Here are some more detailed thoughts related to this issue, copied from a message I posted earlier today on IPR at http://www.independentpoliticalreport.com/2014/06/open-thread-for-questions-for-geoffrey-neale-and-nicholas-sarwark-candidates-for-chairmanship-of-lp/#comment-884040.
Please read this as soon as you get a chance, and let's have a thoughtful discussion *as a committee* on how or whether we want to put out an actual Platform Committee survey.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
Some lengthy thoughts and concerns here regarding the Platform (particularly) and Bylaws Committee surveys, in response to Chuck Moulton’s posting (June 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm):
I don’t know about the platform committee, but the bylaws committee discussed sending out a survey and there was general agreement about doing so (though this was not a formal motion or noted in the minutes). I don’t recall anyone objecting to sending out a survey and it was implicit in all discussions about having a style committee within the bylaws committee (if we didn’t have to send out a survey sooner, we could have waited until the next meeting to approve changes to introductory language as a full committee).
Questions as significant as whether to send out these surveys, how they are worded, whether respondents are anonymous, and who gets access to the survey response data really should be handled by formal motion and voting in my opinion. But I’m glad that at least general consensus to send out a survey was obtained with the Bylaws Committee prior to acting to do so, even if there was not a formal motion. As I noted, there has been no such process on the Platform Committee and therefore the current survey that is out which apparently purports to be from the Platform Committee (I have not yet received a copy or seen it myself, which is kind of nuts in itself, since I am on the committee, whereas it apparently has been seen by numerous people not on the committee!) should be treated as illegitimate and people should not send in responses unless they just want to do so for fun.
As for anonymous vs. attributed, Alicia Mattson mentioned this briefly to me in discussions about setting up the surveys. There is an option to limit each IP address to only take the survey once. Alicia ruled this out because sometimes families who share a computer (or broadband connection) have more than one LP member in the household. Also some networks have dynamic IP addresses which could result in people from distinct households having the same IP address at different times. A second way to prevent duplicate submissions is requiring people to identify themselves. This was the method she chose. At the present moment I plan to use the same method.
What is crucial here is that information personally identifying survey respondents (names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.) should either be available to everyone, or it should not be seen by anyone.
The problem with some in-between approach is that if some party members (e.g. only members of the Bylaws and Platform committees) have access to information about which individuals gave which views and feedback, it gives them an advantage over other members in terms of things like Bylaws and Platform debate, deciding whom to support for party office in order to advance their agendas, etc.
I urge anyone filling out an LP survey in which you are required to give personally identifying information (name, email, etc.) to make it clear in your responses (use one of the comment boxes) that you want your full responses made public, and not viewed only by committee members or other insiders, so as to reduce the possibility of your information being used for unfair political advantage. (And, obviously, don’t mention anything in the survey comments that you don’t want made public.)
It’s possible identified survey information could be misused once collected. That won’t be the case with bylaws committee survey responses. One could argue that the identification information requested exceeds what is required to combat duplicate submissions (only requiring name or email address, but not both — and not address, phone etc. — would be sufficient). That’s probably true. People are used to providing contact information though and asking a bit extra may further discourage duplicate submissions.
It is indeed possible that survey information could be misused once collected, and given the nature of the possible misuse — people with access to the information, even if they only look at it and remember it, rather than retaining a copy, using it to gain a political advantage not available to others — there is only one way to avoid this, and that is for everyone in the party to have the same level of access to the data collected.
Again, ether no one should be able to see the identities of survey responses (i.e. they are anonymous, or use only non-personal identifiers like IP addresses), or everyone should be able to see the identities of survey responses.
I’ve asked the bylaws committee for feedback on the survey before I send it out, and I’m open to switching to one submission per IP address (instead of asking for identifying information) or reducing the contact information requested if the bylaws committee thinks that would be prudent.
I’m glad you haven’t sent the Bylaws survey out yet, and hope you will follow one of the practices recommended above.
Another key point with these surveys is that to be fair, valid, and accurate in providing a picture of delegates’ views, they should not include “push polling”.
As an example of what I’m talking about, the 2010 Platform Committee survey did not merely show respondents a proposal, ask whether they support or oppose it, and solicit their comments. It also included statements describing the “purpose” of the proposed changes, statements which were typically not neutral, but rather took the form of editorializing in favor of the proposed changes.
For instance, the very first proposed change listed in that survey is preceded by the following statement:
Purpose:? This amendment improves readability, protects our candidates from accusations on many subjects where we make no distinction between young children and adults, and removes the discussion of foreign affairs policy from a plank regarding Personal Liberty. Note that the non-initiation-of-force concept is already addressed in the 3.0 Securing Liberty plank.
This is problematic for several reasons:
(1) Survey respondents were clearly given a positive lead-in to the proposed change, biasing them to vote in favor of the proposal
(2) This push-polling casts the legitimacy and accuracy of the survey results in doubt
(3) The statement that the proposed change “protects our candidates from accusations on many subjects where we make no distinction between young children and adults” is highly controversial and debatable. It implicitly presumes that our platform should be about “protecting our candidates from accusations” rather than being about stating what we believe.
(4) The inclusion of leading and biased statements may have impacted not only the survey results, but voting during the Platform debate itself based on delegates’ opinions having been influenced by the survey, which in turn would undermine the legitimacy of the very democratic process by which the Libertarian Party makes changes to its Platform!
I hope everyone reading this thinks about the above, and sees why the wording of these surveys of party members is so important!
Alicia Mattson, the chair of this year’s Platform Committee, was also the chair of the Platform Committee in 2010, and her name appears on the biased survey that was sent out that year and thus is presumably responsible for it, although others may have had a hand in creating it as well. She has also been committee chair other years — I don’t recall how many times. I believe surveys sent out in some of those other years have also had similar problems to those noted with the 2010 survey above, but again I do not recall for certain without more research. Perhaps others can chime in here with data or recollections.
Some people (including Alicia) have objected to the idea of making the identities of survey respondents public. Clearly we should not do this in cases where people have been promised anonymity or led to expect their responses will be kept private. HOWEVER, we should not be promising anonymity or giving expectations of privacy in the first place, unless the respondents’ identities are also kept secret from those (like Alicia) who are collecting the surveys!
For these reasons, I am very troubled that Alicia as chair of the 2014 Platform Committee apparently on her own and without committee authorization has created and sent out a survey purportedly on behalf of the committee, after I had previously raised concerns as a committee member that we make sure any survey is conducted in an unbiased and transparent manner!
In conclusion, I recommend the following approach for sending out Platform, Bylaws, and other surveys to party members:
(1) Make it clear to survey recipients that all the data from survey responses will be made public (shared with all party members)
(2) Give respondents the option of responding anonymously (using IP address) or openly (using their names, email addresses, phone numbers, or other identifying info), with the caveat that no more than one anonymous response per IP address will be allowed in order to prevent duplicate voting.
(3) Do not include any explanatory language about committee proposals, only the proposals themselves! (Recommended approach.) Or, if explanatory language is included, ensure that language written by a supporter of a proposal explaining the reasons or justifications (i.e. arguments) for making a change, is accompanied by language of a similar length written by an opponent of the proposal, giving the arguments against making the change.