Citizen Participation through Municipal Websites: A Global Scorecard

Citizen Participation through Municipal Websites: A Global Scorecard

Alicia Schatteman (Northern Illinois University, USA), Deborah Mohammed-Spigner (NJ Common Cause, USA) and George Poluse (Kent State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0116-1.ch020
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Abstract

This study is based on a global survey of municipal websites conducted by the E-Governance Institute at Rutgers University New Jersey and the Global E-Policy E-Government Institute at Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea. The survey evaluated municipal websites in five distinct e-governance categories: (1) security and privacy, (2) usability, (3) content, (4) services, and (5) citizen participation. This chapter examines the area of citizen participation in detail and the analysis found that online citizen participation was highly correlated with both the percentage of Internet users and the percentage of mobile users in a country. In the analysis Seoul, Korea achieved the highest score in this category. Unlike previous research the population of a country was not found to be statistically significant. Overall, this research indicates a strong relationship Internet users and education have with online citizen participation. As the percentage rate of Internet users increases across the globe, along with the rising literacy rates, more countries will progress towards adopting and implementing e-democracy strategies.
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Introduction

A growing phenomenon around the globe is how online citizen participation influences the relationship citizens’ have with their government. Democratic governments are increasingly scrutinized for how effectively they use the Internet to provide services to citizens. Initially, traditional citizen participation involved limited to face-to-face interactions and telephone communications, however, the evolution of technology has given citizens more opportunities for participation with improvements in communication, and accessibility. This chapter examines different variables that might explain why countries provide online citizen participation opportunities. The analysis is based on the global study of municipal websites that was conducted by Rutgers University and Sungkyunkwan University. This chapter focuses on two primary questions related to citizen participation:

  • 1.

    What opportunities for online participation are available in the world’s most populous cities?

  • 2.

    What factors best explain the development of online citizen participation on municipal websites?

The results from this study will not only contribute to our understanding of best practices, but also help establish municipal e-government benchmarks.

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Background

E-government enables citizens to participate more actively in the democratic process and the governance of their communities (OECD 2003a). The use of information and communication technology (ICT) promises a participatory democracy (Clift, 2004). Both political support from the top officials and demand from its citizens are necessary to facilitate a shift towards e-government. Johnson and Kaye (1998) argue that within the argument that the Internet can reinvigorate democracy is the implicit “notion that Web users trust the government and want to participate” (p. 123).

The Internet can reinvigorate civic engagement, which is defined as “the activities by which people participate in civic, community and political life and by doing so express their commitment to community” (Smith, Kearns and Fine, 2005, p. 6). Online civic engagement is different than traditional engagement; with online capabilities many individuals can be mobilized quickly at little or no cost. Individuals can get involved directly, bypassing such middlemen as advocacy groups and organizations. Online engagement can also empower groups and organizations; they can generate their discussion forum and create news updates without going through traditional media channels. “Methods of public engagement can be described as deliberative when they encourage citizens to scrutinize, discuss and weigh up competing values and policy options” (Coleman and Gotze, 2001, p. 6). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) outlined three ways to engage the public – 1) information sharing: one-way communication in which the government produces and delivers information to its citizens; 2) consultation: two-way communication in which citizens can provide feedback to the government; and 3) active participation: a partnership between the public and government in which the citizens are directly involved in the decision and policymaking process.

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