[Opinion] How not to misinterpret survey results

It is perhaps one of the most arrogant reactions that I have encountered coming from a local government official yet I understand why the reaction is defensive for the issue involves perceived corruption. I believe, however, that the reaction could have been presented differently in spite taking a defensive position. But the appropriate handling of the issue is a different subject altogether.

I am referring to the reaction of Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog over the survey results on enterprises presented by the Social Weather Station in a national roadshow. The presentation of the result was done by an SWS official and was reported by mediapersons in the city. The news material was pointed out as having “misreported” the result or the presentation of the result. Although the issue of “misreporting” became contested for it solicited different opinions from the public, the reporters, and the source that generated the material; I believe that there are valuable lessons that can be drawn from the issue.

Survey results are primarily technical materials. I mean technical in a sense that a survey is a scientific tool utilized by institutions like SWS or by individuals to examine a condition or a situation. The examination of a particular condition in a community or group of people is being undertaken through a query in order to gather data or information.

The issue of corruption in the public sector or people’s perception about corruption is just one among the issues that are being queried using survey. The tool for gathering data is not at all bad although the method is also utilized by politicians to influence the public or shape public perception from an issue. In spite of the fact that it is a common tool to examine a condition, not all of the people have the capacity to interpret its output. This is the reason, among many other reasons, why survey results are vulnerable to misinterpretation and with that, misreporting.

According to Mahar Mangahas the result was misreported. I believe that the reporter used the result to report to the public and for me reporter  did not misreported the survey result in a news material. Rather, there was a lapse in handling the result considering that the survey firm SWS did not properly guide reporters on how to accurately interpret the survey results so that it can be reported properly.

Survey institutions must also recognize that not all reporters are equipped to interpret results in order to make it understandable to the public. But I do not blame reporters who are only doing its duty to report survey results based on their capacity. It is also their job to inform the public of the prevailing conditions in the community and to highlight its relevance or impact on the day-to-day life of people.

Because reporters are frontliners in informing the public, it is important for survey institutions to properly inform reporters and guide them of the proper way of interpreting survey results so that it will be reported accurately. Training of reporters must be integrated in its roadshow presentations.

Survey results will remain irrelevant to people if it is not fully understood or appreciated by the public. This is the reason why reporters are important for they play the role, not only of presenting survey results, but they also provide an interpretation by explaining why the outcome of surveys and what its relevance to people and society.

Moreover, it is also important that survey institutions properly guide local government officials about survey results for the simple reason that many local government officials (including those claiming to have acquired Harvard education) are not also competent on the nuances of surveys; hence, they have also different ways of understanding and appreciating survey results. Those who are ill-equipped may  misinterpret it especially if the result is not beneficial for them.

Those officials who are ill-equipped to appreciate the significance of survey results in improving governance practices need not attend roadshow presentations. What they need is a one-on-one tutorial from experts like Mahar Mangahas and they must not rely on advises from political advisers who may not possess the competence to interpret survey results.

Measuring incidence of corruption in local government by gathering data from different sectors that normally conduct business in local government is a significant undertaking. Likewise, it is relevant for the people because there are solutions that can be drawn out from the result which may be helpful in improving people’s way of living.

It is not SWS that pointed out there is corruption, rather it was the respondents who where the ones who revealed that they have experienced corruption one way or the other in dealing with government. How can the Mabilog administration totally dismiss the survey results when no less than the respondents from its locality have shared that they experienced corruption? To dismiss that fact altogether is sheer arrogance. It would have helped a lot in improving the image of Mayor Mabilog if he humbly recognized the result and instead used it as a reference in order for his administration to institute proper intervention and reforms.

There is no reason to argue about misreporting. What must be argued are the necessary actions required from the local government in fighting corruption and what will be the contribution of the Mabilog administration in improving governance practices in the country.

Corruption has a historical basis and it is contagious. In its book “Pork and other Perks”, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism cited Sjed Hussain Alatas’ explanation about corruption when it said: “From government offices, corruption seeps into political life, into business and society. One of the avenues of contagion is what Alatas refers to as “defensive corruption”, saying “the degree of defensive corruption in a society reflects the degree of ‘extortive corruption’ it suffers. The greater the extortion the greater the defensive response.”

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