Research completed in Ireland and the European Union

My professional career as a researcher began in Ireland in 1995. From that time until I moved back to Canada in 2004, I completed the 18 research projects in Ireland and the European Union described below. You can also read about my current research projects and the projects I completed in Canada.

18. ECDL Impact Study

What has been the impact of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) program in Ireland?

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is the world’s leading end-use computer skills certification program. Outside Europe, the ECDL is known as the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL). The ECDL is internationally recognised as the global benchmark for end-user computer skills. It is currently available in 166 countries and has been translated into 32 languages.

The ECDL program has played a central role in the growth of IT certification and skills in Ireland. The ECDL program has stimulated the development of two economic sectors – IT training services and IT training products – in addition to stimulating development of IT skills and certification nationally.

The Irish economy grew significantly in the 1990s. Despite the downturn in the IT sector worldwide after the end of that decade, by 2003 Ireland remained one of the best-performing economies in Europe. For a country of just under four million people, the success of the Irish economy has been very impressive.

This study investigated the impact of the ECDL in Ireland in four areas: building the IT certification industry, increasing IT skills, developing the IT training and testing services sector, and developing the IT training products sector.

I was the researcher for the study. Upon completion, the study was launched in Dublin and widely reported in the business press.

The ECDL Impact study was conducted for the ECDL Foundation (www.ecdl.com) and ICS Skills Ireland (www.ics-skills.ie). The project was completed in 2003.

17. Irish Policy for an Inclusive Information Society

How can government policy encourage the development of an inclusive information society?

As ICT (information and communication technologies) become more central to everyday lives, people are offered new opportunities to lead productive and rewarding lives. Communities are offered possibilities for increased connectivity, social capital, business and employment opportunities, and democratic and participatory civic life.

However low levels of participation and inclusion in the information society might increase social marginalisation by disadvantaged groups, reduce the potential for economic growth, limit innovation opportunities, and weaken social cohesion.

New Connections, the Irish Government Action Plan on the information society, states that: “public policy interventions are needed to avoid the danger of exacerbating existing inequalities, and to prevent the emergence of what has become known internationally as a digital divide.” A digital divide will also undermine the efforts of Government and local authorities to provide web-based access to public information and services.

This project investigated and provided advice on the issues at public policy level that need to be addressed to ensure an inclusive information society in Ireland, and supported the development of recommendations to Government.

My role on the project was principal investigator, working with two co-investigators to review domestic and international approaches to e-inclusion. In addition, I developed statistical analysis and new indicators to measure digital inclusion in Ireland. Upon completion, this report was published by the Irish Information Society Commission.

The e-Inclusion study was contracted by the Information Society Commission, Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Government of Ireland. (www.isc.ie) The study was conducted in partnership with EIAT (Ennis Information Age Town – www.eiat.ie). The project was completed in 2003.

16. ITE-Network

Building an international network of people exploring social inclusion, ICT and sustainable employment.

The ITE-network (Inclusion, ICT and Employment) linked people internationally asking the question: How can ICT training and tools assist people experiencing disadvantage to progress to sustainable employment?

Building the ITE-network website was the main focus of the project. The website highlighted projects and reports across Europe and internationally. Where possible publications were made available to download directly from the website. My role on the project was to develop the analysis and the content for the project website.

The ITE-Network was supported by the Fifth Framework Information Society Technologies (IST) Research Program (www.cordis.lu/ist). The project was completed in 2003.

15. Sustainable Employment in the Information Society for Disadvantaged Groups

Which interventions will effectively support the transition of women and men experiencing disadvantage into sustainable employment in the information society?

Significant skills shortages have been projected in core information society industries across Europe, particularly high-growth areas such as software applications and services to optimise business processes through ICT.

Employers in these industries traditionally hire graduates with college or university qualifications, largely out of the reach of the long-term unemployed and other women and men experiencing disadvantage. This means that employers are not tapping in to a significant vein in the labour market and also that disadvantaged groups are effectively excluded from the most rapidly expanding areas of new employment in Europe.

