Friday, June 18, 2010

CDI Pilot Study Shows Digital Information Lagging

by Jeff Stanger

CDI is based on an important distinction between digital distribution and digital information. We believe that for policy research organizations to remain useful and relevant, they must begin to engage in digital information — using all of the unique interactive capabilities of digital media to effectively articulate their findings. Digital distribution — static text and long PDFs transmitted via digital media — is no longer sufficient.

You can read more about how we characterize these two practices in our post Digital Distribution vs. Digital Information and the overview of the Center for Digital Information.

The topic of this post, however, is to report the findings of CDI's pilot study measuring the extent to which research organizations engage in "digital information." CDI commissioned a content analysis of a group of research reports by leading American think tanks. Using rankings created by the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania, we selected the top 20 think tanks that produce quantitative research, then collected the five most recent reports or studies from each think tank (at the time of collection, February 2010) that presented some kind of data, for a total sample of 100.

We hypothesized that very little research would rise to the level of being uniquely digital; that most organizations would use the medium as a way to distribute material in forms borrowed from a print era.

The Results

Pie charts showing study results

The results were even more striking than we anticipated. Digital distribution is nearly universal. Fully 98% of research posted online by these twenty biggest policy research organizations was static text and PDFs (aka digital distribution). Of the 100 studies examined, only 2 used any interactive methods unique to the medium used to disseminate them (in both cases, interactive information graphics).

So if they weren't interactive, what were they? Of the 98 classified as "digital distribution," 96 consisted of a short text summary followed by a link to "download the complete report" in PDF form. Only two even attempted an extended — although still static — presentation in HTML, the native programming language of the Web.

In short, digital distribution dominates. CDI was created to help the policy research community rethink these products as native digital information.

Comments welcome...