If We Build It, Will They Come?: An Appreciation of the Microfoundations of E-Government

If We Build It, Will They Come?: An Appreciation of the Microfoundations of E-Government

Michael J. Ahn (University of Massachusetts, USA) and John McNutt (University of Delaware, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7266-6.ch003
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This chapter explores the possible role of microfoundations (social, cultural, and institutional factors) as a determinant of electronic government. While earlier research has implied that microfoundations might be critical to e-government, this research presents an approach to assessing how technology interacts with societal factors in creating (or not creating) e-government success. The findings suggest that e-government development depends not only on strict technological and economic capacity but also on fertile social and institutional environment that facilitate the development of e-government. These findings support the basic premise that e-government does not exist in a vacuum and these soft factors and attributes create an environment that directs the outcomes of e-government. This enriches previous research on e-government acceptance such as Diffusion of Innovation Theory (Rogers, 1983) and the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989) and extends it to national and international realms.
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Efforts to apply technology to government offer the public a host of potential benefits (West, 2005). These benefits range from providing virtual access to information and service for citizen to transforming the way that government functions (Kim & Layne, 2001; Andersen & Henriksen, 2006). As technology advances and the level of technology sophistication in the general population becomes more pervasive, expectations by both citizens and policymakers rise. Unfortunately, the success of e-government efforts doesn’t always meet expectations. The recent experience of the United States with the website for the Affordable Care Act is just another reminder of a long litany of issues with the effectiveness of e-government. While there are certainly a host of potential reasons for any e-government failure, one of the least recognized is a lack of potential fit with the microfoundations of government. Microfoundations is a popular and often controversial concept in the social sciences (particularly economics), but lacks a consistent usage in the literature on e-government. For the purpose of this study, microfoundations refer to the structures and relationships that underpin certain social processes or activities that influence how institutions operate. Here, these social structures, and processes work as the foundation (hence the term, microfoundations)for government and effective government operation depends on their characteristics.

Putnam (2000; 1995) famously argues that social capital provides the microfoundations for effective national and local government. There is considerable evidence that social systems either promote or inhibit innovation (Rogers, 1983). Some researchers talk about a culture of innovativeness (Boehmke & Skinner, 2012) in states. These are factors that are generally ignored in approaches that look at what technology can potentially do and assume that installing it is adequate. The problem is that many e-government advocates ignore the microfoundations of both technology use and government. This approach, sometimes call the “field of dreams problem” (if you build it, they will come), characterizes the approach of a number of both practitioners and academics. If planners and policy makers had access to these additional dimensions, they could make smarter and more successful choices.

Since e-government activities are conducted by governmental institutions, the microfoundations of e-government cannot be completely separated from those of government per se. Still, it is unclear that effective governments are necessarily better at e-government than ineffective ones. Technology competence doesn’t always follow from excellence in other functions. This research will explore this dimension by offering a cross sectional consideration of the relationship between E-government quality and underlying value and governmental dimensions while controlling for the digital divide and per capita GNP. We will explore the following research questions:

  • RQ1: Is there a relationship between underlying social values, social conditions, citizen characteristics and social capital and e-government outcomes?

  • RQ2: Is this relationship (if any) affected by the digital divide and economic output?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internet Penetration: This means the portion of the population that has access to the Internet. It defines a portion of the digital divide.

Gross Domestic Product per Capita: GDP is the value of all of the goods and services produced internally by a nation over a one year period. GDP per capita is GDP divided by the population.

Microfoundations: Microfoundations refer to the structures and relationships that underpin certain processes or activities.

Gini Coefficient: The Gini Coefficient is a measure of inequality, usually income inequality. It measures the difference between a diagonal line and the Lorenz Curve. A Gini coefficient of zero is perfect equality while a Gini coefficient of one is perfect inequality.

Social Capital: Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together. Source: World Bank, 2011.

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