Design of the study

This chapter is meant to explain how I decided to design my research in order to reach my aims. First, I had to look at what has been written and researched about the subject. I decided to concentrate on an introduction of technological developments and the expansion of globalisation because their combination leads to a changing world and to the creation of an Information Society. Secondly, I would have to look more carefully if the participation of all in this society would be possible. I would first explain how a person can be excluded from society and then apply the concept to the Information society. Then the exploration of the existing policies was necessary because they could have so much impact in the inclusion of all in this new society. Having decided to do comparative research, I had to choose the countries I wanted to study. Then another important part was to look for different projects addressing the digital divide in the chosen countries and to decide the ones I would explore more deeply. After that, I had to consider the methods I would use to answer my questions, first by considering their advantages to help me to fulfil my aims, and by examining their weaknesses in order to be aware of possible problems during this research.

Potential of a comparative research study

Comparative research is a good way to understand and analyse what is going on in your own country, what Tim May called the import-mirror view, "The import-mirror view suggests that the project of comparative analysis is worthwhile because in producing findings on the practices of other countries, we are better able to see the basis of our own practices" (May 1997, 185). It also enables to learn from other experiments, from their good experiences that might be imported and from their mistakes to avoid making the same ones.

Choice of countries

In order to compare, I had to choose two countries. One option was to choose similar countries in population, wealth, etc. Nevertheless, I finally decided to study projects in countries that would be very different to see if they have different approaches to promote access for all to the Internet. Secondly, I absolutely wanted to include a developing country, because it seems so vital for all not to miss this major change in history. Finally, for practical reasons that I am going to detail the choice came easily. Of course, France came as a natural choice; it was obviously easier for me to make some visits and at a lower cost. I also wanted to discover what is being done on the subject in my own country because until recently there was not much publicity about this problem. At first, I really wanted to choose an African project for this research, because I think it’s so important for this continent to be part of the Information Society, but it appeared unrealistic for several reasons. First, you need a lot of time in Africa to make the necessary contacts and I thought that would be too difficult in 6 months. It also seemed unfeasible for practical reasons such as visa, transport, vaccines, or costs.

I finally decided on Estonia, which seemed to be another good choice because it was so different from France. It is a small developing country, with less money so they might have developed different strategies. I also made this choice for practical reasons for having contacts there, this would help me with my research and lower the costs. Estonia has decided to use the Information Society to catch up with western Europe and to develop the country more rapidly, it therefore seemed appropriate to study its answer to problems arisen with the development of IS. In comparing these two countries, I wanted to find out if there are different ways to promote the inclusion of all in the Information Society or on the contrary was there a global solution in this "global village", one that everybody could adapt and apply in their own country.

If possible, at the same time I also wanted to give another dimension to this comparison process, between private and state initiative. It would help me to discover if private and public programs use same methods to promote the use of New Technologies for all and what are the best practices. This second comparison was of course dependent on participants’ projects in my research.

Choice of the projects.

This point turned out to be more complicated and time consuming than any other part of the research. Considering the fact that I had no particular knowledge of the subject, I had to search intensely on the Internet for projects to visit. Fortunately, all the projects were on the web, which is logical considering the subject. I first had to decide about what kind of project to research. Considering my topic of bringing the Information Society to all, I first choose to exclude the unstaffed kiosks. You can see a huge development of these points where a computer is available for anybody. It is kind of the same as public phones before. Not even talking about the fact that you must pay to use them, it seems logical to think that people who do not know how to use the Net would not use these unstaffed places; this has also been shown by research (Milne 2000, p57). I also decided to leave aside Internet cafés from my choice. They definitely have a role to play in the development of the IS, but the commercial logic that guides them is to my point of view incompatible with bringing Internet to all. They provide access and training and are therefore useful for some people, but because they are based on money they will always be unaffordable for the poorer. So finally, I decided to look for projects that provide access and training free. In both countries, there were such projects targeted at pupils in schools. I strongly think that school is the principal vector of learning and therefore play a major role in teaching the new generations to use the web. It is also known that young people tend to adopt and use new technologies more easily.

Therefore, the digital divide might not be a major issue in the coming years for new generations if school fulfils its role. It could have been interesting to focus on this side of the Information Society Development, but it seemed to me that nothing new could be learned from this research. Solutions to that problem for schools are known and obvious and the same everywhere, train the teachers so they can teach their pupils how to use the Internet and have enough computers in each school. This is why I also decided to not to choose projects involving schools but to find other with more innovative approaches.

For Estonia, one difficulty was that some web pages were only in Estonian, but it was easier on the other side by the fact that most initiatives seemed linked with one major project the Public Internet Access Points. Started in 1997 it is now a national initiative and has been developed for several years so it seemed adequate to choose it. Moreover, some newer initiatives are still connected with this initial project, using it as the core of Information Society development for the public.

France proved to be a more tricky case. There was no national program, much is left to local authorities and therefore rely most of the time on a project carried on by individual initiatives. In consequence, there were a wide variety of projects, which made it more difficult for me to decide. I finally settle on two different ones. The first one is an Internet Bus that goes in remote areas. The idea seemed original and interesting, but also seemed to have some support since nowadays nine French Departments have decided to establish such an Internet bus. The second one was from a social centre in a small village. The particularity of it was that it seemed to try answering the three important points about Internet: access, training, and contents. It made me curious about it and this is how my choice was made for all projects. It might seem unequal to study two different projects in France and only one in Estonia, but it seemed correct to do so because the Estonian one is a huge global project and I knew there would be a lot to be learnt from it.

