Developing a user friendly FireWatch site: debunking sociotechnological assumptions about Internet users in remote communities
AST Management Pty Ltd
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communication and Arts/Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : LP110200020
Catastrophic fire weather alerts have occurred throughout Australia long, dry summers, and long term forecasts predict an increase in bushfire events in many areas of the country. Several government inquiries into bushfire disasters over the last ten years have called for more effective communication regarding bushfire information (Elsworth et al, 2008). This paper reports on the development of a user-friendly, web based, fire information site, which builds upon an existing, but highly technical, fire information site run by Landgate. Community consultation and onsite prototype testing in the Kununurra area of WA revealed that sociotechnological assumptions regarding ‘the remote community Internet user’ need to be reconsidered and reconceptualised at a microgeographical level. Our findings indicate that a full understanding of the sociotechnological capacities and expectations of individuals and communities is vital in establishing a user-friendly site that can present fire information both relevant for, and delivered in a manner most suited to, remote community users. Generally speaking, community members displayed a higher level of internet usage than expected. They already had a great deal of experience using map-based information websites, and they ‘localise’ site information – by reflecting on how they could use the site in their everyday lives and adding a variety of unanticipated uses for the site. The changes in progress will enable the general public living in, or visiting, the Kununurra area (and in the longer term other remote and regional areas) to source information about bushfires and bushfire risk previously accessible only to scientists, foresters, land managers and fire experts.