Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Worldwide Municipality Websites between 2005 and 2007: An OCED Perspective That Compares Maturational and Curvilinear Best Practices Explanations

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Worldwide Municipality Websites between 2005 and 2007: An OCED Perspective That Compares Maturational and Curvilinear Best Practices Explanations

Article excerpt

From its inception, the electronic medium has evoked transformational expectations across the entire public sector. As the president of the National Academy of Public Administration states early on: "The new technologies will allow ... citizen[s] new access to the levers of power in government. As more information reaches ... citizen[s], the greater the potential for them to influence and make informed choices regarding how government touches their lives. That potential gives new meaning to a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people'" (O'Neill, 2001). In the interim, jurisdictions are certainly encountering praise for their electronic efficiency and effectiveness (Parent et al., 2005). At the same time, determining the impact of digitized government is problematic, as traditional performance measures overestimate usage by counting site visits or passive service provision, such as submitting tax returns or accepting welfare stipends (Pirog & Johnson, 2008). A manifest concern is: are jurisdictions--at all levels--authentically empowering digitized government to improve agency services and to augment participation? The study's focal point examines evaluations of worldwide municipal Web sites--and, in particular, cities in industrialized democracies. (1)

The paper begins by briefly summarizing digitized government literature and, then, by elaborating theoretical issues endemic to the field. They precede proposing two study questions. Next, the paper demonstrates the advantages of studying digitized government as two distinct elements, e-government and e-governance, which leads to presenting methodology and design. The principal analysis explores longitudinal data sets of worldwide municipal Web sites in 2005 and 2007. While such supply-side surveys of city Web sites may appear to position "best performers," they also serve as proxies for "best practices--which is our central theme. The discussion portion relates the findings to the study questions. The conclusions compare two perspectives to explain the findings, followed by suggestions for future research proposals.

THE QUANDARY OF DIGITIZED GOVERNMENT RESEARCH

The significance of the digitized medium is well-documented. In the United States its acceptance by endusers is nearly universal (Fox, 2004) and in European countries adult electronic contact with public officials remains about 30% (European Commission, 2009). Yet, a certain quandary emanates from literature reviews on digitized government research, as they emphasize the field's shortcomings. While both Titah and Barki (2006) and Norris and Lloyd (2006) offer exhaustive assessments, their reviews delineate that the paucity of theoretical frameworks sidetracks ongoing hypothesis-testing. In a subsequent literature search, Flak et al. (2007) counsel: "The precursor to articulation of theories in any field is a consensus among researchers on concepts and definitions" (p. 14), which is lacking. (2) Additionally, Flak et al. find that: "eGovernment remains under-theorized and there are few attempts at either theory testing or theory building," and that "research has shown limited cross [-] referencing and hardly any cumulative studies" (p. 13)--a conclusion echoed by Misra (2007a).

Indeed, Heeks and Bailur (2007) observe that: " ... [the field's] research draws mainly from a weak or confused positivism" (p. 243). They also caution that the literature's most common theme:

" ... currently provides other researchers with just models or lists, particularly with the four-stage Web model of e-government" (p. 255). As this maturational view bundles services and collaboration, it fosters that digitization traverses diagonally--conditions criticized by others (Gronlund, 2003; Misra, 2007). In their more recent literature appraisal, Akesson et al. (2008) conclude that a disjuncture between theory and empirical work pervades public sector electronic studies. To summarize, the reviews highlight both the dearth of theory development and the limitations of cumulative knowledge as epitomizing digitized government research. …

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