E-Government at the Grassroots: Existing Challenges, Pending Opportunities

E-Government at the Grassroots: Existing Challenges, Pending Opportunities

Lawrence E. Wood (Ohio University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-753-1.ch012
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This chapter conveys the results of an empirical analysis designed to evaluate how e-government in practice, particularly at the local level, corresponds with e-government stages theory. At the same time, examining e-government activity through the lens of such theory provides insights regarding the e-government maturation process, in a way that informs our understanding of not only relatively recent trends, but perhaps expectations for the future as well. The research identifies major challenges associated with establishing even basic e-government activity in some locations, though the results across virtually all locations included in the analysis should serve as a cautionary tale in regards to some of the highly anticipated benefits of e-government, especially in the area of civic engagement. From a policy-oriented standpoint, the relatively straightforward nature of this analysis can serve as a framework for similar evaluations, especially as e-government opportunities, and indeed challenges, continue to evolve.
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Along with the growth of E-government activity at the turn of the millennium was the concomitant growth of what has now become a relatively substantial body of literature depicting “stages” of E-government activity (Coursey & Norris, 2008; Goldkuhl & Persson, 2006; Lee, 2010; Siau & Long, 2005; and see, for example, Baum & Maio, 2000; Capgemini, 2005; Hiller & Belanger, 2001; Howard, 2001; Layne & Lee, 2001; UN, 2008; UN & ASPA, 2002). The nature of these stages models is remarkably consistent, though various scholars, government agencies, and consulting firms have offered slightly different depictions in such regards. Perhaps surprisingly then, whether considered in terms of the overall consistency of such models or the opportunity to substantiate any given unique representation, relatively little empirical work has truly endeavored to fully interrogate the accuracy of these models.

This is not to say that ‘E-government benchmarking’ studies are anything other than pervasive, especially in terms of cross-sectional work. As noted by Janssen et al. (2004), such studies have been fairly common, though the nature of these studies has been highly inconsistent. Inherent in these inconsistencies has often been a lack of evaluation explicitly through a stages-based framework. Similarly, and as alluded to by Heeks and Bailur (2007), E-government scholars have been astonishingly remiss about conducting longitudinal analyses, which could be particularly informative to stages models. In general, it is difficult if not somewhat impossible to assess the dynamics of the E-government maturation process through a static approach to research.

With these types of issues in mind, the empirical study that serves as the framework for this chapter is based upon a longitudinal analysis that examined, in a stages based context, local government website activity in the U.S. The research was conducted amidst the understanding that the U.S. is considered to be one of the countries on the leading-edge of E-government (Chen & Hsieh, 2009; UN, 2010). It was therefore understood that obstacles identified through this analysis would perhaps likely exist at the local government level in other countries as well. Furthermore, the study was designed amidst the understanding that local governments provide essential services and functions that are unique to their scale of jurisdiction. They are also a particularly key point of contact for civic participation and grassroots concerns. In short, local government has a distinct and important role to play in specific areas of E-government. E-government research, however, has tended to focus on broader scales of analysis (Heeks, 2006).

In summary, the purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, it conveys the results of a cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis, based upon primary data collected by the author, that examined how E-government in practice corresponds with E-government stages models, with the understanding that these models often lack empirical verification. Secondly, and considering such matters somewhat in reverse, examining local level E-government activity through the lens of stages-based models was understood as a means to identify the nature of such activity. Through this overall analysis this chapter addresses some of the key themes serving as the basis for this edited volume, including the practice of measuring E-government performance and related theoretical concerns. Important considerations also arise in relation to online civic engagement and its challenges, as well the phenomena of cross-boundary collaboration.

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