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The Wisdom of Crowds: Learning from Administrators’ Predictions of Citizen Perceptions


Theodore H. Poister is a professor of public administration in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. His research interests focus on strategic planning and management, performance measurement, and customer service in the public sector, and much of his work addresses these issues in transportation agencies. His book Measuring Performance in Public and Nonprofit Organizations was published by Jossey-Bass in 2003.

John Clayton Thomas is a professor in the Department of Public Administration and Urban Studies, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University. His research focuses on how citizens connect with governments and how those connections can be improved. His research has appeared in such journals as Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Administration & Society, and Urban Affairs Review.


Public agencies use surveys to solicit feedback from citizens and targeted customer groups, but many experts question whether the results of these surveys are valuable. This paper explores how a recent innovation in citizen surveys—asking public administrators to predict how citizens will respond to survey questions—may be used to increase that value and, at the same time, provide additional data of interest on its own account. The innovation is explored through two surveys: (1) a public opinion poll of Georgia residents conducted by the authors for the Georgia Department of Transportation in January 2004, and (2) a brief survey of that agency’s administrators asking for their predictions of public opinion. The prediction process appeared to increase the agency’s interest in the resident survey. The findings document the frequent superiority of groups—what Surowiecki terms “the wisdom of crowds”—over individuals in predicting public opinion.