When inventors want to evaluate the quality of a new product, before it goes into production, they will make a number of prototypes, arrange for a number of people to meet in pleasant surroundings, on a social level, and then seek their views on the product, as the guests handle it, try it out, and discuss it with the inventor and among themselves. This whole proceeding is videoed and taped, and later together with a consultant, the inventor will proceed to evaluate, take notice of the criticisms, and set out a programme to improve the product. This procedure may be implemented more than once as the project proceeds. In effect it is a referendum, a lot more detailed than yes or no, but the principle is the same.

I have previously pointed out that I’m not very good at surfing the Net and therefore have not found a website devoted to referenda, where people gratuitously offer subjects that they consider are of national importance, set out the parameters, and then ask people on the Internet to give their views in a multiple choice manner. In these days of rapid change, where people make sweeping proposals on our behalf, it is not only the individual but the press who often have certain doubts. Something along these lines might be useful in two ways. Firstly it would widely draw attention to something is collectively questioned, and secondly it would give people an opportunity to consider the pros and cons and vote their own perspective. To give a simple example, many years ago the ship associated with the Titanic disaster was bought and taken to the harbour in Belfast with a view to totally restoring it, as part of a dock area given over to presenting the whole history of the Titanic from design to sinking, as a tourist attraction as well as a dedication. Many of us at the time felt that the whole thing was badly conceived and that money would be thrown away with nothing to show for it. Whether this finally happens or not, is conjecture, but what is certain is that if it does come about it will be protracted over decades. At the outset a referendum on the feasibility and wisdom in purchasing this ship might have saved a lot of heartburn.

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