Since 1995, innovative interventions have been developed across the EU to address this situation. Many, funded by the EU EMPLOYMENT Initiative, aimed at promoting social solidarity and equal opportunities, contributing to the development of human resources, and improving access in the labour market.

The KISEIS project conducted a transnational EU analysis of the specific lessons of EMPLOYMENT Initiative projects aimed at improving the transition of disadvantaged groups into sustainable employment in ICT sector industries in Europe. The research included qualitative field research in five countries – Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Finland – with former participants of EMPLOYMENT projects, staff and management of intervention initiatives.

The KISEIS report includes a model and guidelines of good practice for program developers, training deliverers, and policy makers for designing and implementing interventions to increase sustainable employment in the information society for disadvantaged groups across Europe.

KISEIS was supported by the Fifth Framework Information Society Technologies (IST) Research Program (www.cordis.lu/ist). The study was conducted in partnership with the WRC Social and Economic Consultants, Dublin (www.wrc.ie). The project was completed in 2003.

14. e-Democracy Network

Building a network of European researchers working on increased participation in democratic processes using ICTs.

The eDemocracy network brought together European researchers working on EU-funded projects involving ICT and democracy, such applications for better and more transparent participation of public policies and information, consultation and voting online, and civil society participation.

I was active in eDemocracy through the VSIIS research project described below. VSIIS was one of 10 research projects in the network, involving about 50 research organisations across Europe. We met until the year 2003 to exchange ideas, identify common issues of concern and develop technical approaches.

The eDemocracy network was supported by the Fifth Framework Information Society Technologies (IST) Research Program (www.cordis.lu/ist). The project was completed in 2003.

13. Web Site for Newcomers to Ireland

How can the Internet meet the information needs of Irish immigrants, ethnic minority groups, and others interested in immigration and multiculturalism?

Many newcomers and members of ethnic minority groups in Ireland are not adequately informed about matters relevant to their own needs and circumstances. There is clearly a need to improve the quality and quantity of information and to provide new opportunities for members of ethnic minority groups to communicate with each other about common interests.

Many Irish citizens are also poorly informed about matters relating to newcomers and ethnic groups in Ireland. Relevant information needs to be more widely available about the lives and circumstances of newcomers and members of ethnic minority communities in Ireland.

The Internet – especially the Web and discussion lists – may be a good way to meet many of these information and communication needs. Diversity Ireland, a new Irish organisation, planned to use the Internet to enhance the information flows between relevant agencies and ethnic minority groups in Ireland, between members of ethnic minority groups, and between newcomers and members of ethnic minority groups and people from the majority community.

I was asked to conduct a feasibility study to develop the Diversity Ireland website. The study began with research on international websites about immigration, multiculturalism and racism – to find out how these sites developed, the challenges they faced, and how the websites addressed these challenges. The study also considered: the particular information needs of newcomers and members of ethnic minority groups in Ireland; the organisational, financial and management structures of the Diversity Ireland website; and the content and technical aspects.

The Web Site for newcomers feasibility study was conducted for Diversity Ireland. The study was completed in 2002.

12. Voluntary Organisations and Social Inclusion in the Information Society

What is the potential role of voluntary organisations in encouraging a more inclusive information society in Europe?

Voluntary organisations across Europe contribute to employment creation, provide a wide range of services, and play a major role in encouraging socially excluded groups – such as the unemployed, disadvantaged women, older people, people with disabilities, and others – to play a more active role in society and the economy.

Social inclusion in the information society is a policy priority for governments across Europe. Low levels of participation and inclusion in the information society increase the social marginalisation of excluded groups, reduce the growth potential of the economy, limit innovation opportunities, and weaken social cohesion in certain parts of Europe. In addition, the digital divide will undermine the considerable efforts of governments and the European Commission to provide Web-based access to public information and services. Europeans without Internet access and the skills or motivation to negotiate a Web page are often those most in need of the public information and services offered online.

