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Review of graphical environments on the WWW as a means of widening public participation in social science research
4.3 Case Study 3: Landscape Preferences, Land Use Science Group, Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen.
This case study provides one of the few examples of how the extensive use of graphics as a central theme of a survey can be undertaken over the Internet. The overall aim of the research project is to develop a model which will
"aid landscape evaluation for visual impact assessment in terms of positive and negative impact of a policy or management change and the relative level of such an impact on the landscape preference of the general public." (Wherrett, 1996)
The final objective of the overall research is aimed at producing a planning aid which will be used to examine present and future landscape preferences. The researcher argues that if a landscape is to be changed either naturally of through human intervention it is important to have the capability to visualise and model any proposed changes. By quantifying the public's preferences for what they perceive as a good or bad landscape, it is argued that people's relative preference for a changed landscape may be quantified and compared. To be able to quantify people's preferences for particular landscapes large amounts of preference data applied to specific landscapes are required.
The web's graphical interface made it an ideal tool to use for this type of research. The ability to reproduce extremely high quality images on screen overcomes problems and expense of making many copies of the same photographs which would be required in a postal or doorstep questionnaire. The visual attractiveness of this case study makes it an interesting survey to participate in as opposed to a series of written questions which often become tedious and interest is soon lost.
As an integral part of the data collection process to obtain an understanding of people's landscape preferences the researcher decided to implement a web-based questionnaire in addition to traditional paper based methods to collect data. The aim of the on-line questionnaire is to collect data on participant's landscape preferences by getting them to give a score for each photograph of a Scottish rural landscape ranging from a low scenic preference of 1 to a high scenic preference of 7 (see Figure 4.2 below). Participants first have to choose the size of computer monitor they have as the survey is configured in three ways dependent upon the type of monitor used. This enables the size of the image to be maximised on the monitor being used by the client. An assumption is made on the part of the researcher that a 14 or 15 inch screen will have a resolution of 640 by 480, 17 inch screen 800 by 600 and 21 inch screens 1024 by 780. Participants are also given the choice with regards to which browser they are using - Netscape 3, 4 or Communicator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
A series of twelve photographs are presented to the participant after an initial test picture, with each requiring a preference score to be attached to it. At the end of the questionnaire six questions to gather socio-demographic data relating to age, gender, occupation, nationality and so on are used to classify respondents into broad groups to ensure there are no simple factors influencing the results in any significant way.
Figure 4.2: Extract from Wherrett's On-Line
Over 700 `log-ins' to the on-line questionnaire have been recorded together with a traditional paper-based survey where people were shown photocopied photographs and then asked to give each landscape a preference in the same way as the web-based survey. Early indications have shown that the results from the paper-based questionnaire were not significantly different to the on-line version indicating that people's ability to participate in web-based surveys did not present any great problem.
As more researchers become aware of the ability of the WWW to facilitate this type of research, tools and techniques in this type of work, as discussed in the previous case study, will continue to improve and become more widespread. The web site containing the full questionnaire discussed in this case study can be viewed and participated in at the following URL:
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents