WE Week: Eric Abdullateef on Using Online Search to Rapidly Assess Public’s View of Your Programs

I’m Eric Abdullateef. I enable evaluation at USAID and facilitate interagency responses to complex crises in developing countries where the U.S. has strategic interests.  Reshaping public understanding about our initiative is a growing part of my portfolio.

When a public opinion poll is out of the question and a general pulse of how average citizens feel about your initiative will do, consider this rapid assessment approach (RAA) to gauge public attitudes about your initiative. RAAs are a quick and low cost way to gather data systematically in support of management information. Whether your public engagement effort is aimed at advocacy or education, it is important to start with a basic understanding of your audience’s beliefs and prejudices about your organization and one or more issues that your campaign is focused on.

Hot Tip: This RAA entails the following steps:

  1.  Isolate the keywords and phrases to pose answerable questions. Align these questions with your thematic unit of analysis and  the timeframe. You can delimit your search geographically by including or excluding place names. Use unlikely word combinations where possible, as these yield the best results.
  2.  Use simple Google operators for more efficient Google searches that isolate online content that address your issues. See Google Inside Search for further tips.
  3. Change your search terms or search within results to makes searches more efficient.
  4.  Instead of searching for a term across all pages on the web, search within a specialized field or venue. Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, the query [ iraq site:nytimes.com ] will return pages about Iraq but only from nytimes.com. One of the fastest ways to get a sense of the public discourse around a topic is by searching within “grey literature” blogs and comments at Google Blogs.
  5. You’re limited to a search-string totaling about ten words.
  6. Select as many relevant blog posts and comments as time permits. Use a website only once to obtain more varied opinions.
  7. You’ll need a coding strategy. Keep it as simple as:
  • Enthusiasts
  • Interested
  • Neutral
  • Ambivalent
  • Skeptics
  • Rejectors

8. During the analysis process, look for and synthesize comments that signal the theory, strategy for action or evidence that your public demands in order to support your initiative. From here the evaluator should have a clearer view of public awareness of the initiative; the views of participants in the debate; group-think about what should be the criteria for success; and the extent of polarization.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the WE AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our WE members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “WE Week: Eric Abdullateef on Using Online Search to Rapidly Assess Public’s View of Your Programs”

  1. I can appreciate the benefits of this approach in terms of convenience and time savings. But the key question is whether or not this method yields data with a known degree of accuracy. For example, in my own evaluation work in Australia I have come across situations where the views being most frequently expressed in newspapers was not consistent with public opinion as judged by formal survey results. Has any research been undertaken to establish the validity and reliability of Google searches as a measure of public opinion? Are Google results comparable to other search engines?

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