Video on the Scaling Question

I have written about the scaling question numerous times and for those who may wish to use it with their members to increase their participation in their local party here is an example of it, in a different context, but it is a similar principle.

See how the scaling question can be applied to politics here, here or here.


In Praise of the Guardian: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems

In the increasingly anti-Lib Dem paper the Guardian, they have found some use for the Lib Dems in the Coalition, which is worth noting:

The Lib Dems can justifiably claim to have made a difference on civil liberties, but that only goes to show they needed to. The resistance of the Conservatives to reform suggests that their much-vaunted commitment to social liberalism is skin deep.

Improving your local party through better use of members: developing a motivating feedback system

What communication have you had from your local party in the last year? A newsletter? Requests for funding? Requests to help out with a campaign? Emails about local party information? Emails about AGM/Conference? Have you ever been asked for formal feedback about the local party? Our Party President informs us that the key to any win in an election is a thriving local party with members and volunteers doing the hard work on the ground. Yet there are simple ways a local party can motivate members to create this that are not being used.

In ‘Why Vote Liberal Democrat’ in 2010 Danny Alexander wrote “Collaboration is right at the heart of everything Liberal Democrats believe in”. While it seems a focus for national politics is seems strangely absent from local parties unless you are already actively involved in the local party. However, collaboration takes work to form the collaborative relationship and it is from that relationship that the benefits are born.

Members can be seen as being made up of 3 types:

  1. Active members – people who are engaged in the activities of the local party
  2. Potential active members – people who would like to be involved but have not made the step to being active members yet
  3. Armchair members – people who do not want to be involved in the activities of the local party and are happy just to support the party through membership or in some other small way

There are many reasons why some who want to be involved are not involved but the trick for the party is to find out who they are and form a more personal relationship with them and find how to use their skills/talents/expertise in a way which will engage them in the local party. Currently there is no mechanism for the local party to know this information unless someone comes forward and says so. When I joined I got an email saying ‘if you want to deliver leaflets let me know’ and this was all I got until I went to the AGM and even then people did not find out what I wanted to do in the party or what I could do.

Successful companies all over the world have tried to get the most out of their customers through some form of feedback system. However, some have also used a feedback system from the staff to improve how they run the companies. Equally, a simple feedback system could reap rewards for the local party is worded right which will identify

  1. Potential active members
  2. Potential skills in the member base
  3. Potential expertise in the member base

The solution focused approach could offer a set of questions to find these if sent out to members (email/letter/newsletter) and could start the beginning of a more personal relationship between people not yet active and the local party:

  1. Every member has different skills and we are interested to know what these are. What 3 things would you say you have particular skills at?
  2. On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is the highest, how involved do you currently feel with your local party?
  3. On the same scale, where would you like to be on this scale at this present time?
  4. On the same scale, where would you like to be in the future?
  5. What could the local party do to help you move to where you would like to be, now and in the future? (simple and specific answers will work the best)
  6. What 3 things do you think the local party has done well at in the last year?
  7. What 3 things do you think the local party should improve on in the next year?
  8. What do you think you would like to do for the local party, if anything, in the next year that you haven’t this year?
  9. Is there anything we have forgotten to ask?

Answers to these may give you some useful contacts, leads and improve your local party.

Experiments which will make you think about how to approach social mobility

Clegg speaking at De Montfort University, Leic...

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Nick Clegg frames the Lib Dems as the new progressives moving away from the ‘poverty plus a pound‘ and towards increased social mobility. I think few could argue that there is a need for those who have the ability and try should be able to improve their standing in life. One significant area of a lack of social mobility has been with black and minority ethnic communities (BME). Some interesting experiments undertaken in the 1990’s give us some insight into how to tackle this issue through a different focus on ‘identity’.

In 1995, Steele and Aronson conducted an experiment with African American and white college students who had to take a very challenging standardized test. There were two conditions in which the test was presented:

  1. The control condition; the test was presented as a measure of intellectual ability and preparation.
  2. The experimental condition: the test was presented in a non-evaluative way. The test takers were told that the researchers were not interested in measuring their ability with the test but that they just wanted to use the test to examine the psychology of verbal problem solving.


