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Women’s Information Needs. Findings of a study by urbis keys young for the NSW Department for Women, December 2001. What was the purpose of the study?. To examine women’s information needs and information seeking behaviour To develop more effective delivery methods for government information.

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women s information needs

Women’s Information Needs

Findings of a study by urbis keys young for the NSW Department for Women, December 2001

what was the purpose of the study
What was the purpose of the study?
  • To examine women’s information needs and information seeking behaviour
  • To develop more effective delivery methods for government information
how was the study undertaken
How was the study undertaken?
  • A literature search and annotated bibliography

2. A random national telephone survey of 1,457 adults (women and men)

3. Face to face interviews with 40 women from disadvantaged groups

1 the annotated bibliography
1. The Annotated Bibliography

Comprehensive review of literature

about women’s info needs in relation to:

  • violence
  • health
  • legal issues
  • education, employment and training
  • technology
  • culturally and linguistically diverse communities
2 the telephone survey
2. The telephone survey
  • Random survey of 1457 from Australia and New Zealand
  • Surveyed women and men to understand how info needs and preferences differ
In-depth, face-to-face interviews with 40 women
  • socio-economically disadvantaged
  • NESB
  • ATSI
  • Maori women in NZ
Women are more likely to be

the primary information seeker

  • More women (62%) than men (54%) said they were the primary information seeker
  • Fewer women (9%) than men (14%) said their partner/spouse was the main information seeker
There is a high level of need for

government information

  • 66% of people had tried to get info from a government department in past 12 months
  • 88% of the women said it had been important to get some info (55% very important)
Direct contact with

a government agency

was the preferred means of seeking information

for most women

Government agencies were also

identified as providing the most

useful information


Although 40% found government department, service or agency most useful source,50% found most useful information from sources other than government

A high proportion of women were able to obtain

some information from

government sources

Government agencies were

successful in meeting the

information needs of a majority of women

The majority of women

found it easy to obtain


from government

Reasons given for information being

easy to obtain

  • Department was helpful/had correct info
  • Info obtained by phone call
  • A straightforward issue
  • Fast/got information immediately
  • Info available on internet
Reasons given for information being

difficult to obtain

  • Department had no knowledge/did not want to tell me
  • Constantly referred to other people or documents
  • Long waiting times
  • Phone difficulties: put on hold, too many options
A majority of women sought

information about a

straightforward problem

23% of women described the

problem as very complex or fairly


60% of women reported no

anxiety about the problem for

which they sought information.

39% reported that they felt

anxiety (17% considerable


Respondents to the

survey were

asked a number of

questions about satisfactory

means of obtaining

government information

Printed materials were the most

popular way (74%) to obtain info

  • Can take time to read and digest
  • Can refer to information again
  • Usually provide enough basic/ helpful info
  • Generally easy to read
Negative aspects of printed


  • Usually too general or brief
  • Often too difficult to read or understand
  • Have too much information
  • Are too impersonal
In-depth interviews reflected

survey results but

  • Clear preference for materials in own language.
  • Difficult for woman with visual disability
  • Difficult to understand even in own language
Newspaper articles/magazines,

television and radio

were rated by large numbers

of women as satisfactory

ways of receiving

government information

The in-depth interviews


  • They are good for general info
  • The information is considered less reliable
  • They are used more for entertainment
  • Ethnic radio is popular source for NESB women
The telephone was less popular (54%) than many other means and elicited more

negative comments,

particularly frustrations with

telephone systems

Positive aspects of the


  • You can speak to someone
  • It is less time consuming
  • No need to travel or go anywhere
  • It can be accessed no matter where you live
The telephone was particularly

convenient for

  • rural women
  • those at home caring for children, the sick or elderly
Negative aspects of the

telephone were

  • Long waits to speak to someone, difficult to “get through”
  • Dislike routing & button pressing to get through system
  • Dislike being put on hold
  • Hard to locate the right person to speak to
The in-depth interviews revealed

a high level of dissatisfaction

with the telephone from

  • NESB & Aboriginal women
  • Women with hearing and sight impairments
Negatives these women cited

about the telephone included

  • Can’t speak to someone in own language
  • No record of conversation to take away and reflect on
  • Less accountability
  • Preference for face-to-face contact
  • Difficulties pushing the correct buttons and following prompts
The internet and websites were rated as satisfactory sources of government information by

only 43% of women

Positive aspects of websites &


  • Can quickly get info - day or night
  • Info is easy to find, thorough
  • Info can be accessed from home or work
  • Information is up-to-date
Negative aspects of websites or


  • Difficult to find specific info
  • Poorly designed sites
  • Too much info
  • Obtaining info can be slow
  • Info too general or brief
  • Info too impersonal & can’t ask questions
41% of women did not

know or could not say whether

websites/the internet were

satisfactory ways to get


Using the internet as a first point

of contact was highest among


  • aged 18-24 years
  • with incomes over $50,000
  • living in urban areas
Using the internet as first point

of contact was lowest among


  • with incomes under $20,000
  • living in rural areas
  • aged over 55 years
  • with an education level of year 9 or below
The in-depth interviews back up

the survey findings

  • Internet use very low amongst all disadvantaged groups (except Maori)
  • Most had no access to computers
  • Most had no computer skills
  • Many women had “No idea”
  • Younger women were more likely to have some access and skills
The in-depth interviews showed

that approaching family/friends

first was high amongst

  • NESB women
  • Maori women
  • Aboriginal women
The survey asked respondents

where they might go if they

needed information about

  • Family Law
  • Consumer/Fair Trading
  • Employment
  • A sensitive or embarrasing health issue
Key issues for women from low

socio-economic backgrounds:

  • Mostly know the “system”
  • Importance of first contact
  • Delays in getting response from govt departments “made stressful situation more stressful”
Key issues for NESB women
  • Lack of English language – interpreters crucial
  • Dependence on husbands or children
  • Lack of trust of government
  • Lack of confidence
  • Almost all go to family/friends first
  • Difficulties accessing right information
Key issues for Aboriginal


  • Primary info seekers & brokers for extended families
  • Importance of contact person with cultural background to “interpret”
  • Shame about seeking info/help
  • “Buck passing” – poor attitudes of staff
  • Need for translators, poor literacy
Key issues for Maori women:
  • Difficulty of accessing info - “Jumping through hoops”
  • Seek help from family and friends first
  • Strong face-to-face and one-on-one preference
  • Info presented in number of ways –visual, oral and written
Most negative consequences of

not receiving information felt by

  • Older women
  • Those with limited English
  • Those who lack confidence approaching government agencies
  • Those who anticipate a negative response (NESB, Aboriginal and Maori women)
  • Those who are socially isolated through ill health, violence or disability
Information is relatively easy to obtain


  • Less complex issue or problem
  • Had contact person or agency they knew
  • Agency personnel were knowledgeable, responsive and had info at hand
  • Agency personnel communicated effectively
  • Information was provided in various formats and in language they understand
  • Women play a major information-seeker role
  • Women’s information seeking experiences and preferences are diverse.
  • Women from low socio-economic backgrounds and minority groups are disadvantaged in information seeking
  • Government departments and services need to provide properly resourced, accessible information services (including translators)
  • Government departments and services need staff trained in dealing with cultural and ethnic minorities
  • Information should be distributed through a wide range of community networks and organisations, the media, health and other professionals
  • A range of strategies relating to age, education level and English literacy is necessary, particularly for minority groups
  • Websites should not be regarded as total substitutes for traditional forms of information distribution.
  • Information systems should be integrated with service systems so that women can be supported as well as given information. This will increase women’s capacity to absorb the information.