Panel Paper: ICT As Public Engagement Tool: Evidence from the U.S. City Governments

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 6 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Haneul Choi, Arizona State University

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) provide a platform where government and citizens can interact with each other. Specifically, terms and concepts such as Web 2.0 are centered on the notions of communication and collaboration with the public. Those ICT tools have possibilities for interpersonal communications and collaborations (Fuchs et al., 2010) providing new channels for government-citizen interaction with an increase in new possibilities for coordination at lower costs (Jho & Song, 2015). Consequently, public administration researchers, public officials, and citizens advocates have shown greater attention to ICT usage in the public sector (Zhang & Feeney, 2018) having participation as a core value of government initiatives of ICT adoption and use.

However, research on the effect of government ICT adoption and use is bifurcated. On the one hand, researchers assert the importance of new ICT tools such as social media in building citizens' trust toward government (John Carlo Bertot, Jaeger, & Hansen, 2012) and its role as a tool for co-production (Linders, 2012; Bertot, Jaeger, & Hansen, 2012). For instance, Linders (2012) notes that ICT tools can enable the transformation of citizen's role from passive consumers of public services to active participants to jointly tackle social problems with government actors.

On the other hand, some scholars doubt the link between government ICT use and civic engagement. Literature points out terms such as Government 2.0 are more rhetoric and less reality (Sandoval-Almazan & Gil-Garcia, 2012). Research points out that government adopts and uses ICT tools for self-promotion and broadcasting, not for civic engagement and two-way communication (Mossberger, Wu, & Crawford, 2013). Government agencies do not exploit full interactive potential of ICT tools but copy the old web 1.0 strategies (Hofmann, Beverungen, Räckers, & Becker, 2013). To summarize, it remains unclear whether the use of social media and Web 2.0 tools in the public sector leads to an increase in public participation.

One potential challenge of assessing the impact of government ICT use on public participation is threats of reverse causality between government ICT use and public participation. For instance, government agencies that are actively encourage public participation may be inclined to use and adopt ICT more actively. Further, there can be confounding factors within each agency that affects ICT use and public participation simultaneously. Those challenges are directly related to endogeneity problem and hence, need to be addressed.

This study assesses the impact of government ICT use on public participation using agency fixed effects and an instrumental variable partially addressing the endogeneity using 2014 survey data collected by the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Studies (CSTEPS) at Arizona State University. The findings suggest that government ICT use for communicating information with and receiving input from the public increases the public contribution regarding the service provision. However, government use of the ICT tools does not predict public participation in deciding agency affairs that are not directly related to service provision