By Mark Diffley

IT often appears that we are overwhelmed with data, be that regular political polling or customer satisfaction surveys on virtually every good or service that we buy. Yet the reality is that there is much we do not know about public perceptions, attitudes and behaviours in Scotland.

As well as regular political polling, there are a number of recurring, large-scale surveys in Scotland that look in detail at social issues including crime and health. These play a vital role and provide crucial information for policy makers, but there remain two key issues that need to be addressed.

Firstly, there are knowledge gaps. We cannot fully understand significant issues of public opinion, perception and behaviour without asking important questions. How confident are we about our own and the country’s economic future? Will we be spending more or less on consumer goods and services in the coming year? What makes us happy or worried? How do we want climate change to be tackled? In our digital age, reaching out to people through social research has never been more possible, or more crucial.

Secondly, there are time gaps in the availability of data. In a fast-changing world, we need to understand public attitudes and behaviours more speedily to enable greater understanding and better decision making. There are often time lags of many months between data being collected for the existing large-scale surveys and that data reaching the public domain.

In many aspects of life, especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, behaviours and attitudes have become increasingly fluid and changeable, calling for more timely, robust analysis. Digital analytics has opened up possibilities, but public surveying also needs to quicken its pace.

The solution is not a one-off poll, but instead requires a commitment to regular measurement of issues that matter on a long-term basis. That way we gain insight into how attitudes and behaviours are changing over time and what this means for the economy, society and environment in Scotland.

This is why I have partnered with some of Scotland’s leading organisations to launch a quarterly study, Understanding Scotland. This new tool will measure the experiences, perceptions and attitudes of people under the three themes of society, economy, and environment across Scotland, allowing government, public bodies, businesses, and our charity sector to make better informed decisions with a greater degree of confidence and insight.

The value of the data will be enhanced as each successive survey wave adds to a time series reflecting on how opinions change, or not, over time. Crucially, insights will be kept as up-to-date, and therefore as meaningful, as possible, further assisting those making important decisions.

Providing this regular timely analysis of the public mood on a range of important issues is vital and will benefit us all. It can enhance our appreciation and knowledge of what our fellow citizens think, throw a light on what public priorities are, and allow better and more informed decision making. It is time to mind the gap and cut the lag.

Mark Diffley is the Founder and Director of the Diffley Partnership