  • In the control condition the African American test takers, on average, scored much lower than the white test takers
  • For the white test takers there was no difference in their scores between the control condition and the experimental condition.
  • For the African American test takers there was a big difference between the control condition and the experimental condition. They solved about twice as many problems in the test in the experimental condition.
  • There was no difference between the performance of the black test takers and the white test takers in the experimental condition.

By taking away the pressure to perform in the test all students showed equal ability, only when ‘normal’ testing conditions apply was there a difference. For black students this form of test taking seriously affected their ability to show their actual ability at the subject being tested.

Steele and Aronson conducted another experiment again in 1995 where they administered tests to African American and white test takers in a similar non-evaluative way. All of the test takers were assured that their intelligence would not be evaluated. There were two conditions:

  1. The tests were administered normally but in a non-evaluative way.
  2. The tests were administered in the same way but included an item on the cover of the test booklet that asked them to indicate their ethnicity.


  • In condition 1 African Americans performed just as well as whites
  • In condition 2 the test performance of the African Americans plummeted. They solved about half as many items as their counterparts who were not asked to indicate their ethnicity.

A similar test but this time what it shows is that highlighting the students’ ethnicity decreased the black students’ performance in the test by the same amount as the difference as in the first experiment. The direct implication being that being aware of their ethnicity affected their performance, with the indirect implication being that being tested for performance makes them subconsciously aware of their ethnicity which affects their performance.

In 1999 Shih, Pittinsky & Ambady condicted an experiement where a difficult math test was given to Asian women. There were three conditions.

  1. they were subtly reminded of their Asian identity
  2. they were subtly reminded of their female identity
  3. the control condition, they were not reminded of their identity

The results

  • women reminded of their ethnicity performed better than the control group
  • women reminded of their female identity performed worse than the control group

There are many explanations as to why Asian students perform better than white students in math tests (for example here) however this experiment indicates that just being aware of their identity increased their performance and therefore it was not purely that their culture supports increased performance but that being aware of their ethnicity increases their performance. Equally, it implies that being aware of being a female decreases their performance.

The UK heavily focuses on identity as a key part of child development. The government measures students from all backgrounds and continually reports on them showing a clear trends e.g. black students doing worse than white students, Asian students doing better or females doing worse in some subjects. We have spent a lot looking in to why this is the case only for little progress to be made. The formation of these national narratives about certain groups becomes believed by all and so is recreated in further tests becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps what we need is a different approach to teaching identity if we are to improve social mobility. We do not need money wasted on reasons why certain groups underperform, we already have the data. We need a new approach to focusing on students beliefs about themselves and their abilities to challenge the cultural and national stereotypes which they may consciously or subconsciously believe. Teachers need to be acutely aware of their own beliefs about students and the sub/conscious beliefs about ethnicity/culture/gender/groups.

None of this is new and I am sure we will have many more experiements which go on to prove the same thing but this is a continuation of the pygmalion effect. We have spend a lot on trying to increase social mobility and increase the chances of BME students with limited effect. It is time to try something different and actually put into practice what we already know.

Health Reforms and the Lib Dems: We need to argue for a bigger role of patients’ voices

Reform of the NHS is always on top of the agenda for government. This government has come up against a lot of resistance and criticism of the plans and many believe it to be a high risk strategy. With the Lib Dems in government they will be seen as putting these reforms in place and the example of life expectancy in Sheffield will come back to test these reforms as Nick Clegg used it to push for a vote for the Lib Dems. So looking at Sheffield there are things which we can learn about what we need in health reforms.

Nick Clegg has often used the example of differing life expectancies in Sheffield to show the need for a ‘fairer’ society:

“It is an outrage that social mobility has slowed, not increased, under the Blair-Brown years. It is an outrage that in Sheffield, where I’m an MP, life expectancy in the poorest wards is a full 14 years below the life expectancy of those living in the wealthiest wards. Your life chances are now set by the circumstances of your birth as never before.”

