A solution focused interview with the Deputy Prime Minister

Some may be aware that I interviewed Nick Clegg recently and I have written this up as an interview here. However, this blog is about marrying the solution focused approach to politics and I styled my interview on solution focused questioning. I will therefore write up the interview explaining and discussing this from the SF point of view, which I think actually gives some interesting answers.

A key component of the SF approach, and the most famous technique, is the scaling question. It can be a powerful tool to gain specific and detailed information about how to improve your situation. I therefore wanted to use this with Clegg and see if it could be a useful tool with politicians. My premise was that the perceived relationship the electorate has with Nick Clegg is an important component of the success of the Lib Dem party come election time. PoliticalBetting has pointed out on numerous occasions that the best

pointer to the eventual outcome [is] the leader ratings [which are] far better than the voting intention polling

So first we need a base line. How does Clegg see his standing with the electorate? So the question started with ‘on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is that your relationship with the electorate is as good as it could be and is seen very positively and will lead the party to the best result and 0 is that your relationship with the electorate is seen as toxic and will be very bad for the party and you personally, where would you say it is on the scale?’

This would have given us an idea as to how he judges this at the moment. Such a question leads us to own our judgements, which is a powerful process in itself. However, he is a politician and the last time he gave a number he got into a lot of trouble so this was his answer:

I’m not going to give you a number because it think it is a completely artificial and synthetic way to grade something which is quite delicate actually, quite nuanced and quite different actually, so sorry I’m not going to give you a number. I don’t know how you can quantify this, I don’t work like that but I can give you my characterisation and then you can put a number on it.

So Clegg didn’t want to give a number and maybe this is wise politics but it is not engaging with the SF approach. But then we he has a right not to answer if he doesn’t want to. His main point in the characterisation was this:

the relationship between ourselves and the country has been very badly damaged over the last year and a half

So I went around the conference asking people where they thought the scale would be to which most people said 3 or 4 – so I’ll go with that as our scale. He then asked if it was recoverable, to which his answer was yes, he believed it was. The solution focused answer would also be yes, that wherever you are on the scale you can improve and move up the scale so long as you know how.

So considering he was saying that his relationship with the country could ‘recover’ (his choice of word) my next question was ‘in the future when this relationship has recovered, what will the nation see you or the party doing differently?’ His answers were:

  • It will be different
  • They will come to respect what we do
  • There will be a fair minded respect
  • Best possible motives
  • Their [Lib Dems] hearts are in the right place

I clarified the question a little more as the question asked what he would be doing differently or what the party would be doing differently and his answers where what the nation would be doing differently. So I said ‘what would people see you or the party doing differently, specifically’. His answers were similar:

  • Now I understand what their motives are
  • Now I respect what they’ve done

His focus was again on what the nation would be doing differently, which was that they would be listening to what we are saying, rather than what he would be doing differently. I therefore went with where he was at rather than pushing this and asked the question ‘what can we do differently to get people to listen more, how do we as a party, or you as a leader communicate to the public so that they can listen to what is being said, in specific terms’, to which he said:

  • Make ourselves available
  • knock on doors
  • a lot of face to face stuff
  • speak in plain and simple terms
  • travel around the country talking to people
  • him to give people a script they can use on the door step

So while the interview seemed a little messy, there was limited time, and he had a lot of political points that he wanted to get over, I felt we ended up with a pretty good indication as to what he thinks needs to happen to start improving in the polls:

Which makes a lot of sense if we look at what works in political campaigning, which is – the ground war always wins so get people out knocking on doors and speaking to people and you are in with a better chance than any other method. Clegg is a man who knows his politics and the solution focused interview got out what he thinks we need to do as a party specifically, and I don’t think I have heard him talking about this stuff much in other interviews. So it could be possible that with more time and more SF questions we could end up with a very different message from our politicians?

I would love to know what other people think of this interview and for people to critique my interview from an SF point of view (if you know SF) so I can learn how to improve my interviewing with such a short amount of time.