Innovative policies and strategies may be necessary to bring the tens of millions of European citizens without the knowledge, skills or confidence to use the new ICT to a point where they can make an informed decision about the role these technologies should play in their lives.

Voluntary organisations may have a key role to play in these policies and strategies. The VSIIS research explored if such a role does or could exist. The study included a comprehensive search and review of literature on voluntary organisations and social inclusion in the information society, and interviews with practitioners and researchers working in this area across Europe. The study’s final stage was analysis of information society policies leading to suggested implications for policy and research in this area.

I was the principal investigator for the study. The VSIIS report had a specific impact in the information society policy arena related to e-inclusion in Ireland and Europe. In Ireland the report was cited in key information society policy documents and Irish Government websites on e-inclusion policy issues. In Europe, the VSIIS report contributed to the analysis in the e-Inclusion policy adopted by the European Union.

VSIIS was supported by the Fifth Framework Information Society Technologies (IST) Research Program (www.cordis.lu/ist). The study was completed in 2001.

11. Social Movements and Alternative Media on the Internet

How are social movements using Internet-based media forms to grow and expand?

This was my PhD thesis, conducted at the School of Communications at Dublin City University (www.dcu.ie).

I analysed alternative media on the Internet by drawing on a range of theoretical literatures – particularly in the areas of the public sphere, social movements and globalisation. Parallel to this theoretical exploration, I reviewed a significant body of research on Internet use by social movements and groups in global, national, and local contexts. From this review and analysis, I developed an original conceptual framework for analysing alternative media on the Internet.

I used a mixed-methods approach, drawing on a range of methodological approaches to empirically develop the research issues. I conducted empirical research on women’s organisations and the Internet in Ireland and Internet use in the community and voluntary sector over a four-year period.

My PhD work is significant because there have been few previous attempts to systematically devise an operational framework for research on alternative media. The framework contains seven elements. The first three are characteristics of alternative media forms or processes on the Internet – the participants, the production process and the content. The last four elements concern the wider social, political and cultural context of the media activity.

The empirical research was conducted in two phases and employed a range of methods. In the first phase, the methods included postal and telephone surveys of a wide spectrum of women’s organisations in Ireland and a focus group with participants from women’s organisations in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The second phase focused on Womenslink, an Internet mailing list linking women’s organisations in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic. A central methodological approach was my participatory involvement with Womenslink and its member organisations during a two-and-a-half year period. Research methods included a content analysis of all the Womenslink messages produced during this period, and in-depth interviews and a feedback session with Womenslink participants.

My PhD thesis was completed in 2000.

10. Connected Communities

Developing policy for achieving access and social inclusion in the information society in Ireland.

I was was a member of Connected Communities, an advisory group of Ireland’s Information Society Commission (www.isc.ie). I was active throughout the lifespan of Connected Communities, meeting to exchange ideas and develop policy to increase access and inclusion.

Connected Communities developed guiding principles and identified specific actions to achieve an inclusive information society in Ireland. We made recommendations for research, universal design, content, access infrastructure, involving the community and voluntary sector and awareness and promotion.

The work of the Connected Communities group was central to the Commission’s report – the Third Report of Ireland’s Information Society Commission (December 2000).

9. IT Skills for Encouraging the Economic and Social Participation of Disadvantaged Youth

How can disadvantaged young people be engaged in IT and other skills training programmes?

Acquiring a leaving certificate remains the best guarantee of secure, sustainable employment for young people in Ireland. However despite programs targeting young people at risk of leaving school and finding innovative ways for them to stay, many young people without qualifications are in the labour market.

In the late 1990s, it was estimated that 7,500 to 15,000 young people in Ireland aged 15 to 19 were in need of relevant skills training (Ireland’s population was app. 3.5 million). At the same time, almost all the training organisations for this client group were experiencing significant difficulty recruiting enough young people to fill their training programs.

