This paper provides a review of key issues surrounding e-government, the questions affecting it, and best practices government is undertakings about social media technologies. Besides, the paper will focus on federal government efforts and the underlying reasons that affect the choice, use and efficiency of social media technologies. Consequently, the paper will analyze national efforts as an example of ways in which governments are employing use of social media to create transparency, possible benefits of these efforts, challenges that hinder the effectiveness of these efforts, and analyze the expectations of these efforts.
Key to e-governments is the use of Social media technologies. Social media technologies hold great potential in their ability to change governance by increasing a government’s transparency and its interaction with citizens. Besides, the paper presents a case study of General Services Administration (GSA), as a public institution that has embraced social media technologies to reach out to the public.
In conclusion, the paper examines how social media technologies have helped governments to communicate effectively with their citizens and therefore improving timely information and saving costs for the government and taxpayer.
E-government refers to the general practice of using electronics in government. This may apply to the use of the internet, telephones, fax machines, surveillance systems and tracking systems. Television sets and radios are widely used by governments to pass on information; therefore e-government cannot be classified as a new phenomenon (Margetts, 1999, p.68). For many years, governments have made use of radio waves to broadcast warnings in times of disasters or even during election processes.
States-managed media strengthens pro-government broadcasts and messages forming e-government by influencing effective information distribution. Government procedures and improved functionalities of governments are being realized by using new non-internet applications of e-government. Information technologies embraced by e-government encompasses Government tracing structures of citizens, biometric documentation and surveillance information systems (Margetts, 1999, p.77). With the fast embracing of internet technology among many people, there is a new room for government to manage business online. Besides, Most states have created and integrated e-government information systems that involve; government management projects, which provide valuable information which aids in online payments and tracking of social security payouts.
Besides, government has employed the use of mobile phones which provide useful information and simplify transmission of government information between the government and its citizens. By use of text messages, governments can be able to provide up-to-date information on requests, send out mass and region-wide messages sounding alert or specific emergency warnings. These ensure government accessibility by the people at any given time from anywhere.
E-government also implies the use of information and communications technologies to better transparency and increase efficacy of public institutions. With this technological advantage, Governments may make use of technology in several ways. One of them is storing information in digital format to lessen the paperwork used which in turn makes access to the information easy. Besides, electronic platforms pave way for better accounting, data collection, and better planning of public sector spending. Internet portals, help in saving time going through government processes (Margetts, 1999, p.119). For instance, an entrepreneur may gain a business permit through these portals, therefore cutting out the waiting time and walking the distances.
E-government has created convenience for citizens. People are more and more expecting government services to be online, and with these services being provided people don’t worry about where to find information as it is made available anytime and anywhere. E-government usually focuses on the things that people usually need help with, so through online services a person can get explanations on complex policies and how they work. Online tools also provide language translations; this is a major benefit considering that not all the people understand one given language. Besides, updating information on the social media sites can be done easily and fast therefore the agencies make sure that users get up-to-date information.
Social media sites are not limited to the traditional 8 am – 5 pm time frames, so any information that is hosted on the site is available 24 hours a day all through the week. Social sites also come with some standards that allow people to search for particular information and generally are user-friendly to some extent. Most of them provide a search function to help trace information that may be available from other sources. With E-government many companies reported having saved money. Traditionally employees had either to drive to government offices and maybe wait in line to get information; this means the employees’ productive time is lost. This productivity loss translates to lost money because if employees are needed to make more than one trip, then more money is spent. By governments using the information online lees time is spent accessing it as opposed to driving time and queuing time.
For companies to make viable decisions about the future they need to have more Information Access. With e-governments providing a wide range of services and information it has become easier for companies to decide that impact positively on their growth. E-governments collect and store huge amounts of information related to economy, demographic research and other inclinations. Consequently, when companies access volumes of information to simplify decision-making, it gives them a competitive advantage against their rival in a related business venture leading to the development of strategies on how to devise ways of increasing profits to swell economically.
E-government Increases Efficiency by reducing the time needed to carry out online transactions. This is aided by automation which significantly reduces paperwork and fixes a paperless “office” therefore removing overheads, time and risks that can be associated with clerical duties. By embracing benefits associated with e-governments earlier, better, reliable, accurate and timely information and communication are spread to the public by building trust between the government and its people. Besides, efficiency enables citizens to contribute and offer needed support to the government because of direct and personal communication with the government.
Social media technologies
This refers to the use of technology for social purposes. Social Media technology and Web 2.0 describe undertakings geared towards integrating technology, social contact, and content design (Heeks, 2001, p. 91). Social media encourages citizens and members of the public to involve in activities such as producing, organizing, commenting or sharing content in a more personalized form. Through this the government’s transparency and its constant contact with its citizens are increased.
