Municipal Websites: Linking Democratic Theory and Citizen Participation

Municipal Websites: Linking Democratic Theory and Citizen Participation

Lamar Vernon Bennett (Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, USA) and Aroon Manoharan (Kent State University, Kent, OH, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2014100103
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In this paper the authors draw on Scott's (2006) work on e-government and democratic theories to examine how governments engage their citizens online. The three theories they focus – representative, pluralist, and direct – are the most prominent in the democratic theory literature. Using data from the 200 American local governments, they examine two research questions: What factors drive governments to employ each theory? Which theory predominates in the implementation of e-government? Our assumption is that providing answers to these two questions will help set the stage for future research linking e-government and democratic theory.
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Over the last 15 years e-government has been at the forefront of the management reform movement. Around the world, governments have launched websites and other Internet technologies to enhance government services and engage citizens in the decision-making process. E-government refers to “the use of technology to enhance the access to and delivery of government services to benefit citizens, business partners and employees. It has the power to create a new mode of public service where all public organizations deliver a modernized, integrated and seamless service for their citizens” (Silcook, 2001, p. 88). According to Garson (2006), the adoption of e-government transforms the relationship between government and businesses and the resulting new improved transaction process leads to substantial savings for the government. Moreover, increased use of technology promises the reversal of the declining social capital in the United States. Research on e-government has recognized the dual components of e-government and e-governance, where e-government refers to a one-way communication between government and its citizens, while e-governance pertains to a two-way communication. According to Garson (2006 p.19), the phenomenon of e-government represents the “provision of government services by electronic means, usually over the Internet, while e-governance points to “a vision of changing the nature of the state.” E-governance moves beyond e-government; it represents “the co-evolution of the information and communication technologies with the political institutions, taking in particular into account how these political institutions and the state more precisely are evolving in the context of globalization and by doing so, crystallizing all other relevant function” (Rossel & Finger, 2007). The e-governance perspective also involves e-democracy, which will allow for greater government transparency and openness, which in turn leads to a better-informed citizenry. The phenomenon of e-democracy also denotes the potential for information and communication technology (ICTs) to improve the degree and quality of citizen participation in government decision-making. Although e-democracy has not been widely adopted by government in the United States, research that its use has the potential to create a more engaged citizenry. For instance, Garrett and Jensen (2010) found that local government officials who use the Internet to communicate with various stakeholders are more engaged with a more diverse array of stakeholders, which speak to the potential of e-democracy to improve civil discourse. What’s more is that ICTs can enable direct democracy on a large scale, allowing for greater government transparency and openness, resulting in a better-informed citizenry.

Over this same period scholars have worked to provide empirical support about how e-government works. The vast majority of this research has focused on trust and confidence in government (Tolbert & Mossberger, 2006; Kim & Lee, 2012; Morgeson, Van Amburg & Mithas, 2011); adoption (Schwester, 2009; Schwester, 2010; Moon 2002); innovation (Tolbert, Mossberger, & McNeal, 2008), changes and challenges faced by government officials (Carrizales, 2008; Dawes, 2008), and social equity (Helbig, Gil-Garcia, & Ferro, 2008; Manoharan & Carrizales, 2011). Much of this research relies on a similar model of e-government development. Coursey and Norris (2008) lay out five models of e-government (Layne & Lee, 2001; Baum & DiMaio, 2000; Hiller & Belanger, 2001; Westcott, 2001). In the interest of space we will layout the common elements of the models discussed in their work.

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