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Adapting Web 1.0 Evaluation Techniques for E-Government in Second Life

Alla Keselman, Victor Cid, Matthew Perry, Claude Steinberg, Fred B. Wood, and Elliot R. Siegel

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 4, August 2011, pp. 204 - 225

Article Contents


Expert Panel Reviews: Methodological Approach

Two full-day facilitated structured expert review sessions explored how traditional Web evaluation methods might be applied to VWs. The first session concerned Web and Internet performance and usage, while the second focused on usability and user feedback. When structuring the expert panels, we did not set out to seek nationally and internationally renowned leaders in the pertaining fields. Such an endeavor would have been indisputably invaluable, but outside the financial and logistical scope of this project. Instead, we drew from the internal resources of the National Library of Medicine (an international leader in organizing and delivering electronic health information) and ICF International (a global company supplying services to NLM, specializing in research, analysis, implementation, and improvement of innovative technologies). This was supplemented by the expertise of an academic researcher specializing in transmedia and game studies. We aimed to assemble panels of individuals with substantial practical and theoretical experience, representing a broad range of fields with relevance to VWs evaluation. The participants specialized in Internet performance, Web 2.0/ social media and VWs, Web analytics, Web development, and usability evaluations (see Table 1). The participants had between seven and 45 years of experience in their respective fields (mean = 18, median = 18). Four held doctoral degrees, with most of the others holding master’s degrees. Seven participants (2 from ICF and 5 from NLM) had direct experience in Web 1.0 usability evaluation, which ranged from developing tools and protocols and conducting sessions to designing large-scale organizational testing strategies and conducting research. The NLM’s participants’ usability experience was primarily with Web sites for health professionals and consumers (including sites in environmental health and toxicology); the expertise of ICF usability experts was broad.

Table 1. Expert Panel Members’ Areas of Expertise (X)

Table 1

Each session lasted eight hours and consisted of a series of highly structured exercises in which traditional Web evaluation metrics and tools were analyzed for their relevance and adaptability to VWs. Panelists determined specific actions needed to modify traditional Web methods and tools for VWs’ applicability and prioritized these actions based on importance and cost. A trained facilitator closely monitored the sessions, ensuring adherence to the sessions’ timeline and protocol. The exercises often involved small group discussions and presentations to the other groups and resulted in artifacts such as individuals’ notes and groups’ lists and flowcharts. The facilitator encouraged the participants to express dissenting opinions, to be resolved in the discussions. However, due to the diverse and complementary range of expertise in the panels, most of the time the actual process resembled assembling a jigsaw puzzle where participants contributed unique pieces, rather than a heated debate. At the end of each session all the artifacts were collected by the facilitator and reviewed by a group of four key project officers who were members of both panels. Finally, the project officers created summative statements that combined and organized the panels’ consensus views. The summaries were used in the subsequent pilot testing of evaluation methods in Tox Town in Second Life. Although the summaries were based on the in-depth, structured discussion, the panels’ findings have an element of subjectivity, because of their narrative nature, and because they ultimately express the opinion of a specific group. The goal of the exercises was to generate a set of ideas and recommendations to test in the subsequent research. A different groups of experts could come up with somewhat (though, presumably, not completely) different recommendations.

 

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