The Transparency of County Websites: A Content Analysis

By Harder, Carolyn T.; Jordan, Meagan M. | Public Administration Quarterly, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Transparency of County Websites: A Content Analysis


Harder, Carolyn T., Jordan, Meagan M., Public Administration Quarterly


The percentage of the population that is accessing the Internet has continued to grow; therefore, there is an increased expectation for governments to have information and services available to the public via the Internet. A stated benefit of e-government is that it enhances transparency by increasing citizen access and knowledge of government processes (Pina & Royo, 2010, p. 4). However, transparency in relation to e-government is a relatively new field of study. Although there are many positive projected outcomes theorized by the availability of government information online, most e-government literature revolves around efficiency and effectiveness. This analysis of local government websites focuses on the role those websites have in enhancing transparency.

While past studies have focused largely on national governments and large cities, it is important to examine the progress of smaller governments as well. Arkansas counties are a relevant level of study because of its demographics. The users of the Internet for information vary by the demographics of the user. According to The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, Internet usage varies by education level. Less than 70 percent of those without some college use the Internet compared to 94 percent of those with at least a college education (Pew Internet, 2011). As a state, Arkansas residents may be part of the digital divide that limits Internet usage and county governments' adoption and content of websites. Less than 20 percent of Arkansas residents above the age of 25 have attained a bachelor's degree. Also, most of the state is rural with a comparatively lower median household income. Therefore, the progression of Arkansas county governments' website adoption and content provides insight into many governments that are more rural with less educated and lower income populations.

The purpose of this research is to assess the current state of transparency of county websites in the state of Arkansas. To determine this, the content of county websites is studied and compared to transparency indicators. In order to complete this task, a combination of literature, studies, and laws regarding governmental transparency have been used to create a scoring matrix where each of Arkansas' county websites is evaluated and scored based on the number and type of available transparency indicators. Before the content analysis is explained further, the definition and concept of transparency is first discussed, followed by an explanation of the transparency indicators used in the study.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Transparency

The concept of transparency has been a part of the United States' ideology since the days of the Constitution's founders. In promoting the Constitution, Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers that citizen confidence in government is dependent upon the quality of administration. Knowledge of government operations is a necessity. Newbold (2011) makes this connection via transparency. With a transparent government, citizens can understand and hold government accountable for its administration and policies. Recently, President Obama described transparency in his Open Government Initiative's "Memorandum of Transparency and Open Government." In this Memorandum (Federal Register, 2009), transparency is simply defined as a method to "[promote] accountability and [provide] information for citizens about what their Government is doing" (para. 2). Transparency exposes corruption, makes information accessible to the citizens, and opens government operations and information to the public for observation and scrutiny (Fox, 2007). Koppell (2005) defines transparency as openness to inspection and scrutiny. A transparent government is accessible to the public and other interested parties. With that inspection and scrutiny, an accurate picture of government operations is developed (Piotrowski, 2007).

The role of transparency can be explained further with the principal-agent theory. …

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