For all the ‘reforms’ in the NHS they have not produced an acceptable service which is exemplified in Sheffield. What is perhaps more interesting is that the patient satisfaction survey, which showed not only just how distorted the official statistics were, but the disparity between the satisfaction of patients in the poorer areas to those in more affluent areas.

Sheffield’s best ranked surgeries all tended to cluster closely together, and tend to reside in the more affluent wards of the city where those that reside in the affluent wards are able to demand a better quality of NHS GP services than those that tend to reside in the deprived wards and have to put up with a lower standard of health care provision which plays a significant part in contributing to the 14 year gap in life expectancy between people living just a few miles distance from one another.

Unlike the best ranking surgeries, the bottom ranking surgeries see a sharp drop off in the patient experience at the quality of health care from 85% to an abysmally poor ranking of just 70% of patient satisfaction for Darnall, something that the patients of Darnall have had to suffer with for many years against other GP surgeries achieving 98% satisfaction ratings.

The ‘choice’ agenda may have been beneficial for some in public services but is clearly not for all. The focus on choice has also been at the expense of listening to citizens’ voices so complaining and a lack of accountability has resulted in poor services remaining poor. The previous government began to recognise this issue and include patient satisfaction in measures of quality albeit limited to hospitals while Gordon Brown signalled that public services may move in this direction.

The Coalition’ s reforms for 600 GP consortia’s that Britain’s 35,000 GP’s are in the process of joining so as to have the responsibility for buying healthcare for their patients was intended to introduce market forces into the NHS so that failing hospitals would be allowed to go bust and similarly failing GP surgeries would lose their patients to better performing GP’s / Consortia’s. However, it is looking increasingly likely that this will not be achieved as the consortia will not compete against each other so things could effectively remain as they are, patient’s voices will not be listened to and the unacceptable and inconsistent health provision will continue.

We shouldn’t have to wait to collect the statistics to show that the health services are not acceptable, people are telling up they are not acceptable, if only we listened to what people are saying and not what the government says  they are saying. Patient satisfaction may be high but it is not uniform and it shows where health services are not acceptable. We should build in more robust plans to incorporate patient’s voices in the Coalition’s health reforms.

You can view the all the results here.

Notes for Activists: Using scaling questions to motivate members

The scaling question is one of the more famous solution focused techniques, although most will not identify it as such, as shown in the Guardian recently:

Back then, when I asked a dozen or so activists to mark their morale out of 10, I was greeted by plenty of sevens, eights and nines – but he put his score at zero, and he doesn’t seem to have cheered up.

His point here is that the Lib Dems morale has gone from 8ish to 0. However, it is usual to misuse this technique as I discussed previously when ICM used a similar question in a poll last year. So this gives a misleading idea of the situation. So if anyone would like to use such a technique in their local party or elsewhere to gauge where people are and look to motivate them then let’s look at getting it right.

First, frame the scale so we know what we are talking about. ‘Thinking about the Lib Dems at the moment, on a scale of 0 to 10, where would you say your morale is right now (where 10 is the highest it could possibly go and 0 is the lowest it could possibly go)’. The number will give you your ‘platform’.

If it is more than 0, ask why it is not 0. This seeks to look at why it is not worse which focuses people on what is working well at the moment. We can ask if we like if there has been a time when this number has been higher and why it was higher. This gives an idea of what the party has done which works well.

However, this is about the individual and what they can do rather than someone’s morale being a purely about the national party having to do something to make it better. So we ask what they could do which would move their number from the platform to the next number. We are not looking for how to get from, for example, 1 to 10 but from 1 to 2.

We can ask what they would be happening differently if their number was 2 points higher on the scale? This gives more ideas on what they can do to help increase their own morale.

So we may get a conversation like this:

A: Thinking about the Lib Dems at the moment, on a scale of 0 to 10, where would you say your morale is right now (where 10 is the highest it could possibly go and 0 is the lowest it could possibly go)

B: 2

A: Why would you put it at a 2 rather than a 0?