Already at that point, I was aware that the heterogeneity of all these projects might make it difficult to compare them but I did not think this was against my goal of finding how to response to the digital divide.


In order to find answers to my questions, I decided to use several types of methods in this research.

- Quantitative methods: Analyse of Statistics
- Qualitative methods: Non-participant observation
Semi structured interviews

A quantitative approach uses numerical data to reach its findings and thus uses statistical techniques for the collection and analysis of material. On the other hand, a qualitative approach privileges material drawn from non-quantitative sources e.g. interviews, this methodology focuses on the texture and the value qualities of its data (handout MACESS 2000). Each approach has some specific advantages that can respond better than others to one aspect of the topic. Hammersley argues, "the progress of inquiry in science is the same whatever method is used, and the retreat into paradigms effectively stultifies debate and hampers progress " (Hammersley 1992, 182). I agree with this view that you have to take whatever works to fulfil your goals regardless endless debates on exclusive use of one method rather than the other. I chose to use several methods from both approaches for various reasons. In the first place, it was my first major research project and I wanted to learn as much as possible about different techniques for future research. Moreover, these methods seem complementary for finding answers to my questions, as I will explain later in this chapter.


I used some statistics in this dissertation to find out who is using Internet and in particular, to see who is concerned by the digital divide. This quantitative method seems appropriate because it offers large data sets over a long period of time, which can permit to discover some changes in the society.

Or as Tim May puts it, " These statistics enable us to understand the dynamics of society –perhaps along race, class, age and gender lines –as well as charting trends within society" (May 1997, 67). In order to avoid problems of validity and reliability of information, I used different sources; some from the country itself and some from supranational organizations.


To give me a deeper understanding of the subject, I have decided to go and visit some of those projects and use qualitative methods. I used an observation period. There are two kinds of observation. (Kumar 1999, 106).

  • Non-participant observation is when the researcher does not get involved in the activities of the group but remains a passive observer.

  • Participant observation is when the researcher participates in the activities of the group being observed in the same manner as its members, with or without knowing that they are observed

I decided to start by a non-participant observation period to see how these projects run. This allowed me to get a first impression, and to give me answers to some questions such as: Where is it located? How long do people stay? Do they often ask for help? … This also might bring me new issues that I would be able to explore during interviews.


Form of interview

The core of the research is based on interviews. From them I hoped to get a clearer idea of the project. I decided to interview people who created and/or run the projects and who are involved at higher level of decision. It seemed to me to be a relevant technique to try to understand at a global level how the project works. In addition, you have a direct contact, which for me seems to be a more humanistic approach, or as Tim May says, "interviews yield rich insights into people’s experiences, opinions, aspirations, attitudes and feelings" (May 1997, 109).

I then had to choose which form of interviews I want to use. According to the same author, there are four different forms (ibid, 110-112):

    • Structured interview

    • Semi-structured interview

    • Focused interview

    • Group interview

The semi-structured interview seemed to fit my purposes the best. It allows to compare more easily the different projects but at the same time it also gives people the opportunity to express what they think about the project, or as Tim May says "these types of interviews are said to allow people to answer more in their own terms than the standardized interview permits, but still provides a greater structure of comparability over that the of the focused interviews" (ibid, 111). I did not want to use structured interviews because they seemed too closed. Also having decided to explore various projects some questions relevant from one project would not be adequate for another. Focused interviews on the other end are too open-ended and I think would make the comparison between projects more difficult.

Recording interviews

I decided to tape these interviews instead of taking notes for several reasons. First, because I did not want to spend the whole interview writing, I think it’s disruptive for the exchange because you lose eye-contact and possible non-verbal communication, and moreover it’s inhibiting for the interviewed person to see someone writing while he/she is talking. I was aware that there also could be inhibition from knowing that what you say is taped, but experience shows that many people (interviewed and interviewer) tend to forget about the tape as the conversation progresses. One major problem with taped interviews is that the transcription and analysis processes can be very long, but being aware of that, I decided to limit the number of interviews for each country. Even if it is a time consuming process to do transcription and analysis, I think it was an absolute necessity if I wanted to find out some good practices. One last argument is that "tape recording guards against interviewers substituting their own words for those of the person being interviewed" (ibid, 125). It seems to me an easy error to make and that finally convinced me to use tape recording.

Timetable of research

October 2000  Choice of a research topic, examination of existing literature and Internet search in order to give me an overview of the topic.
November 2000 Submit the research plan.
Dec 00/Feb 01 Continuing literature and Internet search to deepen my knowledge of the topic.
March/ May 01 Writing of theoretical part of the research. Contacts with different projects in preparation of my field trips.
June 2001 Visit of the two French projects; realization of interviews.
July 2001  8 days field trip to Estonia. Visit of Public Internet Access Points and interviews.
July/August 01 Analysing data from different methods. Final writing of the research and language check.