The following question was posed as part of the research module which forms part of my current studies:
Question: You are interested in how on-line environments are used by local and national governments. In particular you want to know whether the internet changes the way(s) the governments have been run.
Here I shall aim to consider the various methods that could be utilised to study this topic and the potential ethical issues surrounding this research question.
Data source & methods
In relation to this subject it would be possible to obtain data from a wide and diverse range of sources. These could include;
– Interviews – These could be undertaken with those working within local and/or national government to obtain first hand accounts of how they feel the internet has (or has not) changed the way they operate.
– Analysis of policy documents and media coverage – There is potential with this question to look at sources of information that have documented how governments have been run differently over a period of time. Examples of this would be to analyse government policy to track the changes and impacts of the internet. Alternatively it would be possible to look at the media portrayals of governments and their use of on-line environments.
– Analysis of on-line environments utilised by governments – As part of answering this research question it would also be important to look at the on-line environments themselves to see how they are being used by governments.
– Surveys – These could be used to collect data from the general public to see if they have seen any changes in how governments operate as a result of the web.
It is interesting to note that a previous study (Hands, 2005) that looked at the impact of the internet on encouraging local citizens to engage with local government employed a similar range of mixed methods. These were a review of policy, local government website analysis and questionnaires to local government employees.
In undertaking research on this subject there would be some practical issues that would need to be considered at the outset of the study. Firstly there maybe limited access to the internal documentation/policy that could be used for analysis. Also in relation to the possibility of interviewing government employees these individuals may not be willing to take part in the research.
The nature of the question is also very open and there are a variety of methods that could be utilised to collect data pertaining to this topic. Therefore to make the study practical and to obtain the ‘best results’ it would be advisable to focus on comparing national and local government within one country, limited to one element of governance.
There are a number of ethical considerations in relation to researching the question posed. These include those surrounding the research subjects (interviewees, survey respondents and so on) and those surrounding the researcher.
In relation to the research subjects it would be important for them to remain anonymous. Their views regarding how the internet has changed how governments have been run may not be positive. For example if government workers were willing to be interviewed it could have an impact on their future employment.
The researcher would also need to consider the implications of the findings of the study on them and how the study maybe interpreted by the governments under the microscope.