B: We didn’t come 3rd in the Sad & Old by-election and we maintained our percentage share of the vote. There have been some progress with policies which are important to me such as child detention and pupil premium. I have read some good things about the Lib Dems every now and again so I guess things could be worse than they are even if things are bad at the moment.

A: Has this number ever been higher?

B: In the last election I would say it was a 9.

A: Why would you have placed your morale at a 9 then?

B: Because our poll ratings were higher, we had lots of good press, people were talking positively about the Lib Dems. It felt like we were going to do better than we ever have done.

A: You say you are at a 2 at the moment. What do you think would be different if that number was a 3?

B: I think I would read more positive things about the Lib Dems in the papers.

A: is there anything that you could do to help with this?

B: I could write letters and responses to articles to the papers I suppose?


Lessons from the Danish Social Liberal Party

SVG hand-remade version of the single-letter p...

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The Danish Social Liberal Party is a centrist party with an ideology of Liberalism. In the 2005 elections the party received 9.2% of the vote and gained 8 more Parliamentary seats totalling 17. However in the 2007 elections the party only gained 5.1% of the vote and lost 8 seats. A major reason for this may have important implications for the Lib Dems in the UK.

Following the 2005 election the party began feuding over where they should position themselves on the political spectrum. It is a centrist party but had positioned itself on the centre-left and supported the Social Democrats. It had a policy of only supporting the Social Democrats in coalition governments. Some prominent members of the party criticised this strategy as being too left-leaning and depending too much on the Social Democrats.

In 2007 the Party gained a new leader and announced that they would rethink its strategy and will now consider forming a coalition government with either the left or right side of parliament. However, this was later clarified during the run-up to the 2007 election that the party would only be supporting a government led by the Social Democrats. This has resulted in some MPs leaving the party.

It seems that this repositioning lost the confidence of voters and they lost the support of the left leaning voters they had won in 2005.

In 2005, the Social Liberals won the hearts and votes of the ‘general leftists’, in 2007 the Socialists did the same.

The Party picked up left leaning votes in 2005 and then seemingly abandoned what left leaning voters cared about by suggesting that they were prepared to be a right leaning party and so they lost the votes. However, it may be more to do with the fact that people may not have known what the party was for any more so people went back to what they could rely on (other new parties did not do as well as expected). So perhaps the lesson is not to forget who we are and where we have come from.

Lessons from the Swedish Social Liberal Party

The Swedish Liberal Party (FP) has many parallels with the Lib Dems as it became the junior partner in a coalition government with the right-wing party (Moderate Party) following the 2006 election despite having an ideology of social liberalism. Their poll ratings dropped, as did the coalitions, only for the Liberal Party to recover their poll rating and the coalition increasing their vote share overall in the 2010 election. The Liberals gained 7.5% in 2006 and the table below shows some poll ratings through the parliament:

Obviously there are stark differences to the context and specifics but it may still be worth looking at what helped them maintain their vote share at least.

  • Sweden was experiencing economic growth
  • There was competence of the leader of the largest party who managed to keep the government together and avoid the parties from falling out with each other and feuding amongst themselves as they had done in the 1970s and in the early 90s.
  • Social Democratic Party had an incompetent leader
  • The success of the right-wing party was much to do by the transformation of the right rather than the transformation of voters. The Swedish right has accepted the modern welfare model and has understood that any talk of abolishing it or radically altering it is not a vote-getting strategy. The right has just placed more emphasis on jobs and finances, introducing popular and rather successful tax policies to encourage work.

An interesting pattern in the results here is that the senior government party picked up votes based on the popularity of its leader with the swing voter, but it didn’t squash the smaller parties. Many had thought that, as sometimes/usually happens with junior coalition partners, the largest party would pick up votes from the smaller parties. That may say a lot about the remarkably stable (overall) bases of party support in Sweden, but it also does say something about the competence of the smaller parties’ leaderships and their ability to find a voice in government. That being said, none of the smaller parties in the Alliance performed spectacularly and in fact M was the only party not to lose percentage wise (FP (Liberal Party) picked up 2,129 votes but lost 0.48% – higher turnout is the main culprit). See here.

