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5. Implications and Potential for Future Development

Practical implications

The evaluation of collaborative technology can be deconstructed into several constituent parts, efficiency, effectiveness, usability standards, individual, group, organisational and societal effects (Ramage 2010, 74). At a fundamental level, the successful transcription of features through WebGIS by non-experts demonstrates the potential of the project design to surmount the perceived barriers to participation contributing to 'a geospatial divide' currently evident.

Positive group and societal effects may also be conceived. The validation of LIDAR features, through rapid field reconnaissance, can involve practical techniques, for example photographic and/or basic earthwork survey that do not require a high level of professional expertise and therefore lead to opportunities for group fieldwork projects, with appropriate professional support to aid interpretation (Hoyle 2008, 115). Thus, WebGIS-based transcription of features can not only provide the ability to drive local volunteer archaeological projects, ground truthing features and form the basis of more traditional archaeological projects but widen the role of the volunteer throughout all stages of a project, from transcription to field work. Societal benefits regarding contributions to knowledge may also be possible. A multidisciplinary team combining physical geographer, archaeologist and historical geographer working in collaboration during the LIDAR transcription process is posited to be effective (de Boer et al. 2008, 82). With pressure on the number of professional archaeologists employed by local authorities, collaborative web-based projects may provide a forum for multi-disciplinary input, albeit harnessing the unproven skills of an interested public, and provide or supplement the collective knowledge and skills of a department or unit.

From a heritage management or organisational perspective, another possible future benefit is evident when considering the dominant feature type identified is ridge and furrow, an earthwork under-represented on some counties' HER records (Challis et al. 2008, 1061). Given available LIDAR data, the potential exists to develop cost-effective initiatives to record this dwindling form of earthwork from a national perspective, adding to the relevant HER while fostering public engagement with archaeology (Hall 2001, 1; Palmer 1996, 439).

Regarding cost efficiency, the current project, excluding the running cost of the web host, costs nothing. If data are freely available and open-source solutions can be used, the cost of projects would similarly be limited to the cost of a web host, a resource that may already be present or available to local authorities, national bodies or university departments. Continued development of WebGIS applications using meagre geospatial resources may encourage a shift from the culture of commodification of data to democratisation, particularly regarding legacy datasets that may have fulfilled their intended purpose e.g. data collected for flood-risk analysis, commonly performed by environment management professionals, but potentially of great value to the archaeological community. During a period of austerity, re-tasking data to multiple cross-disciplinary objectives can only aid the maintenance of a vibrant cultural heritage sector through greater public engagement, which can potentially increase tourism revenues.

Feedback from participants was positive and all found the application to function successfully meaning that efficiency (Does application work as planned?) and effectiveness (Does application allow desired task to be successfully completed?) can be regarded as acceptable. Most technical problems with the application arose from server downtime owing to on-going development during the trial phase of the project. Usability of the application is a difficult aspect to assess. Some participants expressed the desire to be able to obtain a downloadable mobile phone-based version of the application in addition to a web browser-based application. However, application-drawing tools would possibly need to be simplified to facilitate the loss of precision the user would experience shifting from mouse to touch input. This could possibly reduce feature depiction to a simple point file and symbology. However, this may be sufficient if future project goals only require a rapid transcription or assessment of the landscape but may result in unacceptable loss of information and fidelity of transcription, constituting a backward step in developing a robust platform for transcription and interpretation.


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