The RSI research project (Recruitment, Selection and Induction) was concerned with enhancing the quality of engagement in training, and the prospects of sustainable employment, for young early school leavers. The research explored how an improved recruitment, selection and induction process could improve this situation.

The study was conducted with the support of EU-Employment Youthstart. (www.iol.ie/EMPLOYMENT/youthstart/). The project was completed in 1999.

8. Innovative Training and Employment Support for Disadvantaged Youth

What is an effective training and employment intervention for young early school leavers?

Fountain was an innovative training program run by the Ballymun Job Centre, Dublin, from early 1998 to March 2000. The client group was young (aged 15 to 19) early school leavers living in Ballymun who were unemployed with limited educational, training or work records.

The Fountain intake was 61 trainees in three groups for six months each. Fountain aimed to progress the trainees to further training or employment, through a comprehensive program featuring core skills training, work skills training, career guidance, mentoring and post-placement mentoring as the central elements.

I was the senior researcher for the external project evaluation. The evaluation was intensive and ongoing over two years, centering on monthly evaluation sessions with the trainees, sessions with project staff, and two project evaluation days with staff and management. Trainee feedback sessions were conducted in two small groups to give hich trainees the opportunity to express their opinions, describe their experiences, and make suggestions for improving the program. Sessions with the staff consisted of case meetings about each trainee and general analysis of issues arising.

Many lessons can be drawn from the Fountain experience. Fountain demonstrated the importance of a training program that was well-designed and sensitively delivered, retaining trainees and winning their trust and respect. A central lesson was the extent and the nature of the restraints and barriers inhibiting progression to further training and employment, with many restraints centred on the trainees’ lack of social stability.

The Fountain evaluation was conducted for the Ballymun Job Centre in Dublin, (www.bmunjob.ie) with the support of EU-EMPLOYMENT Youthstart. (www.iol.ie/EMPLOYMENT/youthstart/). The evaluation was completed in 1999.

7. After Tramlines

What were the long-term outcomes of a high-end skills training programme for unemployed people?

The innovative and ground-breaking Tramlines IT training project was developed and delivered by the Ballymun Job Centre in Dublin. I was the original evaluator for the project (see project 6 below). A year after the first cohort had completed the program, I conducted an evaluation on the outcome, with a focus on the employment outcomes of the program graduates. My evaluation methodology included in-depth interviews with the graduates in employment, a group feedback session, and a group session with project staff and management. Interviews were also conducted with some of the graduates’ employers.

The Ballymun Job Centre commissioned this research to evaluate whether the certifications, skills, competencies, and self-confidence acquired by the Tramlines trainees in training were able to lead to sustainable employment.

The After Tramlines One report contributed to the further development of Tramlines-type projects in disadvantaged communities and to policy on measures to provide sustainable employment in the information society for the long-term unemployed.

The After Tramlines study was conducted for the Ballymun Job Centre, Dublin, (www.bmunjob.ie) with the support of the Combat Poverty Agency (www.cpa.ie). The study was completed in 1999.

6. Tramlines Evaluation

How can a pilot program be improved to better deliver high-end IT skills training to unemployed people?

The IT sector is central to economic development and one of the most rapidly expanding areas of new employment in Ireland. However few unemployed people without IT qualifications have been able to access the new professional jobs in the sector.

The vision behind the Tramlines project developed by the Ballymun Job Centre was that professional IT certification could be made accessible to the long-term unemployed in Ballymun. From the Spring of 1996 to December 1997, Tramlines One delivered training to 25 unemployed people in the Microsoft Professional Certification (MCP) qualification. The MCP certifies a professional level of expertise in Microsoft software. Within months of training completion, all 25 Tramlines One graduates were working in career-path employment using their IT skills.