I leave many of the obvious comparisons to you. Clearly the need for the Lib Dems to find their voice in the government would be seen as an important lesson. Lets hope 2011 and the new strategy will help.

Chris Huhne gets the SFP award in ‘Reinventing the State’

Chris Huhne, environment spokesman of the Libe...

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Chris Huhne makes a very interesting point in his Chapter in ‘Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century’ – ‘The Case for Localism: The Liberal Narrative’. While talking about national policies and how they can actually provide negative consequences he says

Contrast this system with the private sector, where it is natural to experiment, to try something else. If they fail in some effort, they stop and try something else. If they succeed, then try more. There is a constant process if change and improvement – or the business dies – p.246

What he is describing is essentially the solution focused approach: Find what works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it and do something else. While it may seem so very basic and simple, this is because it is, and because everyone knows that this works because they have probably done it at some stage. However, we don’t always do this, otherwise Chris Huhne wouldn’t have to point this out in the first place. The problem often comes with focusing elsewhere other than on ‘what works’.

An example of how doing what works is not followed can be seen in the work of a mathematical biologist from Sydney whose study explained why ineffective medical treatments persist in the face of better proven methods. He found that quack treatments could spread more quickly than proven treatments. The explanation of this counterintuitive finding is that people pick up treatments by observing what other people use and then follow that, whether that is an effective treatment or not. This mechanism creates an unexpected advantage for ineffective treatments. The fact that ineffective treatments don’t work means that people who use them will be around longer and effective treatments take away the problem and so there are fewer people using them for longer. This means that there are more people left to be observed using ineffective treatments than effective treatments which will lead to more people copying them. This means that ineffectiveness of a treatment may be the very cause of its popularity.

People don’t vote for what you do, they vote for why you do it (lessons for the Lib Dems)

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Many in the Lib Dems have talked about the crowded centre ground of British politics and this makes it a more difficult place to be distinctive. But tradition still clearly plays a big part in people’s voting habits. The traditional voter base of the Conservative and Labour Parties are much larger than that of the Liberal Democrats. So how do the Lib Dems increase their traditional voter base?

How many people know what the Lib Dems are for? A recent survey found that many people had no idea what the core principles of the Liberal Democrats were although they identify the party with a commitment to “fairness”. So if many people don’t know why the Lib Dems do what they do then it won’t be a surprise that they won’t vote for them.

Apple may be a good company to learn from. It pioneered the home computer and built up a reputation only for mistakes to create damage to its reputation. In 1997 its CEO was sacked amid a 12 year record low stock price and crippling financial losses. Yet they have gone on to be the largest computer company making repeated iconic technological equipment with a loyal customer base. So how did they do it?

Apple was not the first to produce mp3 players and were not the first to produce tablet computers but they are synonymous with these products. Why did the companies who invented these devices in the first place not do well? The answer to this and more lie in this fascinating video from TED talks:

The crux of the idea is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So for Apple it is not that they make computers, many companies do, it is that they push the boundaries of technology which happen to produce excellent gadgets with smart designs, so people buy them. What you do just proves what you believe.

And this lesson is non-truer than in politics. Martin Luther King Jr gave the ‘I have a dream speech’ and people flocked to see him. He did not make the ‘I have a plan speech’. People were attracted to the belief, the ‘why’, and not the ‘how’ or ‘what’. When Labour won a majority in 1997 people believed in what they stood for, they did not know how or what they would do – Labour weren’t sure of this – but they sold an idea and it resonated.

Equally, this generally election the fairness agenda came out strongly in the Lib Dem campaign and so it may not be a surprise that this is what people associate with the Lib Dems. If what the Lib Dems believe in is fairness, then those who believe in fairness will vote for them. However, if what they do does not seem like it is fair, then this just disproves your beliefs – and no one will vote for them.

So it could equally be said that people don’t vote for what you do, they vote for why you do it; what you do just proves what you believe.

Stick to your beliefs, do what you do because of your beliefs and you will increase your voter base. The goal is not to do business with anybody who needs what you will do in government for them, but to do business with those who believe in what you believe.


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