In recent years, local e-government has transformed the relationship between government and its citizens by offering increased opportunities for civic engagement online. Much of its success comes from offering convenient and flexible access to information about government and community affairs and providing a channel of communication with public officials. Social networks in particular have recently proven significantly influential in promoting civic engagement given their roles as information-sharing hubs and locations for participatory opportunities. Open data portals are also emerging as a government trend, yet their adoption by U.S. city government websites remains limited.
Building on a previous, similar study she conducted in 2009 (“Can E-Government Promote Civic Engagement? A study of local government websites in Illinois and the U.S.”), Karen Mossberger, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago's public administration graduate program, with Yonghong Wu, associate professor of public administration, examines “features on local government websites that could contribute to civic engagement, through 1) information about government and community, and 2) through interactive or participatory opportunities online.” Their research is based on content analyses of government websites in the 75 largest U.S. cities and the 20 largest Illinois cities conducted between March and the beginning of May 2011.
Mossberger’s and Wu’s findings reveal that the adoption of various social networks has increased exponentially in 2011, with sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube showing a jump in local government use between 250% and over 500% during the study’s two year period. The argument that social networks have “come of age” in 2011 has impacted their presence on local government websites and has proportionally created a new location for online participation. Social media, then, has presented new possibilities for transforming the relationship between government and its citizens due to improved communication via a common online platform, which in turn will influence new ways in which cities foster civic engagement.
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