The project evaluation focused on outcomes related to employment, training and community development. The primary outcome indicators for this evaluation were:

  • Employment – that the trainees found employment in the IT field at the end of training.
  • Training – that the trainees passed the exams assessing their understanding of training material in an independent commercial testing centre; and
  • That the trainees increased their self-confidence and had more positive attitudes about work, as assessed by the trainees themselves near the end of the project.
  • Community development – that the project had a positive impact on Ballymun, as assessed by the project participants at the end of the project.
  • The research methods used for this report were:
  • In-depth interviews with project participants, including all 25 trainees (21 hours of interviews), six project staff and management (15 hours of interviews), group interview with project advisory committee (two hours), and informal interviews with various other participants. The interviews were tape recorded and analysed.
  • A review of the personal notes made throughout 1996 and 1997 by the evaluator as a member of the Tramlines advisory committee.
  • A review of project external and some internal documentation, and results of aptitude tests and exams.

The After Tramlines evaluation was conducted for the Ballymun Job Centre, (www.bmunjob.ie) with the support EU-EMPLOYMENT Integra (www.iol.ie/EMPLOYMENT/integra/). The evaluation was completed in 1999.

5. Voluntary Sector in the Information Age

How are community and voluntary organizations faring in Ireland’s information age?

The Dublin City University project, The Voluntary Sector in the Information Age (VSIA), researched computer and Internet use in the Irish community and voluntary sector from mid-1995 to early 1998. The project had four components: action research, survey and qualitative research, outreach and policy.

The project was guided by the understanding – also expressed in the project’s submissions to the developing EU and Irish “information society” policies – that “information society” policy is properly social policy. The benefits widely assumed to flow from the increasing use of information and communication technologies do not accrue to everyone – and every organisation – in equal measure.

A considerable proportion of Ireland’s population express their belonging to society through membership in voluntary and community organisations which help to offset the increasing distance between the state and the individual. In this light, there is cause for concern about the many difficulties faced by voluntary and community organisations in making effective use of the newer technologies, limiting their inclusion as full members of Ireland’s “information society.”

The research focused on three central issues: access to the Internet, the Internet and the culture of the community and voluntary sector, and the potential for new means of communication and information exchange.

The final report, Weak Connections, was extensively cited in information society policy debates and documents and its authors frequently invited to participate in discussions of social aspects of Internet and ICT usage and development in Ireland.

The VSIA project was supported by the Dublin City University Educational Trust. The project was completed in 1998.

4. Womenslink Evaluation

Can an Internet discussion list effectively link women’s organizations in Irish border counties and Northern Ireland?

The project Women and media for social change: communications and initiatives worldwide published the following description of Womenslink:

In Northern Ireland, Womenslink is an Internet e-mail list developed in July 1997 by women from community-based women’s groups. Womenslink’s objectives are to link up women’s organizations and activists in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland to share and exchange information and to work together on issues of common concern.

More than 40 subscribers currently use the Internet mailing list to share news and information. Use of Womenslink has resulted in many collaborations and partnerships within the women’s community sector in Northern Ireland. For example, cross-border, cross-community exchanges where a Mother and Toddler Group in Belfast was able to make contact and visit a similar group in Donegal (Republic of Ireland).

Womenslink was established by women’s organisations in Ireland. As part of the Voluntary Sector in the Information Age project, I conducted a focus group of women’s organisations at the Omagh Women’s Centre in July 1997; at the end of that session, participants were keen to use the Internet to network with each other. The Womenslink mailing list (discussion group) was then set up on a Dublin City University server and co-managed by me and Patricia Donald of the WRDA (Women’s Resource and Development Agency) in Belfast, until the end of 1999.

The original seven Womenslink member organisations included the primary women’s organisations and networks in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland; all have paid staff and professional premises. As the number of Womenslink participants grew, the profile changed to include a wider range of women’s groups and women’s sector participants. After the research period ended, the WRDA assumed full responsibility for Womenslink in early 2000, and it was moved from DCU to a commercial server. It continues to expand and link women’s organisations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In 1997, I was asked by the WRDA to evaluate the Womenslink mailing list with a view to identifying challenges and areas for further development. I conducted 14 in-depth interviews for that evaluation and produced a long and a short version of the evaluation report, with the short version circulated on Womenslink. Subsequently some discussion of Womenslink occurred on the list itself, and the WRDA used the evaluation to develop its IT workplan and inform its work with women’s organisations.

