Case Studies Index
Review of graphical environments on the WWW as a means of widening public participation in social science research
6. Conclusions and recommendations
There is a great deal of discussion surrounding the
potential use of the WWW as a vehicle for social science research. However,
with the exception of a few on-line questionnaire surveys, very little of the
discussion seems to be materialising into action. The great potential of the
WWW as data source may, in fact, turn out to be a red herring in most cases.
There is a great deal of social science relevant information out there in
cyberspace, but there are a great many difficult and thorny issues surrounding
both its use and access including problems of sample bias and confidentiality.
The main advantages of adopting a web-based approach to social science research
seem to be increased sample size, targeted sample populations, multi-media and
interactive presentation of surveys and results, and active participation.
Perhaps the key role of the WWW in social science research is at the lower
levels of participation; principally in the dissemination of the results of
social science research and making data and tools available for public use.
This is very important in closing the awareness gap between academics and the
public and in providing an end-user service.
The following recommendations are made here:
Future developments are likely to see further
experimental web-based social science research coming on-line in the next few
years whilst the wider development of the WWW as an accepted information medium
will see improved public and political awareness of what is possible in this
growing field. The social science community as a whole needs to be aware of
these developments and exploit the new technology as appropriate.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding of AGOCG in
supporting the work described in this report. The authors would also like to
acknowledge the helpful co-operation of the authors and web-masters interviewed
during the preparation of the case studies. The authors would particularly like
to thank Prof. Stan Openshaw for constructive comments during the preparation
of the report.
- There is a basic need for education about the opportunities and pit-falls which
web-based surveys and systems can offer. A resource of software tools and
literature on best practice should be developed to give users the best possible
advice on how to undertake web-based social science research and give
assistance when and where required.
- There is a need to create examples of well
designed and innovative interfaces that encourage participation and use. These
could be used as models of good practice to encourage other social science
researchers to use similar approaches as appropriate.
- There is a need to raise
public awareness of the value of social science research through the
dissemination of research results and tools via the WWW. One way of ensuring
nation wide coverage may be through well advertised media events.
- There needs to
be a greater emphasis on the role that social science can play in providing a
WWW-based public service, both in access to datasets and graphics tools. Good
examples include the Friends of the Earth Chemical Release Inventory, the
Institute of Fiscal Studies' Be Your Own Chancellor model and the East St.
Louis Local Action Research Project and associated GIS-based East St. Louis
Geographic Retrieval System.
Virtual Environments Visualisation