University of Missouri - Columbia.
Back to Story Archive
Posted 05.16.06

Web Boosts Citizen Involvement in Local Government, MU Study Finds

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Internet has connected people in unprecedented ways, whether it's to other people or to information. Many have trumpeted the Internet as a way to improve citizens' civic participation by allowing a more direct democracy. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher is examining the relationships between citizens and municipal Web sites.

"Web technology will likely redefine the relationship between citizens and government and help foster more engaged citizens," said James Scott, associate professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs. "Web sites reduce the cost of information for citizens. This in itself can serve as an important inducement and support for public involvement."

Related Links

Scott examined more than 3,000 municipal government Web pages in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas to compare the services and design features. The municipal Web sites offered a wide variety of information, including biographical and contact information for public officials, news and information about the city and other statistics and public records. Scott found that 80 percent of the Web sites facilitated direct interaction with public elected officials through e-mail or comment forms. In addition, 60 percent of sites provided agendas for city council meetings, and many made routine public records readily available. Many also provided online payments for parking tickets, utility bills, and property taxes.

Scott concluded that although few municipal Web sites facilitated direct democracy in the form of online public dialogue or consultation, they did make local government and information more accessible. In addition, the Web sites of medium-sized cities (populations of 120,000 to 459,999) provided more opportunities for public involvement than the sites of small or large cities.

"These findings clearly suggest that municipal government Web sites make it easier for citizens to be involved with local government, whether on- or offline," Scott said.

This study was published in the journal Public Administration Review.



MU News Bureau: