Panel Paper: Engaging the public: Do organizational values predict electronic engagement?

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Atlanta (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Fengxiu Zhang and Mary Feeney, Arizona State University

Information and communication technologies (ICTs), by virtue of their low costs, ubiquity, and popularity, are widely credited for opening new possibilities for citizen participation in government decision making. Despite this promise, the adoption of electronic technologies in governments is filtered through organizational contexts (Bryer 2011). Figuring prominently in the filtering mechanisms is the administrative culture, defined as administrator orientation toward bureaucracy and citizens (Henderson 2004). Specifically, a bureaucracy-oriented government values efficiency, effectiveness, and economy, while a citizen-oriented government stresses community representation and responsiveness (Rosenbloom 1983). Scholars have long acknowledged the inherent tension and incompatibility between these two values. For example, citizen participation requires substantial costs and time and does not necessarily contribute to administrative effectiveness (Kweit and Kweit 1981; King and Stivers 1998). The extent to which one value is prioritized over the other, therefore, plays a role in governments’ enactment of ICT tools for civic involvement.

Drawing from the public values literature, this study examines how a government’s ordering of bureaucratic and participatory values is related to its ICT use for civic engagement. We hypothesize that when a government prioritizes participatory over bureaucratic values, it is more likely to have a higher level of ICT enactment for civic engagement, in terms of the quality, frequency, and intensity of the interaction during the process. The study will draw from three data sources to test the hypotheses: 1) a 2016 national survey on 2500 public managers from 500 US city governments; 2) a content analysis of observational data obtained from the Twitter accounts of the 500 city governments, which captures the intensity, frequency and quality of government-citizen interaction; and 3) the U.S. Census data.

The study contributes to the current literature in two ways. First, instead of treating the administrative orientation as standalone values, we operationalize the dynamics between the two potentially competing values in administrative culture and its influence on electronic civic engagement. Second, the use of observational data from social media accounts captures the dynamics of citizen-government interactions and makes an important addition to the e-government literature. We conclude with a discussion of the findings and what they mean for research and practice.