Evaluating local e-Government in New Zealand: a socio-technical approach
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Government organisations around the globe have embraced e-government as a powerful tool to improve and reform how government operates and delivers services to citizens, the private sector, and other arms of government. While e-government initiatives have taken place at all levels of government, the implementation of e-government at the local government level is trailing behind national e-government progress in most countries, including New Zealand. Even though prior studies have provided a rich set of factors that are considered critical for adoption, the perceived high failure rate of e-government initiatives or their slow adoption rate has made scholars aware that existing models are inadequate. Further, there has been little research on local e-government maturity and the factors that influence citizens’ participation in e-government and restrict local government bodies in their e-government initiatives. This study addresses these shortcomings by assessing the progress of local e-government in New Zealand, identifying citizen’s expectations and factors that have influenced their participation in local e-government, and exploring the range of factors that have affected local e-government initiatives. A theoretical framework is developed using a socio-technical approach, which identifies a range of citizen-related, organisational, environmental and technological factors that potentially influence e-government development, implementation and use. A multimethod research approach is used to collect the data needed to achieve the study’s research objectives. First, a four stage e-government maturity model and a website maturity assessment instrument are developed from prior studies. All 67 New Zealand local council websites are assessed and the overall level of local e-government maturity is found to be in the information stage. Second, a web-based survey is used to collect data from 336 citizens across New Zealand. The results indicate that citizens perceive local e-government to be important and offer a relative advantage over traditional channels. Their awareness of online information and services available and their motivation to use local e-government are relatively low. This generally low level of motivation of citizens towards a digital engagement with their local councils could be, at least partly, the result of a gap observed in the study between citizens’ expectations of local e-government, particularly around communicating, interacting and transacting online with local councils, and the current level of delivery of such services by New Zealand local government organisations. Third, semi-structured telephone interviews are used to collect information from officials at 44 local councils. The analysis of data shows that the main objectives behind e-government initiatives are to empower citizens, enhance customer service, improve citizen engagement, and reduce costs. The major barriers include lack of e-government strategy, broadband access and skilled human resources, interoperability, inter-agency collaboration, and small organisation size. The results of the three empirical research strands suggest that it will be difficult for local government organisations in New Zealand to meet the national e-government targets for 2020, progressing at their current pace. Without a strong mandate from central government or stronger citizen interest in and demand for local e-government, the proposed benefits of e-government focused on interaction, transaction and integration will remain largely unrealised.