Qualitative research tools
The Commission's revised communication strategy, published on 3 October 2007, foresees the introduction of new methods to be used by the Eurobarometer in order to "increase its ability to listen and respond to public opinion" and "use surveys more strategically in relevant phases of the policy process".
Communication Commissioner Margot Wallström has, on several occasions, supported the idea of introducing "citizens' assessments", which should become part of the standard EU lawmaking process, in the same way as impact assessments already are.
More concretely, the Commission seeks to include more widespread use of qualitative research tools, drawing on experience from citizens' debates organised in the context of the Plan D projects. It also wants to increasingly use the combination of analysis of quantitative and qualitative data to give a fuller picture of public expectations.
One example of a new method of studying public opinion is deliberative polling. This method, developed by Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University in 1988, combines deliberation with scientific sampling to provide public consultation for policies and electoral issues.
In the first step, a random representative sample is polled on targeted policy issues. Then the members of the sample gather to discuss these issues. Members are provided with informative material and get the chance to engage in dialogue with experts and political leaders.
After the deliberations, the sample is asked the original questions again. The results reflect the change in opinion the public would reach if they were to be more informed and engaged by the policy issues. Deliberative poll experiments have been conducted around the world and in Europe, the UK, Denmark, Italy and Bulgaria.
New communication technologies
Traditionally, opinion polls were conducted primarily on a face-to-face basis, but telephone surveys are becoming increasingly popular, as they can be conducted in a short amount of time.
The number of internet surveys is also steadily increasing, with online polls being able to reach out to a large number of respondents. Later, the results can be weighed according to demographic criteria to create a representative sample. However, some argue that compared to traditional surveys, online polls are based on whoever volunteers to answer the question (the so-called 'open access' poll), rather than representing a scientific sample of the population.