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  Defining Participation


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

1. Introduction

The World Wide Web (WWW or 'web') is viewed as an increasingly important resource for social science researchers. The WWW is the source of a burgeoning amount of information, a significant volume of which has either some direct or indirect relevance to the social sciences. The web and other associated Internet Based Communications (IBCs) techniques have the potential to provide the social scientist with direct access to vast amounts of social science relevant data should they be prepared to embrace the technology and the opportunities it represents. A key element of the web's attractiveness to the wider public audience is its highly graphical nature and its multi-media content. Social scientists should be tapping into this resource, not only as a means of presenting the results of their research in an exciting and user-friendly format, but also as a new way of gathering primary and secondary data from the information 'cyberspace' and directly from its growing population of users.

These case studies address the technical, methodological, conceptual and ethical issues surrounding the use of the WWW as a source of social science relevant information and as a mechanism for public participation in social science research.

1.1 Defining participation

For the purposes of this report public participation in social science is taken to mean any form of active involvement by the public in the wider realm of social science research. At least four different levels of public participation in social science research can be identified:

  • public access to results of social science research through any available medium (the informed public);
  • public use of social science research for the benefit of the individual, social groups or wider community (public as user);
  • public participation in social science research as the subject of study, whether as an individual or member of a wider population (public as subject); and
  • public involvement in social science research through defining research objectives, agendas and carrying out research (public as researcher).
Although the public may be quite deeply involved in defining research agendas under certain participatory grass-roots community research schemes, the first category is quite a grey area as it begs the question as to what point does the researched become the researcher? The substantive focus of this Case Study, however, is on the use of the WWW as a mechanism for facilitating public participation in social science research. The above four categories of public participation need to be viewed in this context with the web as the principal mechanism of participation.

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