Reading Report – Digital Government #6

Book Name:
Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

By: Darrell M. West

Reported by: Aldwin Urbina (M1)

Chapter 6 / Public Outreach and Responsiveness


Public outreach and responsiveness are critical elements in democratic governance. From the various types of democratic thinking, from representative and direct democracy, each type emphasizes communications, citizen involvement and leadership responsiveness. For representative democracy, citizens do not make public policy directly but rather exercise control through their choice of leaders. On the other hand, for direct democracy, citizens do not depend on political elites to represent citizen interests but rather play an active role in decision making.

There are several technologies that have been introduced in bringing citizens closer to the government. In the advent of the telegraph, it was considered a major leap for improving mass communications. It allowed newspapers to transmit information across wide geographic areas. The telephone came in after the introduction of the telegraph in facilitating communication among citizens, though it took telephones a while to diffuse among the general population. The radio came next in bringing instancy and immediacy of information to the public that was lacking in earlier communications technologies. Recently, two-way cable television, electronic mail and the Internet were invented to improve the way the society and the government communicates and functions. The interactive feature of such technologies provides opportunity for public outreach and better responsiveness on the part of government to its constituents.

Since societies have grown so large, the logistical problems of bringing large groups of people together, e.g., town meetings, have hampered the abilities of democratic institutions to instigate direct democracy. Instead, societies are forced to rely on representative democracy where elected leaders act on behalf of regular citizens. It is thought that digital technologies are ideal in re-establishing direct democracy to large societies. Such technologies offer electronic communication and participation in the decision making of societies. They can overcome the issues on geographic distance and disparity of interests in the representation of citizen viewpoints. However, low levels of adoption on the part of the citizens impede the realization of the reputed promises of these technologies.  Usually those who adopt and utilize electronic services offered by the digital technologies are not ideal representatives of those who are non-adopters or non-users.

According to the study conducted by the author, many public outreach features of the communications technologies have not been incorporated in government websites. Governments have been slow in adopting these innovations due to several reasons, among others, they are expensive to implement, there are organizational obstacles in adopting the change, or leaders do not see these electronic features vital to the mission of their respective agency. Many public officials are more interested in using the Internet as a tool for service delivery than democratic enhancement or citizen participation.

Reporter’s Own Thoughts

The author recommends that public officials should recognize that government websites can do more than merely deliver information and services. I strongly agree with this recommendation since public officials, as mentioned in the previous chapters, play major roles in adopting technologies. If they have knowledge on the potential of government websites to possess interactive features, then it would be easier for them to realize the latency of improving public outreach and responsiveness through information and communications technologies. Also, the aforementioned further justifies the need for strategic implementation of e-government.