Coping with the Cornucopia: Can Text Mining Help Handle the Data Deluge in Public Policy Analysis?



Information and communication technologies such as the Internet have created a plethora of opportunities for the participation of citizens in policymaking. In the United Kingdom, for instance, this trend has emerged at national and local levels, in domains as diverse as Education, the Environment and Health Care. Given a general renewal of interest in incorporating public opinion into policymaking, devices such as online consultations and electronic surveys have rendered the appeal to ‘the people’ seemingly easier. But an important problem arising from involving the public in decision-making exercises through large-scale electronic participatory devices is the amount of textual data generated. Although there is now a large body of literature devoted to commentating and analysing ways in which politicians ought to be involved in listening and responding to public participation in decision-making, issues pertaining to the implementation of such exercises in the light of the volume of information that they produce have largely remained unexplored. In this paper, we assess the potential benefits and shortcomings of using Text Mining methods for the analysis of large-scale consultations submitted via Internet. To this end, the paper reports on the application of computer-aided text analysis to a public consultation organised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2008 on ‘End of Life Medicines’.