Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance


Few developments have had broader consequences for the public sector than the introduction of the Internet and digital technology. In this book, Darrell West discusses how new technology is altering governmental performance, the political process, and democracy itself by improving government responsiveness and increasing information available to citizens.

Using multiple methods--case studies, content analysis of over 17,000 government Web sites, public and bureaucrat opinion survey data, an e-mail responsiveness test, budget data, and aggregate analysis--the author presents the most comprehensive study of electronic government ever undertaken. Among other topics, he looks at how much change has taken place in the public sector, what determines the speed and breadth of e-government adoption, and what the consequences of digital technology are for the public sector.

Written in a clear and analytical manner, this book outlines the variety of factors that have restricted the ability of policy makers to make effective use of new technology. Although digital government offers the potential for revolutionary change, social, political, and economic forces constrain the scope of transformation and prevent government officials from realizing the full benefits of interactive technology.


The subject of digital government first came to my attention several years ago while searching public sector websites for information about online services. At that time, it struck me that many government websites were difficult to use and lacked a standard design for visitor navigation. Despite optimistic rhetoric regarding the so-called e-government revolution, it was not clear to what extent the Internet was transforming public sector performance or democracy. Given the fact that electronic government (“e-government”) still was in its infancy, it seemed an appropriate time to track government websites as well as how citizens were thinking about e-government.

This book looks at how e-government has developed and how the Internet compares with historical examples of technological change. Every time a new technology has emerged, there have been grandiose claims about its impact on society and politics. From the printing press in the 1500s to inventions such as the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television, technical innovations often are said to produce a major transformation. At their creation, for example, both the telegraph and television were cited as new devices that would speed communication and alter the relationship between citizens and government.

It therefore is no surprise that the emergence of the Internet and other digital technology has led to speculation about their longer-term social and political consequences. Are they transforming government? How are they altering public sector performance? What are their ramifications for the way democracy functions? As in the past, scholars have attempted to determine what these latest new technologies mean for our political system.

In this research, I examine the extent to which e-government has transformed the public sector, what factors dictate the extent of change, and the ramifications of e-government for public performance and democracy. Basically, I suggest that e-government falls more within a model of incremental change than of transformation. Using data on the content of government websites, citizen and bureaucrat attitudes toward e-government, expenditure data, case studies, an email responsiveness test, and aggregate multivariate analysis, I argue that like many past technologies, the Internet’s effect has been mediated by a variety of political forces. Factors such as group conflict, bureaucratic setting, and budget scarcity have slowed the rate of innovation and made it difficult for e-government to take advantage of the Internet’s revolutionary potential. This limits the transformational scope of the Internet and slows the diffusion of information technology.

A number of people helped me collect data on and think about the ramifi-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.