Complexity of the consultation
Although referred to as the NSEC trial, from the outset both the NSEC management and the e-consultation researchers were aware of the complexity of the consultation domain and that the work programme and subsequent relationship between NSEC and the e-consultation would last longer than the duration of the HEA project.
Affect of Environmental Changes
NSEC were newly formed and in the process of recruiting staff, and as an embryonic North/South body, had to take cognisance of the changing political situation. Thus at the e-consultation design phase a multi-stranded plan was adopted.
However, a multi-stranded plan meant that, for each target group involved, there was a corresponding level of research required to understand the participants experience with the technology and the optimal way in which to access these groups.
- A simple but telling exemplar of this issue was demonstrated in the fact that of the 300 e-mails to a mailing list provided by a state agency, over 25% were returned due to incorrect addresses.
- Furthermore internet security protocols employed in the modern school environment meant that very often there was no way of adequately ensuring that e-mails were being received by the intended recipients, or that they could not access the consultation web sites.
Access Problem for schools
Many Irish schools have their Internet connections provided through an agreement administered by Fortinet. Fortinet use filtering software to block access to some classifications of web site. It is staff in the USA who classify these sites. The administrators had not classified either NSEC's (nsec.info) or the rsearch team's (e-consultation.org) sites. So, pupils in the Irish schools could not see the projects web sites. Eventually, an Internet Service Provider, HEANET arranged to whitelist the sites, overriding the opinions of the US staff who know little about Irish web sites.
Overall, 11 types of participant were identified for the purposes of the trials and assessment criteria drafted to elicit feedback from each group. The types of participant were:
- Funding Agencies
- Young people
- Youth workers
- Post-primary level schools
- Post-primary level schools
- Statutory Organisations
- Voluntary Organisations
- Youth Groups
A slow start...
Very few people signed up to the newsletter or took part in the initial survey. Only at the end of our research project did NSEC start to send out surveys to more people, and start to get some responses. Our most enthusiastic response came from the attendees at the launch event, who all managed successfully to vote on half a dozen questions.
Turning from the consultees to the consulters, NSEC claimed to be particularly satisfied with the research team’s work, and are planning to transfer the web site and software, the research team designed for them, to their own web site. NSEC liked the e-consultation tools, but only now have the resources to actually use them in their ongoing consultation. The software may be free, but time and attention of the NSEC staff are not.