Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What's wrong with surveys?

From time to time, I receive requests to participate in various surveys, or see invitations posted on internet forums.

I don't want to discourage anyone from participating in surveys, but I always wonder what this kind of survey might tell us. If the results of the survey were to contradict our current beliefs on some topic of importance, how many of us would be willing to alter our beliefs, and how many would merely dismiss the survey as "obviously inaccurate"? And if such a survey is only taken seriously if it confirms what we think we already know, what's the point of doing such surveys at all?

Even the most open-minded, flexible and inquisitive people don't just change their minds at the drop of a hat. It takes rather more than a casual Internet questionnaire to persuade any of us to alter our opinion or our actions; and if a survey doesn't have any effect on our actions then it is not worth a lot to practical people. I am not against surveys as such, but unfortunately most surveys fall short of providing actionable intelligence, and serve merely to reinforce received opinion.

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