A Comparative Study of Municipal Adoption of Internet-Based Citizen Participation

A Comparative Study of Municipal Adoption of Internet-Based Citizen Participation

Stephen K. Aikins (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-282-4.ch011
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Abstract

A Comparative Study of Municipal Adoption of Internet-Based Citizen Participation
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Introduction

This chapter investigates whether the form of municipal government, city officials’ beliefs and city population size influence local governments’ use of the Internet to bring citizens close to their governments. The Internet is said to have potential to increase citizen-government interaction by fostering political community and online citizen participation. However, empirical evidence indicates that many e-government initiatives focus on efficiency, service delivery and online transaction processing, and have not taken full advantage of the Internet’s interactive potential to enhance Internet-based citizen participation (Chadwick and May 2001; Kearns, Bend & Stern 2002; West 2001, 2004; Global e-Policy and e-Government Institute and Rutgers e-Governance Institute 2003, 2005, Jensen & Venkatesh 2007). In addition, most research on e-government focus on stages of adoption, efficient delivery of service, transparency, good governance, and customer satisfaction with little attempt to investigate the reasons behind the relatively low deliberative features on local government web sites. Beginning with the premise that the form of government, population size and officials’ attitude drive actions, the researcher posits that these will be important factors affecting resource deployment and the use of the Internet to facilitate citizen participation.

Background

The mayor-council form of government is typically associated with larger industrialized heterogeneous cities, is said to be more adaptable and responsive to community needs, and the mayors in this form of government tend to work more with external constituencies. The council-manager form of government is most frequently found in medium-sized cities, and is said to emphasize professional expertise and administrative accountability (Denhardt and Denhardt, 2006). It follows therefore that, in theory, the Chief Administrative Officers of the mayor-council form of government would be more likely to believe in citizen participation, and more interested in involving citizens in public decision making, and in using the Internet to facilitate citizen participation, than would the Chief Administrative Officers of the council-manager form of government. In a study that examined the impact of form of government on citizen participation, Foutz (1993) concluded that cities with mayor-council form of government are more likely to utilize citizen participation in public decision making. However, other studies have shown that cities with council-manager form of government are more likely to encourage and utilize citizen participation (Kweit & Kweit, 1981; Nalbandian, 1991; Ebdon, 2002). It is therefore unclear as to whether either form of government has more influence on citizen participation, particularly on local governments’ use of the Internet to facilitate citizen participation. In addition, although studies show that cities with large populations are more likely to encourage citizen participation in decision making due to the heterogeneous nature of those communities (Wang, 2001; O’Toole, Marshall & Grewe, 1996; Ebdon, 2000a) few studies are yet to be performed to determine the influence of population size on Internet-based citizen participation. Therefore, the need for empirical investigation into the influence of local form of government and population size on officials’ beliefs in citizen participation, and their use of the Internet to support citizen participation is greater than ever before.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Form of Government: A governance structure comprising political institutions by which a state or locality is organized in order to exert its power over community politics. These political institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of individuals within the jurisdiction.

Internet-Based Citizen Participation: The use of the Internet to support active citizen involvement in decision making pertaining to the management of public affairs, including public policy deliberations. This includes using government web sites to solicit citizens’ opinion on policies and administrative services, to allow citizens to provide online feedback to administrative agencies and the legislature, and to stimulate online public discussions on policy and the political process.

Internet Deliberative Features: Attributes that serve as democratic outreach by facilitating communication, interaction and discussions between citizens and government. These include online discussion forums and feedback forms.

Citizen participation: Citizen involvement in decision-making pertaining to the management of public affairs, including public policy deliberations. Traditional citizen participation occurs through mechanisms such as hearing, citizen forums, community or neighborhood meetings, community outreaches, citizen advisory groups, individual citizen representation, etc.

Mayor-Council Government: A form of municipal government in which both the council and the mayor are elected, the latter either by popular vote or by council election. This form of government consists of the strong mayor and the week mayor types. In the strong mayor form of mayor-council government, the mayor has almost total administrative authority with a clear wide range of political independence, the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without council approval, and to prepare and administer the city budget with the approval of the council. In the weak mayor-form of mayor-council government, the council possesses both legislative and executive authority, may appoint officials and must approve mayoral nominations. The mayor, though elected, has little real political power and less independence.

Council-Manager Government: A form of municipal government in which an elected city council is responsible for making policy, passing ordinance, voting appropriations and having overall supervisory authority over city government. The council appoints a city manager or administrator who is responsible for supervising government operations and implementing policies adopted by the council. The manager serves the council, usually with a contract that specifies duties and responsibilities.

E-Government: Government’s use of information and communication technology (ICT) to exchange information and services with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. E-government may be applied by legislature, judiciary, or administration, in order to improve internal efficiency, the delivery of public services, or processes of democratic governance. Components are e-services, e-management, e-democracy and e-commerce.

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