Municipal Government and the Interactive Web: Trends and Issues for Civic Engagement

Municipal Government and the Interactive Web: Trends and Issues for Civic Engagement

Benedict S. Jimenez (Rutgers University, USA), Karen Mossberger (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) and Yonghong Wu (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-083-5.ch013
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Abstract

What opportunities do citizens have to interact with government online at the local level? This study uses content analysis of the websites of the 75 largest U.S. cities to identify the extent to which they integrate features that allow online information customization and online citizen participation. Completed from March-May 2009, the coding includes analysis of Web 2.0 applications and older web-based tools such as citizen surveys, online town meetings, and other features relevant to citizen engagement. The study finds that municipal governments have steadily developed their online capacity to provide information to local residents, but new media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube remain underutilized. Local e-government has yet to evolve as a tool to advance deliberative democracy, but some opportunities for input have increased. An initial analysis indicates that cities with large African-American and Latino populations have less interactive websites, and that larger cities are likely to have more participatory opportunities online.
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Introduction

Web-based technologies continue to change the way citizens receive information from and communicate with government (Chadwick 2009a). One important set of digital tools that has received increasing attention is Web 2.0. The Pew Internet and American Life Project defines Web 2.0 as “Web-enabled applications that are built around user-generated or user-manipulated content, such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites.”1 In December 2009, 31 percent of internet users reported using such interactive tools to obtain government information, according to Pew (Smith, 2010).2 Approximately three-quarters of Americans believed that such tools help citizens to be more informed and make government more open (Smith, 2010). In addition to Web 2.0 innovations, such as Facebook and Twitter, citizens use older applications to sign up for email and newsletters, send comments, fill out surveys, or participate in online discussions of issues.

To what extent are cities using Web 2.0 applications and other older web-based technologies to provide information as well as facilitate communication between citizens and government? What explains the variation in city performance in online information customization and online citizen participation?

This study uses content analysis of the websites of the 75 largest U.S. cities to identify the extent to which they integrate features which allow online information customization and online citizen participation. The coding was completed from March to May 2009, and includes Web 2.0 applications as well as citizen surveys, online town meetings, and other features relevant to citizen engagement.

It is at the local level where citizen participation has perhaps the greatest promise for influencing government (Oates, 1972; Berry, Portney and Thomson, 1993; Peters, 1996; Oakerson, 1999), and so it is important to examine trends at the local level, especially in larger cities, which are most likely to be early adopters of new technologies (Ho, 2002; Moon, 2002).

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