Opinion Poll using the scaling question: Using it to improve campaigning

The scaling question is one of the more famous Solution Focused tools which is widely used now in all walks of life. It was developed as a tool to work with people to motivate them in a particular direction, or to at least identify how important things are to them. The beginning part of the tool is the one which people are most familiar with. This question has begun to be used more and more in politics, without ever really fulfilling the tools potential as it is never used fully. However, a recent opinion poll has again used it which shows some interesting results, which in turn would give us some important campaigning options.

The 2005 General Election had a turn out of about 61% while the 2010 turn out was about 65%. We could assume that those who scored the question an 8, 9 or 10 would have made up those who would vote in a General Election. While those scoring lower are less likely to vote verging on probably not going to. So while this is interesting for pollsters who use it for weighting their opinion polls, it offers campaigners a different slant.

Put simply, as a campaigner you want to know if you are wasting your time or not on talking to someone. In campaigning in general you may not make a destinction between someone you think would vote and someone who won’t as all conversations can be important. However, in targeted campaigning you make a judgement about whether they are likely to vote or not, and if not you move on (Obama used this extensively). But using the scaling question you can guide your judgement and potentially increase people to an 8, 9 or 10.

By asking the question (as asked by Ipsos-MORI) you get a baseline for where someone is at regarding voting. Where MORI stop there, you could go on to ask some questions to see if there is anything you could do to get them to the polling booth:

Q: Have you ever been at an 8 or 9 before? If so, what was different about then?

This gives you an idea about what needs to happen for this person to go and vote and if you can do anything to help

Q: What was your highest score? Did you go to vote at this score?

This tells you their scoring. If may be that they would go to vote at a 6 and so you could ask what needs to happen to get there? and if there is anything you can do to assist.

Q: What would need to happen to move up one point?

This gets them thinking about small steps that they would want to see to start moving towards going to vote and you can see if you can assist.

These types of questions get you into a positive dialogue about going to vote and steps to make it happen – which may be practical, political, or other reason – and gets you on their side in terms of making it happen. It maybe that they say 0 or 1 and you will get a quick answer to your question about whether you are wasting your time or not. It could help and could get a few more to the polling booths?

Campaign Scaling Question: A technique to win over swing voters a soft opposition voters at the front door

Door to door campaigning is one of the most successful techniques of increasing your vote yet there are some dilemmas in door to door campaigning when it comes to who you should focus your precious campaigning time on. When someone says they are undecided it is tempting to spend time with that person persuading them to your cause. However, undecided is often a euphemism for unlikely to vote, while the most winnable voters may be soft supporters of the opposition. So how do we know who are the soft support and who to spend our time with?

In 2008 Obama had many volunteers helping him out who went from door to door collecting data and spending a small amount of time persuading people to vote. However, when they came across someone who said they wouldn’t be voting Democrat they quickly moved on spending no time with them at all (or see here). This may be a great opportunity missed.

Currently we use our own personal judgement, previous experience of the person, or party information, yet there is a simple technique which can be used to give us this information as well as important information about what your local party is doing well and what they need to do to gain more votes: it is the campaign scaling question.

I have written about the scaling question before and a video of someone using the scale can be seen here. However, the campaigning scaling question is slightly different. We can offer a voter the scale in a way which will give us a quick answer to how likely they are to vote for the Lib Dems:

Q: If you were to scale your vote, where 10 is you will definitely vote for the Lib Dems and 0 is you definitely won’t, where would you put yourself at the moment?

A 10 means you don’t need to spend much time on this voter and you may want to ask the scale as to how likely they are to join the party:

Q: If I were to ask you to scale how likely you are to join the party, where 10 is I want to join today (please give me a membership form) and 0 is I will never join the party, where would you say you are?

Whereas a 0 (for the first question) will tell you your time will be wasted on the voter trying to persuade them. However, someone on a middle score may be a potential voter not yet tapped into. By asking the supporting questions we can also find out what they like about the party and what the party needs to do to increase the likeliness of their vote.

Q:  You have scaled it at ‘n’, why have you scaled it at ‘n’ and not 0?

This elicits what they like about the party.

Q: You have put your scale at ‘n’ what number would it need to be at for you to vote Lib Dem at this election?

