An eGovernment survey among Austrian municipalitites


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  • I come from Danube University in Krems, the only publicly owned university for continuing education in Austria. The research focus of Center for E-Government is research in E-Democracy and the socio-impact on society. You will find out more about what we do when you browse to and participate on our public blog. If you are interested you may submit a paper to to E-Journal of E-Democracy and Open Government. My private research interest is on incorporating participative methodologies into the public decision making process.
  • Austria itself as well as the decision making process for digital cooperation is heavily federated. Public authorities power is divided on federal, provincial and municipal level, concerning the E-Government strategy, these three bodies and others assemble on the virtual platform Digital Austria. Digital Austria is a steering committee but without directive power. Decisions thus have to be made or approved on provincial and municipal level by their respective representatives. Since 2001 cap gemini bench-marked every year meanwhile 31 European countries about their E-government sophistication level ranging from Information, One-Way Interaction, Two-way Interaction, Transaction to Personalization in 20 basic services such as Income tax declaration, job search service or car registration. The benchmark framework is publicly available and has not much changed ever since. Clearly states covered by the framework try to reach for a good ranking and Austria did exceptionally well by reaching number one in 2006 and 2007 consecutively. The benchmark only covers what services are available but not to what extend these services are really in use! And reaching number one does not necessarily mean that the executives in the offices are satisfied with the applications they have to use. This was one of our ratios to carry out a survey. The Austrian canonical first site for information about the administration and public e-serivce delivery ist help.gv. It received various awards as the European E-Government Award. Personalized services which according to the aforementioned cap gemini benchmark represent the highest sophistication level, is supported by After registratin with the Austrian Citizen ID card, presents the user a personalized user experience with E-Services which are more likely fitting to the citizens life situation according to gender, age, marital status and so on.
  • On this slide I will give you a short comparison between Austria and the US, only to set the survey results somehow into position. As you can see Austria and the US are comparable in economic welfare based on the HDI index, the GPD is of course much higher for the US. Austria would fit 114 times into the landmass of the USA and Austria is roughly of the size of Maine. What is more interesting is the administrative anatomy: Setting the number of inhabitants in relation to States and applying that ratio, the United States could afford 329 states or more thant 85.000 tsd. Communitites to now roughly 30.000. In short, Austria is small structured compared to the US. There are of course a lot of influencing factors contributing to this small-structuredness such as population density, but the most influencing factor is the amount of administrative legacy accumulated over time. By the way small structured administrative bodies are not a characterization of Austria alone but for larger parts of the European community. In the light of globalized markets, multiple federal layers and a small structured administration may impose a problem. But fast decision making processes can be achieved by reliable centralized services and the use of electronic communication. As such, a sedate administrative actually can be a driver for incorporating a more modern, virtual and electronic administrative organizational structure.
  • It is a mistake to assume that E-Government usage will come automatically simply by increasing electronically offered services in a user-friendly manner. As an extreme and devised example, think of a state of only illiterate citizens – nobody will ever use electronic services! Instead of assessing the output of E-services, the pre-readiness for E-Government has to be taken into consideration. In 2006 Ahmed Al-Omari and Hussein Al-Omari of University of Applied Sciences in Amman, Jorda presented an a-priori framework for E-Government assessment and the UN E-Government Survery of 2008 presented an ex-post model to measure E-Government performance. Both frameworks influenced the questions we asked in our survey.
  • In 2002 our Center was charged by the Austrian Association of Municipalities to carry out a survey amongst all Austrian Municipalities. This survey was carried out in pen-and-paper style and yielded a 34% return rate. In 2008 our center was recharged to carry out that survey. One goal was to remain comparable with the survey of 2002 which did not permit a major redesign and to determine adherence of communities towards the agreed E-Government strategy and compare the results of 2002 to those of 2008. To ensure comparability we improved the questionnaire layout, revised questions which became outdated by technical advance or legal change. As every Austrian community can at least be reached by E-Mail we decided to use an electronic survey tool with personalized logins for every municipality. An electronic survey tool offers the great advantage of automatic data extraction and processing through an analysis tool, which is less prone to errors than a manual transcription. While revising the questionnaire we reconsidered the form fields to fully exploit the electronic possibilities. Especially a sensible trade-off had to be found between free-from entry fields which may offer more information at the expense of a more difficult and subjective analysis. Besides that the same rules apply as when using a traditional survey: Unbiased phrase of questions, to use sane scales for answers and the amount of questions to ask to ensure a high activity rate until the end of the survey. We did not use more sophisticated features of online-survey tools as random question selection to compensate for a declining attention and decreased awareness towards the end of surveys.
