Participation in Internet-mediated Interactions

Project Date: 
Aug 2004 - Aug 2007

This UCL-based project forms part of the Communications Research Network
(CRN), a Knowledge Integration Community funded by the Cambridge-MIT
Institute
and co-funded by British Telecom. It brings together researchers from Cambridge University, MIT and University College
London – economists, public policy experts, management analysts, engineers and computer scientists – who together provide a uniquely
broad and deep insight into all aspects of tomorrow’s communications and computing technologies and their exploitation (see www.communicationsresearch.net)



Widespread use of the internet by individuals and organisations across society and the economy has the potential to drive innovation in public policy and economic activity. But if design does not take into account the factors that determine take-up of on-line transactions then technological innovation will not drive policy and economic innovation in this way. This research is aimed at analysing the factors that determine participation in internet-mediated transactions.


Principal Investigators
Professor Helen Margetts (Oxford Internet Institute, Univ. of Oxford & UCL School of Public Policy)
Professor Ingemar Cox (UCL Computer Science/Electrical Engineering)
Professor Steffen Huck (UCL Department of Economics)

Research Fellows
Vaclav Petricek (UCL Department of Computer Science)
Tobias Escher (UCL School of Public Policy)
Martin Boeg (UCL Department of Economics)

This research benefits greatly from applying a multi-disciplinary approach to a topic normally studied within disciplines and sectors, whereas it is anticipated that government can learn from business, public policy analysts can learn from economists and technologists can have valuable input to economic and social research. The research has two key themes:

THEME 1: The Web Structure of E-Government

When policy-makers design government portals for citizens or business, they assume users will prefer an integrated �joined-up� government approach. Yet evidence suggests that combining finder sites and search engines on the Internet at large can provide more effective access to government information and services and users may prefer to deal with on-line government in this more disaggregated way. This part of the project explores how we might measure the �health� of e-government, through assessing the accessibility and visibility of government domains and comparing these metrics against users� experience of interacting with government on line in various types of experimental conditions. The development of both structural and user metrics of this kind may be the key to strategies for driving up take up and maximizing the benefits of government online.



In the first phase of this part of the project we have been developing a methodology
for evaluating the structure of web sites and applying it to government domains,
investigating the link structure of e-government for the first time. Preliminary
findings including the development of metrics for navigability and nodality (that
is, visibility or centrality to informational networks) for the web sites of government agencies
from Canada, the USA, the UK, New Zealand and the Czech Republic have been written
up in a paper submitted to the World Wide Web Conference 2006 (see link below).
As we develop further the methodology for assessing the �health� of government
(and other) domains we hope that these results will be useful to governments
to make their on-line presence more accessible and visible to citizens, thereby
increasing nodality as a policy tool.

In the second phase of the project, we have been comparing our structural measures against user metrics, collected via lab-based experiments, in order to verify that sites or communities which emerge as �healthy� in terms of navigability and nodality also score well when experienced by users.
The structural metrics were applied to the foreign office websites of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Subsequently we conducted a user experiment with 135 subjects in order to measure the quality of the sites from a user's perspective. Our presentation during the World Wide Web conference 2006 gives a summary of our results (see link below) and reports our results both for structural metrics as well as for the user metrics.

 Download: PRESENTATION Web Structure of E-Government  (830kb/PDF)
 Download: PAPER Web Structure of E-Government  (1,425kb/PDF)
 Download: PAPER Governing from the Centre? Comparing the Nodality of Digital Governments  (386kb/PDF)

THEME 2: Fundraising on the Internet

The voluntary sector is an important part of the economy�in 2001/2 it generated income of approx. �20 billion, holding net assets of approx. �70 billion. Yet we have a very incomplete understanding about what influences the amount of funds it receives, what influences individuals willingness to give and the relative attractiveness of competing fundraising methods. In this part of the project we study fundraising on the internet. The internet allows efficient mass communication and transaction costs are, if there is sufficient trust in security, potentially very low. Fundraising on the internet also gives the opportunity to provide large amounts of detailed information that with traditional communication channels would be virtually impossible to provide (such as up-to-date information about the money already raised in a specific campaign, fundraising targets, seed money and matching donations) which may be an important determinant for giving behaviour. We plan to investigate the role of these determinants in more detail, both by gathering existing data and generating new (experimental) data.



In the first phase we have analysed data from www.justgiving.com, an internet site that allows members of the public to design their own small- or large-scale fundraising campaigns for the charity of their choice. Initial findings suggest that information available about the amount given by the first donors to individual campaigns significantly affects subsequent donations. We are currently exploring these findings, collecting a larger dataset of campaigns and contributions to verify our results and preparing findings for publication. In the second phase we plan to use the website for a field experiment where we will run a number of fundraising campaigns according to an experimental design, such as experimentally varying the amount of money already raised before the campaign starts. The specificities of the experimental design will, however, be only determined once we have a good understanding of existing data.



From this research we expect to gain an understanding of how fundraising on the internet currently functions, both in terms of how charities and donors use the internet to communicate and interact. We also expect to gain insight into some key determinants of giving behaviour that are essential for the efficient design of fundraising mechanisms. This is important because without a proper understanding of the mechanics of fundraising, scarce resources will inevitably be wasted�resources that could otherwise serve the charitable aims of the fundraising institutions.

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