Transparency in Electronic Governance: Freedom of Information via Governmental Website

Transparency in Electronic Governance: Freedom of Information via Governmental Website

Jing Shiang (Tunghai University & Taiwan E-Governance Research Center, Taiwan), Jin Lo (National Chengchi University & Taiwan E-Governance Research Center, Taiwan) and Hui-Ju Wang (National Chengchi University & Taiwan E-Governance Research Center, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-753-1.ch014
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Abstract

With widespread use and application of modern information and communication technology (ICT), especially computers and the Internet, the realization of government informational transparency through digital channels has been at the core of contemporary democratic governance. This chapter examines public transparency in Taiwan as seen in its development of electronic government, especially in the construction and use of public websites, which in recent years has received significant approbation in various international evaluations. It has been noted that most of its public agencies have established websites that designate sections for freedom of information (FOI) purposes. Of all the kinds of information seen in the public website sections, “policy white papers, statistics and reports” are the most abundant, are updated most frequently, and are most browsed by site visitors. Governments in Taiwan have also implemented back-office procedures and system applications for FOI purposes through the use of websites. Though only half of the surveyed public agencies provide online FOI request forms, most agencies rely on their agency-head e-mail boxes as main channels for receiving and processing citizen FOI requests. As e-transparency is a critical way of governing and a basis for governing legitimacy, the experiences and developments seen in the Taiwan case can serve as important references for international comparisons and further understanding.
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Introduction

With widespread use and application of modern information and communication technology (ICT), especially computers and the Internet, the realization of government informational transparency through digital channels has been at the core of contemporary democratic governance. In Taiwan, the performance of electronic government (e-government) development, especially in the construction and use of public websites, has in recent years received significant approbation in various international evaluations by, for example, Brown University and the World Economic Forum. On the other hand, Taiwan is one of the most democratic nations among the Chinese people. Hence, it is worthwhile to investigate how public institutions in Taiwan put transparency into practice through electronic channels and media (i.e., through official websites).

This chapter presents the findings of a research study which explored the ways Taiwan’s governments provide public information through websites. The purposes of the research are to understand the contents of publicized information in governmental websites (or public websites) and the provision of online freedom of information applications, and to investigate the supporting back-office procedures and systems used in providing electronic transparency. This research was conducted by surveying chief information officers (CIOs) of 137 main public agencies from central and local governments in Taiwan in 2009.

The findings indicate that over 70% of the public agencies surveyed have established sections on their websites focused on FOI purposes. While public information can still be found in other parts of public agency websites, these sections are especially for publication of government information specifically mandated in Taiwan’s Openness of Government Information Act enacted in 2005. Of all the kinds of information seen in the sections, “policy white papers, statistics and reports” are the most abundant, are updated most frequently, and are most browsed by site visitors. The study also found that information in the assigned sections is collected, maintained, and uploaded primarily by related units, while IT units play a supporting role in designing websites and integrating publicized information.

Governments in Taiwan also implement back-office procedures and system applications for FOI purposes through their websites. Though only half of the surveyed public agencies provide online FOI applications, most agencies rely on their chief e-mail boxes as the main channels for receiving and processing citizen FOI requests. While currently there are few such requests or applications, once such applications or requests are received, officials will process them as official issues. The applications are processed through organizational bureaucratic procedures to determine approval status. Central government agencies, as opposed to local ones, have established official and comprehensive procedures and measures for fulfilling the mandates of FOI.

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