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Members Express Strong Interest in Web Balloting

by Phil Lively

A survey recently completed studying ASTM members’ use of information technology shows an adequate basis for, and substantial interest in, Web balloting. Phil Lively, ASTM Vice President of Information Technology Development and Application, talks about the results of this survey. See where you fit in to the average ASTM member profile!

During the first quarter of 2001 ASTM conducted a study of technical committee members to ask about their interest in Web balloting. We also asked committee members how they connect to the Web, what desktop software they use, and how they have been using the Internet for standards development.

Background and Goals

Several developments have occurred in the past few years that suggest Web balloting should be an option for technical committee members.

• Almost all committee members can access the Web either at work or at home.
• Virtually all members have e-mail, which permits quick, cost-effective notification about new Web postings such as ballots.
• Connection speeds have increased, which improves the document transfer experience.
• ASTM’s Web capabilities have expanded. The Society currently maintains pages for each ASTM technical committee as well as “members only” pages that provide committee members the ability to download minutes from meetings, view committee rosters, and obtain e-mail addresses. In addition, committee members can use ASTM’s Search for Standards, renew their membership online, register for meetings, check schedules, and select their free volume of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards.
• Most committee members author new and revised standards using word processing software. The electronic file they create can be easily transformed into a Web ballot item.
• Many ASTM committees have expressed a need to speed up the pace of their standards development activities.

In light of these developments we developed several goals for our study:

• Determine the actual level of interest committee members have in Web balloting.
• Learn about the technology they use to access the Web and what software they have on their desktop to handle electronic files.
• Learn how often committee members currently use the ASTM Web site and what features they value.

Methodology

About 15,000 committee members were sent an e-mail asking them to participate in the member technology survey by hyperlinking to a short set of questions. A total of 4,778 committee members responded to the survey—an excellent response rate of 32 percent.

Using the Web to do this survey had some distinct advantages over more traditional print or telephone surveys. Results came fast: most responses were received within 48 hours. They were fed directly into a database, eliminating keying delays and errors. And data matching allowed us to easily link members to their committees and sort responses by committee.

Results

On the key question of Web balloting, 54 percent of committee members expressed strong interest in Web balloting, as shown in the chart below. Another 34 percent indicated that they were somewhat interested. Our interpretation of this group of members is that they see some obstacles to Web balloting, but would like ASTM to explore its possibilities.

Eight percent of member respondents said they were not interested in Web balloting at all. (See Table 1.)

Based on their member profiles, interest in Web balloting is strongest among committee members who work in manufacturing or government. Other member groups that express strong interest in Web balloting are frequent users of the ASTM Web site and members who have belonged to ASTM for five years or less.

Members least interested in Web balloting tend to work from home and have dial-up connections to the Web. Our interpretation of this data is that faster connection speeds over time and increased Web usage may make online balloting more attractive to this group.

Another result documented by the survey is that most members access the ASTM Web site from work where they are likely to have faster connection speeds. (See Table 2.)

Most members use a permanent connection to the Internet, but one-third still use dial-up access. Members with dial-up connections tend to show less interest in Web balloting and see less value in the current ASTM Web site features, which suggests that slower connection speeds are still a barrier to Web usage. (See Table 3.)

It may come as no surprise that Microsoft products dominate the desktops of committee members. This is true globally as well, since the data showed no variation when analyzed by country. (See Table 4 and Table 5.)

About 7,000 visitors come to the ASTM Web site each day, and committee member visits comprise about 500 of this total on average. Individual members tend to visit the ASTM Web site monthly or less frequently. (See Table 6.)

When committee members go to the Web site they tend to either visit a committee page or use the Search for Standards. (See Table 7.)

Conclusions

This survey proved to be rich and fruitful and we are most appreciative of the excellent response rate from our technical committee members. We believe ASTM members are pointing us to three main conclusions:

1. Committee members overall do want Web balloting, but as an option, not a requirement. Many members will opt for Web balloting, but others will not, at least initially, until it proves to be more useful than traditional mail ballots.

2. Committee member transition to the Web is incomplete. More and better features on the ASTM Web site, faster connection speeds, and appropriate member help will be important factors in the transition.

3. Given the word processing software on committee members’ desktops, ASTM should deliver Word files to most members for their standards revision work.

Therefore, I am happy to report substantial progress in these areas. This fall ASTM will offer a web balloting option to any ASTM main committee or subcommittee, a member help desk to assist with technology issues, and Word files for revision work. //

Copyright 2001, ASTM

Phil Lively is the vice president of Information Technology Development and Application at ASTM.