This tells you how they are using the scale in their own mind as not everyone will need to be at 10 to be sure they will vote for the party, some will say 8 or 9. Then we can ask what needs to happen for this number to move towards the target.

Q: What would be different if your scale was ‘n+1’, what would you notice about the party that would move the scale up one point?

Here is an example of the campaign scaling question being used with a 30-something, female voter, who identified herself as a usual Labour voter. This is a snippet of the conversation:

Q: If you were to scale it, where 10 is you will definitely vote for the Lib Dems and 0 is you definitely won’t, where would you put yourself at the moment?

A: A 6.

Q: Can I ask why you put it at a 6, rather than, say a 2?

A: err, I think people should be looked after and cared for if they need it and I think the Lib Dems stand up for this too, they care about education and the NHS and so I put it at a 6.

Q: How high do you think this number needs to get for you to vote for the Lib Dems in this coming election?

A: About 8.

Q: So can I ask what would be different if your number was a 7?

A: What would be different?

Q: Yeah, what would you notice that would be different if things were a 7 at the moment rather than a 6.

A: I think I would see the Lib Dems doing more in this area, not just knocking on doors at election time, maybe letting people know what is going on in the local area.

Q: What else? [this is a vital question to ask]

A: They would have a bigger voice in government as others seem to have a bigger voice than they do at the moment.

Q: What else?

A: I think they could organise things for people to do like have a green day where they could get people together to plant a tree together or some other social gathering which gets people together.

Q: Would you want to get involved in this if it was set up? Would you help out?

A: Yes.

When I was asking these questions I was surprised by where it went. It showed that by using this technique it focused a floating voter on what she liked about the party and she began to think about what she wanted to see from the party. It focused her attention on what she wanted to see in her area and that she was willing to get involved in it (at least a verbal commitment).

I went on to ask the membership question and the answer was 0, but I gained a potential volunteer and a potential voter. I then went on to the usual talk about what the party had done in the local area etc. but what was important was that I gained some useful information about the local party and left the potential voter feeling good about the Lib Dems. This may have been enough to move her scale to a 7 or 8?

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.


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?


Liberal Democrats Score 5.5??? Developing scaling questions in politics

It was interesting to see the recent Guardian poll asking the scaling question to rate the government and the political parties out of 10 as this uses a key component of solution focused work. When asked to award the coalition marks out of 10 for its performance so far the total score was 5.1. The Conservatives scored 6.6, the Liberal Democrats scored 5.5 and Labour 4.2.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this confuses people as to its meaning as highlighted by Iain Roberts who says “…but what do the marks out of ten actually mean? … Is that good? Bad? Middling? I’ve no idea”.

The scaling question is one of the simplest, most appealing and accessible tools that have emerged within the practice of the solution-focused approach and people who have never even heard of the solution focused approach use scaling questions. This site gives some interesting posts on the origins of the tool.

While it is a step in the right direction towards a solution focused politics without the rest it is as Iain Roberts points out, meaningless.  The scale used in the Guardian poll is a success scale and the initial question of where are we now is the platform of which we can work with. The actual score that the Liberal Democrats got of 5.5 does not mean anything it is what we do now we have that score than has meaning.

So we have an initial score of 5.5. We should then ask why it is a 5.5 and not a 1 (for example). This elicits what they have done well and what people consider to be strengths. We then know what is working and that we can do more of it. We then ask so what would the Liberal Democrats be doing differently if the score was a 6.5? What would you notice them doing/saying differently at 6.5? This then looks to elicit other specific things which people would consider to be beneficial for them and their lives.

We then work up the scale so we know in specific terms what would be considered success for the Lib Dems. We then have something to come back to when asking them in the future about this success.

It would be nice if a polling company for the Liberal Democrats would do this and see what answers we got. Maybe this would produce different answers? Maybe not? But it would be worth a go and then the process could be adapted to suit the Lib Dems in the pursuit of increasing their score on the basis of specific things which they could do or achieve.

For a more comprehensive explanation of the scaling method have a look here, however, it was designed for work with clients who needed a change in their lives. This site looks at how we can adapt this to work for politics.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers