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Enhancing social science research opportunities in Europe through information and communication technologies: exchanging relevant experience with the US

18 February 2007, San Francisco (US)
Symposium held at the AAAS Annual Meeting
San Francisco (US), 15-19 February 2007

Cyber-enabled Social Science ResearchThe annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the most prominent organizations worldwide in the field of science and technology, was held in San Francisco (US) from 15 to 19 February 2007.

Under the far-reaching title 'Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being', the AAAS meeting brought together experts, academics and policymakers from across the globe. The meeting aimed to discuss and generate novel understanding on sustainable economic, socio-political, and environmental conditions and processes at global and national level. This was achieved by addressing a wide variety of issues, ranging from health concerns to energy, from economic development to terrorism, and from the science disciplines to education.

Cyber-infrastructure Research Tools

One of the topics addressed during the AAAS 2007 scientific workshops of 18 February 2007, was cyber-infrastructure research tools and their utility in the advancement of social science research. This was part of the process of continuing an international exchange and dialogue between the NSF and European Commission, a collaboration initiated through the 2006 European Open Science Forum. The symposium, entitled 'Cyber-enabled Social Science Research: New Cross-National Opportunities Promoting Sustainable Development', presented the possibilities of utilising cyber-enabled capabilities to address political, economic and consumer-based topics, at cross-national levels.

The importance of cyber-infrastructure research tools lies in their potential to realise global social science, by conducting observation, data-collation and analysis at an unprecedented scale often involving collaboration between scientists from different parts of the globe. Although research using those tools has immense potential to provide increasingly reliable and valid results, their use also raises questions regarding privacy, confidentiality, trust and research ethics.

The Internet: a cross-national social research tool?

Based on the advancements of comparative empirical research as well as on the technologies to create such possibilities, the symposium 'Cyber-enabled Social Science Research' discussed the prospect of using the Internet as a research tool capable of addressing questions of sustainable well-being. More specifically, the seminar focused on the challenges and opportunities of using the Internet as a means for conducting cross-national research. The symposium addressed the following thematic areas:

  • using the Internet for innovative non-survey data collection:
  • using cyber-resources to build databases for social science research;
  • the Internet as a facilitator of comparative research;
  • socio-economic determinants of work-life attitudes, preferences and perceptions;
  • Internet-enabled international social science research: a private sector perspective.

The symposium, which was organized by Wanda E. Ward, Nikolaos Kastrinos and Frank P. Scioli, saw the participation of leading experts in the field of international social research, from both the US and Europe.

The WageIndicator Web Survey for worldwide social science research on wages

18 February 2007, San Francisco (US)
Presented at the Symposium "Cyber-enabled Social Science Research: New Cross-National Opportunities Promoting Sustainable Well-being", AAAS Annual Meeting
San Francisco (US), 15-19 February 2007
WageIndicator website

An important part of the symposium 'Cyber-enabled Social Science Research: New Cross-National Opportunities Promoting Sustainable Well-Being' was dedicated to the presentation of the European 'WageIndicator Web Survey', on behalf of Prof. Kea Tijdens of the University of Amsterdam (AIAS). While the title of the presentation is, at least in part, self-explanatory, indicating that the survey makes use of the Internet as a means to collect data on wages, what exactly does the 'WageIndicator' concept refer to?

WageIndicator: concept and evolution

In general terms, WageIndicator is an international web-based operation, which provides free information on wages. In return for this information, web-visitors are invited to complete a web survey, comprising an internationally comparable questionnaire on wages and work. Owing to this survey, which is accessible to all participating countries, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, novel data on wages, labour standards, working conditions and other work-related issues are available for cross-national research.

WageIndicatorWageIndicator is owned by the WageIndicator Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organization. The project was launched in The Netherlands in the year 2000, and by 2001 the first website had been created. The positive response of both public and academic actors, which relates largely to the desire to have information on wages, quickly led to an enlargement of the project.

At EU level, interest in WageIndicator was reflected in the assignment of a three-year grant on behalf of the European Commission (6th Framework Programme) for the Work Life Web (WOLIWEB) project. By 2004, thanks to the EU's contribution, WageIndicator websites had been set up in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK. In 2005 and 2006, websites were created for Hungary (funded by the EC EQUAL project), and for Brazil, India, South Africa, South Korea, Argentina and Mexico (funded by the GLOBAL project, under the Netherlands Development Aid Fund). Additionally, 2006 marked the participation of the USA, which joined WageIndicator as, thus increasing the number of participants to a total of 17 countries, operating 35 websites.

Basic facts on the WageIndicator survey

The WageIndicator survey consists of a questionnaire aimed at collecting information on wages and working conditions. More specifically, the questionnaire is divided into six sections:

  • occupation
  • place of work
  • employment history
  • working hours
  • employment contract and salary
  • personal questions

The target population of the web survey is the labour force. However, the questionnaire varies according to the respondent's employment status and therefore addresses all worker groups. On the whole, the dataset has over 500 variables. The magnitude of the data collected by the survey creates numerous research possibilities, not only across countries but also in terms of time (e.g. cross-country wage differentials, wage effect of parenthood, women's wages and motherhood, and so on).

Moreover, the importance of the WageIndicator concept rests in its uniqueness, for it constitutes the first worldwide web survey aimed at gathering data from different countries in a consistent and uniform manner. Most importantly, the survey is innovative in its interaction with the public, since the questionnaire is completed on a voluntary basis. Although this noncompulsory characteristic of the survey constitutes a disadvantage of the WageIndicator concept, as the data are not representative for the whole population, several strategies are currently being employed, in order to manage the process of self-selection. These strategies, together with the reliability of the data, contribute to establishing WageIndicator as an extremely effective and useful research tool.

The success of the WageIndicator concept goes beyond the results produced to date. On the wave of the globalisation process, a proposal for a worldwide 'GlobalWageIndicator' is currently being jointly prepared by the ILO and Harvard Law School, with the aim of increasing the number of participating countries from 17 to 75.