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No Sugar Coating - NZers Want Stronger Action on Sugar

Over December 2016 and January 2017, Scoop hosted a trial community engagement exercise on the issue of Sugar and Public Health on our new HiveMind platform. 256 people from different backgrounds and political persuasions participated in the process, which resulted in a number of interesting findings. Most promising was the fact that there was much agreement from across a wide range of participants from different backgrounds and perspectives on potential solutions to some of the accepted public health challenges we face around sugar.

The full report entitled No sugar coating: New Zealanders want stronger government-led action on sugar is available for download here.

This initial trial engagement confirmed for Scoop the value of the HiveMind approach to community engagement and demonstrates the potential of this tool as a forum for building consensus and cooperation across party or political ideology lines. HiveMind seeks to enable citizens to be more actively involved in defining and addressing public issues and challenges. This approach will be necessary if we are to successfully address the myriad ‘wicked problems’ of our age. Such issues cannot be addressed by governments, politicians or policy experts alone but will require a range of actors to work collaboratively in the public interest.

Scoop plans to use this HiveMind approach in 2017 as part of its Open News Project campaign to ‘Open the Election’. We have already launched the first stage of this effort with a HiveMind discussion to crowdsource ideas from the community on Scoop’s upcoming 2017 election journalism content. We invite you to participate in this discussion now.

What is HiveMind

HiveMind is powered by Polis, a new advanced online survey tool for collecting, analysing and representing open-ended feedback from large groups of people. The use of Polis and similar analytic tools is a response to democratic deficits witnessed in New Zealand and other mature democracies. Such deficits are characterised by falling voter turnouts, declining levels of trust in democratic institutions and the crisis of organisational listening.

Why is Scoop doing this

When it comes to public issues those advocating for policy prescriptions frequently use the media and online platforms to promote their views and opinions in a traditional ‘broadcast’ manner. As a public arena, however, the media still provides the public with few opportunities to carefully consider complex issues. Even online sites that encourage input from the public are usually limited to debate and argument. Neither the traditional media nor web 2.0 based media typically offer opportunities where people can, in a structured way be exposed to a variety of perspectives and weigh what the possible costs and consequences of an action or actions might be. Neither are they encouraged to fully examine the nature of an issue, what lies behind differences of opinion or whether they can arrive at defining some common ground upon which to base public action.

Scoop’s HiveMind initiative is a step towards providing a platform to achieve this as it provides an arena for mutual learning and the formation of a more insightful and informed public opinion. Scoop is positioning itself as a more participatory and reactive media organisation and seeks to provide further opportunities for our community to shape the media agenda and influence decision makers.

Results from the Sugar HiveMind

Our collaborators on the HiveMind project Public Engagement Projects have compiled the comprehensive report on the No Sugar Coating HiveMind exploration. The full report entitled No sugar coating: New Zealanders want stronger government-led action on sugar is available for download here. It features raw data breakdowns of the engagement as well as analysis and reflections.

In summary, the findings of the report suggest that a sizable majority of New Zealanders:
Agree that sugar is a complex issue and that a range of interventions will be needed to address it
Agree that the current voluntary measures are not sufficient to address the sugar issue
Agree that the government should develop and use a range of stronger interventions aimed at:
• reducing the consumption of sugar, especially amongst young people
• ensuring everyone can access affordable and healthy food and drink
• encouraging and directing innovation to reduce sugar consumption

Strongly support measures such as:
• the stricter regulation of the advertising and marketing of sugary drinks and junk food, especially to young people
• better education and consumer information
• measures that encourage and support more physical activity
• using regulation to reduce the amount of sugar in food and drink products, to encourage behaviour change and to directed and stimulate innovation.

Support the consideration of taxes and subsidies that work together to reduce sugar consumption and encourage the consumption of healthy food and drink while ensuring that healthy products are affordable. Note that there is no clear consensus about the design of this fiscal regime.

We do acknowledge that there were some limitations to these findings inherent in the relatively small sample size and the difficulty in ascertaining the demographics and representativeness of the sample group. However, even if the relative size of the various groups differed we believe that the overall nature of the groups would remain relatively consistent on a national scale. The value of this exercise comes from the areas of agreement and consensus between clearly opposing opinion groups rather than from the relative weightings.


Based on this community engagement exercise, Scoop believes that regardless of their political leanings, the public wants the government to take stronger action to address the sugar and public health issue and that there is a strong mandate for action.

Scoop also believes that new processes and arenas are needed to address many of today’s complex problems and to improve conditions of trust and democratic legitimacy. Such processes need to promote inclusion, listening, learning and the formation of a more insightful and informed public opinion than conventional mechanisms manage.

Scoop as an independent media organisation is well placed to host such processes and arenas with assistance from public engagement experts. The sugar and public HiveMind provides a promising model for how new online engagement technologies can be used to enable the public to help define and address issues. Scoop would welcome approaches from organisations that are interested in further developing its HiveMind initiative.

Scoop Publishing calls on policy and decision makers to consider and respond to the findings of this report.

Joseph Cederwall
Community Engagement Manager
Scoop Publishing

© Scoop Media

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