A variation of traditional opinion polling, deliberative polling measures subjects’ opinions, but also the reasons for those opinions and their capacity to change.
Deliberative polling is essentially a combination of traditional polling and focus groups, with a strong educational aspect. Participants fill out initial opinion surveys, then meet to receive information and discuss issues in small groups, and finally repeat the survey. Of significant interest to researchers is the change in participants’ opinions, rather than the opinions themselves.
In relation to community planning, deliberative polling is most useful as a way to resolve or explore conflicts of interest. Traditional opinion polls (or many other tools) can better and more efficiently elucidate initial opinions and ideas, but deliberative polling can help citizens reconsider strong opinions on issues they have already considered. It can be used as a substitute for a typical email survey or paper questionnaire, but is more comparable to tools like design charrettes, study circles, or World Cafes.
People might first be asked to fill out a survey about their opinions to proposed land use regulations, for example. After the initial poll, participants would come face to face in a deliberative session with three components: unbiased written information on the subject, small group discussions, and a meeting with experts. Small groups usually convene again after the meeting with experts, so that participants can discuss their reactions and clarify any last issues. Finally, respondents fill out the post-deliberation survey by themselves. The small group meetings differ from focus groups in that the emphasis isn’t on identifying participants’ feelings, but on discussing the differences in viewpoints and new information that might change opinions.