Dear Sir – Confusion over SPR’s “flawed” Tiree Survey
The recent questionnaire that was completed by many islanders and others has come in for heavy criticism. No Tiree Array (NTA) has taken professional advice on Scottish Power Renewables’ (SPR) questionnaire, and the conclusion is that the questionnaire appears to be so incompetently designed that the results may be corrupted and inadmissible. The only way for SPR to find out the island’s real issues is to conduct a survey, yet the survey’s questionnaire has already decided what the issues are!
With regard to question 7, the questionnaire tries to find out what concerns people have about the Tiree Array. There appear to be serious mistakes in the way the question is asked. The list is made up of arbitrarily selected items (eg noise, impact on business, disruption from the construction) covering only 10 of the things that might matter to residents. For instance, not one of the items touches on the cultural, community, or way- of- life impacts of the project. The one item in the list that comes anywhere near to this is “potential social effects of the windfarm”, which is then explained as “e.g. newcomers to the island”! Although a space exists for “other”, (I.e. you can add an issue that is important to you but not on the list), you are only allowed to give a view on three including “other”. Suppose there are more than 3 which you are concerned about? Tough. SPR have evidently decided for themselves that these ten plus one are the issues, and that 3 is the most that anyone can have strong feelings about.
Professional researchers know that the correct way to find out what people think and feel about something is to offer them a range of responses that they can chose from. We have all received surveys at one time or another, and we are used to this sort of question: “Please tick one box to indicate how you feel about xyz”. And then the boxes are labelled something like “very happy” “quite happy” “neither happy nor unhappy” “quite unhappy” “very unhappy”. It is done so that you learn how strongly the person feels about something. The SPR survey ignores this basic rule of research. Naively, it simply asks ”What are you most concerned about? Tick a maximum of three”.
These worries about the Tiree survey have been repeatedly brought to the attention of every one of SPR’s directors. SPR have replied that “your suggestions will be incorporated into any further questionnaires”, thus effectively acknowledging their mistakes. You might think they would therefore withdraw or re-run the survey. But no such luck. We have even offered to help them with experienced research advice. Again, no luck.
The frightening possibility is that SPR see nothing wrong in collecting, publishing and relying upon allegedly corrupted and invalid data, yet SPR want us to believe that their “consultation process” is transparent, thorough and professional.
To quote from the Guidelines of UK Renewables, of which the Regulations and Markets Director of Scottish Power is the Chairman, “These methods (gathering information, opinion surveys,…questionnaires….) only gather information in response to the questions asked; they may miss opinions or concerns that are not asked about”. Why is this error so important? SPR will publish the results, not just to the islanders, but to the government, to Marine Scotland, to the media. They will presumably use the results as evidence of what matters most to local people about the Tiree Array. Depending on the results, they may even claim that only one , two or three issues are matters of concern to locals, or that “even these only mattered to x% of the respondents”. Far from gaining true insights into people’s worries – which in reality appear to be widespread, wide-ranging, and very major – they will reduce everything to a handful of items that they can then fix or smooth over. And they can quote this allegedly incompetent and invalid survey as proof that they have taken care of what we wanted.
Why should we care? This survey is not independently assessed, but is part of delivering SPR’s promised “consultation with stakeholders”. It will be used to help shape the outcome of the biggest and potentially most disastrous happening in our island’s history. Nothing questionable must be allowed to influence that outcome. We will continue to challenge SPR to be honest and professional. So watch this space.
Robert Trythall, NTA