Do we need to autheticate the source or what the source reports?

I spoke at a conference in Ottawa today that was focused on the topic of stakeholder consultation. An observation from one of the participants in one of the sessions raised the question about how to authenticate and validate comments from participants received via an online forum, wiki, or blog. If the comments are to be used to inform policy, the need to know the author of a comment is clearly important. If one individual or group were able to represent themselves as many individuals or groups, the consultation process is clearly suspect.
This brings up the question of the purpose of the consultation. In risk management, we need to consult to understand matters that would otherwise be invisible, to see and understand more clearly what and how certain unexpected events could happen that will advance or retard goals. The authenticity of the individual who helps you understand or see more clearly may not be important. However, the truth of what they tell you is. So we need to validate the information. It’s less likely that we need to validate the reporter. Indeed, knowing less about the reporter means that it is less likely that we will be influenced by the things that shouldn’t influence us, but easily can. For more on this point about risk and perception read this blog about Joshua Bell.

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