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Newsletter, August 2006

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A valuable new approach to contentious issues

Last month we described the way in which we have used a representative sample of the population to understand better the spread of views across Surrey regarding treatment of municipal waste. (See July Project news.) The results make interesting reading.

The people of Surrey have been tackling the challenges of disposing of their waste for several years. Surrey is quite a highly populated county with many areas of Special Scientific Interest and Outstanding Natural Beauty and the headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society are based there. In previous consultations, the discussion of sites for new waste disposal plants has aroused a high degree of dissent and anger among the population and highly organised local action groups have mobilised the local population, distributing information supporting their case and contributing a vigorous collective voice to the consultations.

The local authorities have had to try to find solutions that give the county more waste capacity while balancing the understandable opposition of people to have sites built near them and the various constraints in terms of centres of population, use of green belt land and cost. In the midst of this has been the emotive subject of incineration.

For this consultation run for the Surrey Local Government Association, a partnership of the county and district councils, the issues were actually about the less controversial subject of treatment of municipal waste rather than the siting of waste facilities, but we thought that it would still be useful to add another level of analysis to allow a deeper understanding of the responses.

We separated the respondents into three sets: a general set of public respondents some of whom were invited to take part because of their special interest in waste issues; the main local action group which submitted a joint response to the consultation in the form of a petition; and a control group, recruited to be statistically representative of the population of Surrey.

This approach allowed us to understand the responses in terms of both the strength of feeling held by those who felt themselves to be affected most by the proposals and the balance of opinions across the county. It has been particularly interesting to see how similar the responses from the public group, excluding the action group responses, have been to those of the control group.

We will be advocating this three-pronged approach in similar contentious subject areas as it offers an excellent way to gather information on both strength of feeling and balance of views.

If you would like to discuss the use of control groups for your own project please call Pippa Hyam to discuss on 020 8683 6602 or email her at [email protected].


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