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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 16:05 05/02/2007
Journal Abstracts #278: May 2, 2007

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society:
Volume 10, Number 1, February 2007

Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X


Sociotechnical challenges in the design of a knowledge portal (pp5-28)
Wendy Mee (School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University. Bundoora, Vic., 3690. Australia), Evie Katz (CSIRO Minerals. Box 312, Clayton South, Vic., 3169. Australia), Leila Alem (CSIRO ICT, Cn.. Vimiera and Pembroke Roads, Mansfield, NSW, 2122. Australia) and Simon Kravis (KAZ Technology Services. 19-25 Moore St, Turner, ACT, 2602. Australia)

This paper describes the authors' experiences as a multidisciplinary team within a national science research organization, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in building a web-based knowledge portal to support water quality management in an Australian wet tropical region, the Douglas Shire. Their initial assumption was that a knowledge-sharing tool developed through community participation would enhance efforts towards sustainable development in this predominantly sugar cane growing area of far north Queensland. After presenting the general context of the study and a description of the web portal developed, we discuss three sociotechnical challenges faced: the question of value, i.e. understanding what motivates members of a community to become involved in co-design of technology; the problem of translation, i.e. how to develop common understandings and shared visions, given the often differing epistemologies in the so-called lay-expert knowledge divide and between the different discipline areas; and the paradox of meta-design, i.e. the difficulty of asking people to commit to a project of collaborative technology development at a stage when - by the very nature of co-design - that technology is still undefined and emergent. The article ends by offering some tentative conclusions on the authors' experience.

Keywords: Information and communications technology design; knowledge-sharing IC technology; meta-design in ICT; interdisciplinary project case studies; integration of social and technical research; sociotechnical design processes

The political use of the internet: Some insights from two surveys of Italian students (pp29-47)
Davide Calenda (Dipartimento di Scienza della Politica e Sociologia, UniversitÓ di Firenze. Florence. Italy) and Lorenzo Mosca (Department of Sociology and Political Science, European University Institute. San Domenico di Fiesole, Florence. Italy)

Interest in the Internet's impact on political participation has grown over the last five years. The main claim of most social scientists is to consider the Internet as a new resource for political engagement. However, this claim has not always been backed up by empirical analysis. The aim of this article is to provide empirical evidence on a subject that previous surveys on the Internet have generally ignored: the influence of individual political characteristics on Internet use. The authors compare data from two distinct surveys, carried out in two different periods but which contain some common batteries of questions referring to political participation and Internet use for political purposes. One survey was carried out in 2001 and focused on students at the University of Florence. The second was carried out in 2002 and focused on the participants in the European Social Forum in Florence. The empirical results and interpretations offered are based on a sample of 397 students, extracted from the two databases. The focus of the research is on exploring whether and how the political use of the Internet is shaped by the political characteristics of users, in this case students. The findings of the two studies suggest that, firstly, the more students are engaged in different social and political organizations, the more they use the Internet to achieve political purposes; and, secondly, that different styles of Internet use (to retrieve alternative information, to discuss and to perform political actions) are associated with the political characteristics of users. In particular, the characteristics of offline participation are reproduced online: the Internet is appropriated and shaped by political practices of users.

Keywords: Political use of the Internet; political orientation; political participation; students; survey; young people

Australian young people's participatory practices and internet use (pp48-68)
Ariadne Vromen (Government and International Relations, University of Sydney. NSW 2006. Australia)

This paper examines the relationship between Internet use and political participation among Australian young people. Based on original survey data it demonstrates that there clearly exists a 'digital divide' amongst 18-34-year-old Australians, which is delineated on demographic characteristics of geography, education level, income level and occupational classification. While the Internet has far from replaced the traditional information sources of television and newspapers, it does, however, facilitate participation undertaken by already politically engaged young people. The Internet has fundamental importance in facilitating information sharing and organizing for young people involved in activist and community groups. The paper also provides case studies of two non-government, youth-oriented organizations with participatory Internet sites (Vibewire Youth Services and Inspire Foundation) to further explore the potential of Internet enhancement of young people's autonomous political spaces. One site provides Internet-only, youth-specific mental health services and has developed a portal for active community-based participation. It has won commendations for encouraging youth ownership of service provision and providing space for youth participation. The other site provides discussion and journalism for and by young people on a range of cultural, social and political issues. This site also engages in mainstream political issues through 'electiontracker', which provided four young people with the opportunity to join the mainstream media in following and reporting on the 2004 Australian federal election campaign. The focus in this paper on heterogenous acts of participation is able to expand our understanding of the democratizing potential of young people's Internet-based political practices.

Keywords: Young people; participation; Internet use; Australia; community-based organizations

In search of Utopia: An analysis of non-profit web pages (pp69-94)
Linda Jean Kenix (University of Canterbury. Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8020.. New Zealand)

This research explores the practical application of a widely held, utopian belief that the Internet remains a strong democratizing tool because of its inherent interactive capabilities. Through an analysis of 70 non-profit Web pages, this study examines how these organizations utilize the Internet as a deliberative public sphere; an opportunity for activism; an avenue for advertising and fundraising revenue; a space for marginalized voices; an interconnected, instantaneous portal for information; and as a medium to bolster organizational accountability. This represents fundamental baseline research that is needed if the field is to build theories of Internet efficacy - particularly as it pertains to the non-profit sector.

Keywords: Non-profit organization; democracy; Web pages; Internet functionality

Tackling the digital divide: Exploring the impact of ICT on managing heart conditions in a deprived area (pp95-114)
Sally Lindsay (Medical Sociologist and a Research Fellow in the Institute for Social, Cultural & Policy Research at the University of Salford), Simon Smith (Sociologist and Research Fellow in the Institute for Social, Cultural & Policy Research at the University of Salford), Frances Bell (Lecturer and Post Graduate Tutor) and Paul Bellaby (Medical Sociologist, Professor of the Sociology of Health and Director of the Institute for Social, Cultural & Policy Research, University of Salford)

The Internet is increasingly used to communicate health knowledge and there is growing belief that it can help transform both personal and public health. There is no lack of information on healthy lifestyles, but the manner of communication of risk and the level of support for lifestyle change need improvement, especially among deprived populations. Assisting vulnerable persons to increase their health knowledge could help them to be more responsible for maintaining their health. The Internet offers potential for interactivity by providing a dynamic medium for influencing learning and behaviour change, especially in so far as it enables inter-subjective communication among peers. This paper examines how the Internet might help tackle health inequalities by improving communication of risk and providing support for those who are most susceptible to changing their behaviour. The authors provide a descriptive account of whether facilitated access to the Internet may improve the capacity of older men to manage their heart conditions. Nine men aged 50 to 74 living in multiply deprived areas of Salford were given computers, Internet access and training for six months. Interviews and qualitative data were collected to assess the influence the Internet had on the management of their heart conditions before they were given the computers, after six months and three years after they were introduced to the Internet. The study was exploratory but its results suggest that interactive learning is worthwhile because it can help strengthen social support and influence behaviour change. Home access to the Internet via their own personal computer had a beneficial influence in building confidence and facilitating healthy behaviour change. Although less than half of the participants had ever used the Internet before the study, the majority of them reported using the Internet and email regularly after their involvement in the project.

Keywords: Digital divide; interactive learning; e-health; heart disease

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