  • We asked 30 main questions, but those could branch up into more questions, dependent on the context. In this situation the smart branch feature of the electronic survey tool was very valuable as answers to otherwise impossible data constellations are impossible. In mean the survey took 37 minutes to complete and the electronic survey tool supported saving partial filled out questionnaires for a later take-up. Questions of general statistical importance ICT infrastructure Web site & services Adherence to strategy Feeling towards ICT usage
  • The electronic survey was available for 40 days. During this period we resent three reminders to the municipalities which considerable rose participation rate. The overall participation was 53%. We addressed our invitations for participation towards the town mayors and the administrative directors of the municipalities. 93% of Austrian Municipalities have a public web site of those which have a website, 50% are reachable under the domain which is sponsored by the Austrian chancellery. Almost 80% think that a municipal web site adds value to the public perception of the municipalities. This result is in line with the increased offer of E-Services since 2002. While in the early beginnings simply public availability was the primer, it has become increasingly important to assign a value and pursue specific purposes with a public appearance, which in turn leads to an increased valuation by the users and employes. The mean of municipal employees within 6 years declined by 16%, but despite of the much higher level of used ICT infrastructure, the ratio of assigned personnel remained stable at 6%. The number of network infrastructure increased from 20% in 2002 to almost 80% in 2008 A very interesting result was the decrease in the opinion that processes carried out electronically will increase efficiency and simplify everyday work. In qualitative interviews we found out that this bad attitude is to attribute to centralized services which have to be used by municipal officers yet offer limited usability and cause frustration.
  • As we analyzed the monthly access rates and normalized them according to the number of permanent residents, an interesting picture emerged: the per capita access to municipal web sites is actually largest for the smallest municipalities. Only the largest cities can revert that trend, reaching a hit rate of two pages per inhabitant per month. A box and whisker diagram revealed that the number of extreme outliers was much higher for the smallest cities which was statistically interesting as Austria has by far much more smallest and small municipalities than large and largest cities. As we looked more closely on the results we found out that small municipalities which are very tourism-bound can reach up to the ten-fold access rate to their web-site than municipalities not involved in the tourism business. We also measured the influence of web-marketing on access rates in reference to community size yet the results were inconsistent. Using pearsons chi-square test for independence, disregarding community size, we could demonstrate an influence.
  • An important indicator for E-Government advancement is a plan for new IT-projects and E-Services. As you can see in the graph the communities have very limited interest for additional E-Services, especially the smaller ones. This result underline the results we previously obtained when we asked for the attitude towards ICT usage and the effect on efficiency. On the other hand this result has to be set into relation to the relatively high level of already provided E-Serivces!
  • A closer look on municipalities, employees and their assignment to ICT work reveals that the larger the city the less personnel is assigned to ICT work, even though larger cities provide more E-Services and generally have more IT equipment. The reason is relatively straight forward: Whereas in small villages with maybe only 5 to 10 employees every employee has to have knowledge on every administrative process and as such must be able to operate computers and other ICT equipment. Larger cities, which have more employees and in turn a higher level of specification benefit from economies of scale. Interestingly this is not true for the largest city. The proportional oversupply with E-Services requires more ICT staff which can not be overcompensated by network effects.
  • We asked for the connection speed to the internet but during evaluation we found out that we made a design mistake on the questionnaire as we were not specific enough on what kind of speed we wanted to know. That's why we got so many responses for an internet connection speed of 10MBit which really is the speed of a typical 10BaseT Ethernet LAN connection. Nonetheless, disregarding the results for 10 Mbits, the most widespread internet connection speed is 2056 Mbit which is somewhere the speed of a slow DSL home connection. This has direct negative effects on usability of central services as long repsonse times result decreased usability an acceptance.
