Capturing Public Opinion on Public Health Topics: A Comparison of Experiences from a Systematic Review, Focus Group Study, and Analysis of Online, User-Generated Content
Frontiers in Public Health 2015
DOI : 10.3389/fpubh.2015.00200
Background: Capturing public opinion toward public health topics is important to ensure that services, policy, and research are aligned with the beliefs and priorities of the general public. A number of approaches can be used to capture public opinion. Methods: We are conducting a program of work on the effectiveness and acceptability of health promoting financial incentive interventions. We have captured public opinion on financial incentive interventions using three methods: a systematic review, focus group study, and analysis of online user-generated comments to news media reports. In this short editorial-style piece, we compare and contrast our experiences with these three methods. Results: Each of these methods had their advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include tailoring of the research question for systematic reviews, probing of answers during focus groups, and the ability to aggregate a large data set using online user-generated content. However, disadvantages include needing to update systematic reviews, participants conforming to a dominant perspective in focus groups, and being unable to collect respondent characteristics during analysis of user-generated online content. That said, analysis of user-generated online content offers additional time and resource advantages, and we found it elicited similar findings to those obtained via more traditional methods, such as systematic reviews and focus groups. Conclusion: A number of methods for capturing public opinions on public health topics are available. Public health researchers, policy makers, and practitioners should choose methods appropriate to their aims. Analysis of user-generated online content, especially in the context of news media reports, may be a quicker and cheaper alternative to more traditional methods, without compromising on the breadth of opinions captured.