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Literature Review

Case Studies





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:

  • 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.
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.

7. Acknowledgements

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.

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