  • We concluded the survey with suggestions towards the Asutrian Association of Municipalitites. The most important ones and supported by the part of the survey presented in this presentation are: ICT infrastructure -> FTTH Municipal cooperation, both virtual and “real” The usability of E-Services the municipal personnel is forced to use musst offer immediate gratification. The effort to input the data they have to provide must be of a value for their everyday life.
  • Here some graphics depicting the importance of the internet for young people. First Graphics: Internet Use in Austria. The demographic change between 2000 and 2009 is obvious. While in 2000 the internet was primarily used by young people this situation has changed. Partly because these young people grew into adolescents, partly because the internet as we know it today is much more user friendly an can attract less technical fluent people and partly for some services there is no other alternative. In short. Today the internet is important for all age classes. Second Graphic: Primary information resource about political parties. The survey was taken by BITKOM Germany. The Internet is the number information resource for young people aged 18 to 29 about political parties, discussions about their program and what they stand for. Out of these numbers it's clear that misleading information can be more harm than good. But it is the same as a political discussion in the pub or the cafenion, with one minor difference: Misleading information made available online may persist for much longer than an ephemeral, passionate discussion at a bar.
  • A more modern approach though is to define these terms in the direction of effect plus the “E” in terms like E-Voting, E-Democracy is tempting to focus on the technocratic aspects whereas the human shall be focused. More classic ePolicy Models are mostly economically driven to overcome the digital divide. Unlike the hierarchy model on the previous slide, this taxonomy incorporates for the functional aspects of the various 'E's in E-Governmental sub- and support processes and accounts for the human being. E-Government and E-Democracy are state defined functions while E-Voting and E-Participation have more direct effects on the citizen. But more important is the orientation towards left and right. While administrated democracy is top – down oriented, communicated democracy has a bottom – up orientation. E-Participation thus can be understood as the maximization of both bottom – up orientation with the highest to expect net effects for the involved parties.
  • In the past ground breaking technological advancements inavertable changed the way we communicate. The number one media revolution was printing. While not strictly invented by Gutenberg it was him who developed a way to easily reproduce and spread the written word. In certain countries of the former iron curtain printing machines and copier were forbidden as they imposed a threat to the establishment. Media revolution number 2: Wired point to point connections. It was Graham Bell from Bell Telco first brought relatives and later continents close together. Communication establishment now was a matter of seconds. Meida revolution number 3: Waves in the ether. Guglielmo Marconi realized that electromagnetic wave propagation at the light of speed can be used to transport information. The radio was born and when the technology got cheap enough, there was no place on earth, where British world service or voice of America could not be heard. Media revolution number 4 really was an improvement to voice over the air in that it was now possible to transmit pictures. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon to take it as property for the good of all human beings, already millions worldwide followed his first steps into space on their TV set. Unsurprisingly media revolution number 5 is the internet. This fifth revolution is different though. First it really was not the invention of a single person nor can be attributed to a single country. It is the application of different technologies working seamlessly together over well defined protocol stacks. But what it really makes to a revolution is the fact, that every single person can participate form mere information gathering up to full service providing and this often for free. The internet has reached a level of usability, technical maturity and cheapness that it can be considered a commodity. It is omnipresent. None of these former technologies have ever been brought entirely under state control even if the establishment relentlessly tried to do so. Wherever a way to detour state control has been found, it has been taken. And as it has never been so easy to be both information consumer and producer and as these two roles more and more converge into the prosumer, we can expect completely different, very direct ways of democratic involvement for the future.
  • Certainly Television is nowhere going to vanish but the importance of politicians digital appearance and credibility will rise. Every technological revolution has been exhausted to its maximum extend, only slightly held back by moral or legislative regulations. Think of book printing on demand! What is imaginable is likely to become tomorrows reality, it's unstoppable! A personal sidenote: With the participatory property of Web 2.0 I think this time it will be in the hands of the voter and the citizens to define that digital future rather than academia or by states will.
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