The Womenslink Evaluation was conducted for the Women’s Resource and Development Agency in Belfast. The evaluation was completed in 1998.

3. Advance Network Evaluation

What are challenges face a European network of community-based IT training centres for disadvantaged groups?

The ADVANCE network, funded by the EMPLOYMENT Integra initiative, encouraged social inclusion in the “information society” and policy and practice reflecting the needs of people from disadvantaged communities.

The ADVANCE network explored the potential of interactive information technologies and telecommunications networks for transnational delivery of training and education. It also developed a transnational training partnership equipped with the multi-media and multi-disciplinary skills. The exchange of learning and experience and talents helped to make this training accessible and meaningful to people in disadvantaged communities.

The report conclusions highlight the lessons learned in these areas and the main outcomes of the network. The partnership itself, supported and driven by EU financing, was an example of how transnational partnerships can be formed when national partners are open to having their needs and interests met through working with like-minded organisations.

The Advance Network Evaluation was conducted for the Nerve Centre (www.nerve-centre.org.uk) in Derry, with the support of EU-EMPLOYMENT Integra (www.iol.ie/EMPLOYMENT/integra/). The evaluation was completed in 1998.

2. Combat Poverty ICT Feasibility Study

What are the needs and benefits of ICT for a government agency serving disadvantaged and marginalized communities?

The Combat Poverty Agency, an agency of the Irish Government, decided in late 1995 to investigate how online systems could meet its information and communication needs.

The Agency’s decision was part of an international trend by state sector agencies at that time to explore the opportunities for information exchange through computer communications. An increasing number of state sector agencies around the world were applying the new communication and information technologies to improve interpersonal communications, disseminate information to the public, and improve access to public documents, records and other information.

The study analysis highlighted the contradiction implicit in using online systems such as the Internet in an anti-poverty context. One analyst noted “a contradictory position between the obvious potential benefits of systematically applying information technology to community development, and the prevailing market forces which makes the challenge ever-more important and difficult.”

Computer communication was being made increasingly important by the growing information-intensity of community work. The falling cost of computers and Internet access made computer communication more affordable. However, the increasing dominance of private market forces on the Internet meant that considerations of profitability may increasingly determines who gets access to the Internet and who is left out and what kind of services are provided on the networks.

The study was conducted for the Combat Poverty Agency in Dublin (www.combatpoverty.ie). The project was completed in 1996.

1. Solidarity on the Internet

How is the Internet used to build solidarity between indigenous nations and their supporters in the Americas?

This was my MA thesis, conducted at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. (www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/)

My thesis investigated how a specific Internet technology was being used to build solidarity with a political movement in the Americas: the struggle to end the “internal colonialism” of the Indigenous peoples and nations. The research can be situated within the field of alternative global media and communications.

Electronic mailing lists are a popular method of group communication on the Internet. Mailing lists – also known by the names of the most common software programs, Listserv and Majordomo – allow the interactive, automatic exchange of e-mail among a specific group of Internet users. Mailing lists are collaborative media, a fairly new media form in which the content is produced as part of the communication process.

Since 1989, electronic mailing lists have been used as a media and communications channel for the public exchange of commentary and news related to the situation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas; the study is an analysis of the current activity. The research method included a literature search and a quantitative survey and qualitative content analysis of 15 mailing lists on this topic conducted in early 1995.

The analysis is critical of the popular view of the Internet, the vision that the technology itself is democratic and to use it will encourage democratic social relations. Some undemocratic aspects of the technology and communication process are discussed. A concluding chapter contains suggestions for making the mailing list process more effective.

My MA thesis was completed in 1995.