Opinion: Tick 'no' box to trivial surveys

Peter Stanford a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

How to get more publicity? It's the question forever buzzing round the media department, especially of those charities that champion unpopular causes or are saddled with an annual awareness day/week/month which they have to ensure makes a splash in an over-crowded pool.

One popular stand-by at the moment is to commission a survey. The world is seemingly overflowing with polling organisations willing to pester the public with the most ridiculous questions. The trick appears to be to ask a whole lot of sensible questions about serious issues - perceptions of world trading imbalances, the value of contributing to the community, social justice and so on - but to spice them up with trivial ones.

It is, the pollsters tell us, a way of making taking part in a survey fun, thus insuring against a volley of refusals from the public. And it also grabs newspaper editors' attention. This is all well and good until the answers to the trivial questions make the headlines and relegate the findings on real campaigning issues to the bottom of the shopping list.

So we now know, for instance, that 49 per cent of charity workers don't like drinking alone in a hotel bar compared to 35 per cent of the general population (Third Sector, 7 April). Did we need to know this? No. Does it perhaps perpetuate a stereotype that charity workers are uptight, politically correct and no fun? Perhaps. Is it an April Fool? If only, but the dates don't work. The question appears to have been part of a quality-of-life survey carried out on behalf of Barclaycard.

Recently we were also told, by another survey, that Marlborough in Wiltshire was the most charitably disposed town in Britain. Nice plaudit if you live there. On the down side, it may be an open invitation to canvassers to descend on its undoubtedly quaint high street.

We've got survey overload. As a shortcut to publicity it is as past its sell-by date as a cheque presentation ceremony. Surveys have a place, but we need to think more carefully about where this is.

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