation was a sham exercise because it focused on a restricted range of issues relating to access, but marginalised others such as continuity of care.
The documents also reveal that Opinion Leader Research was asked to write a proposal for the Your Health, Your Care, Your Say consultation before other organisations were even asked to tender."
It also found out that OLR were chosen instead of other pollsters, ICM and MORI, even though the OLR tender, at over £2,000,000, was more than 10 times higher.
OLR are also involved in "consultations" over nuclear power. An item on the Channel 4 website is eerily familiar:
"In the videos - alternative viewpoints had doom-ridden music in the background. The government's view was then given against calm, relaxing music. I feel I have been mugged."
"Not at all a consultation, merely a sleek marketing ploy."
"I went in with an open mind... myself and others felt we were being misled and manipulated."
So-much-so that Greenpeace withdrew from the consultation and made a formal complaint to the Market Research Standards Board. Unlike the recent Citizens Jury on the NHS, which I documented last month, many people have come forward to complain about the conduct of the Nuclear Energy consultation. Their description of events confirms the tactics routinely used by OLR to give the government the answer it wants while appearing to consult.
OLR's stated aim is to "enhance the client's reputation". Taxpayers are footing the bill for enhancing NuLabours reputation. Well, you can't polish a turd (not even with another turd) so this is money wasted and NuLabours reputation further damaged, if that were possible.
Here's a novel idea for the Clunking Fister. How about we give real democracy a try and let us elect our own Prime Minister?