Social media technologies have presented a great potential in their capacity to transform governance. Social media technologies are interactive, instantaneous and hold pervasive abilities in nature. This means they can be used to provide avenues for democratic involvement, create pressure for new institutional arrangements, and result in practices and frameworks that will ensure an open and transparent government on an exceptional measure (Heeks, 2001, p. 99). These great abilities of social technologies also present some challenges especially when it comes to policy development, governance, process design, and formations of democratic commitments
Social Media Technology and Government
The use of information and communications technology to transform government is not a new notion. Government services are often reinvented to adopt new and innovative applications of information technology (Heeks, 2001, p. 111). These efforts by governments mainly focus on creating efficient and effective governments besides continuing to better citizen services by strengthening procedures and technology. In strengthening the way government conducts its work, makes policies or promotes and performs solutions, it is important to look at the technological, social and policy aspects of social media as well as raising participation (Heeks, 2001, p. 119).
These social media provides room for innovative ideas that try to bridge the gap between technology, people and the government. Besides governments increasing their efforts in using social media technologies to perform their business and request participation, several efforts are also running concurrently on the grassroots level outside government.
By using social technologies by governments to increase service delivery it is important to take a closer look at several points. First, in improving service delivery it is essential that Co-production be encouraged, this involves the public and the governments collectively developing, designing, and increasing the government services quality. Second, the governments’ transparency in its operations strengthens accountability; this is important in the governments’ search to build trust and foster accountability (Heeks, 2001, p. 126).
Social Media and Public Engagement
Public engagement in policies and roles by the government can be done in different ways. This may involve the government information and services being available online, seeking responses on expected controls to pursuing a constant dialogue to find solutions in matters about critical areas of governance (Schepp, 2009, p.69).
Government Information and Services
Government bodies are continually expanding and developing their interest in the use of social media technologies. Several agencies interact with people through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube for divergent purposes which include increasing participation and focusing on their mission and goals. Other agencies use new platforms in social media to enable access and distribution of government information, services, and resources. These include: The General Services Administration (GSA) which uses technologies like Facebook. This helps people to access and learn more about government services offered (Schepp, 2009, p.78).
Several avenues exist that affirm the governments’ efforts to engage public participation in democratic processes. These include Blogs, applications and mobile resources. Blogs are websites that are regularly updated and usually preserved by an individual or organization (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.78). They contain regular entries, commentaries, news, descriptions and other material such as videos and graphics on a particular subject. Blogs are particularly interactive in the sense that they allow people or visitors to comment or message each other. This is seen as a very effective way to get feedback on government services as opposed to static websites.
Applications and mobile resources are developed to promote public involvement on mobile devices, offer instantaneous location-specific information among other services. For instance, The Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration have created mobile platform websites to ensure further interaction with the public (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.93). These efforts clearly outline the rising pervasiveness in the use of applications through social media technologies by the government.
Benefits of Social media technology
With integrating Social media technologies into government and community matters, a great shift is defining the future of democratic models. As seen above, social media technologies can significantly alter how the public and government interrelate, develop solutions, and deliver services.
On many occasions, there has been a need for citizens to engage in or report on matters happening or affecting their neighborhoods, communities region, or county. Local reporting is made possible through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and similar technologies (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.103). These channels are not only fast but are also efficient in reaching out to like-minded people and relevant authorities (e.g., local, state, or central government). The reporting may cover a wide range of areas such as power outages, traffic situations and even accidents.
Social media technologies enable local problem solving by communities and the government. Because of the government procedures and operations being revolutionized by social media technologies traditional limits of time and space for government processes are being broken. In other words, social media technologies have a major influence on government-public community interactions (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.115).
Challenges of using social media technology
Many of the social media technology impacts are mainly positive but with their impression, significant challenges occur, these include: Redefinition of government boundaries. With a change in democratic boundaries, the relationship between governments and communities also changes (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.123). This makes it difficult to define where the government leaves off and communities start. It is therefore important to consider what roles continue to be of governments’ concern (e.g., road repair, the power grid) and what is left for communities to resolve and find suitable action.
Another challenge is to understand whether social media technology-driven participation is incorporated in governance (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.123). Seeking participation and response is one thing while incorporating the received public participation into government rules, legislation, and services is another thing. Mechanisms are therefore necessary to be able to check whether remarks, responses, and other forms of participation are either assimilated into the government organization or are turned into actions that deliver the change sought by the public, if not a clear feedback given to why action was launched.
With the fast pace at which e-governments are growing there is definitely a need for new policies, procedures, frameworks and structures to take care of this. Though there are various reasons policies (performed through legislation, administration, instructions, executive orders, and other mechanisms) exist, in information communication and technology, guidelines are drafted basically to offer protection, trust, safety, ownership privileges, social attachment, participation and maintenance of records. Of importance are areas related to privacy, e-participation and democratization, right to use, and commitment.
Cultural issues and Lack of a strategy for using these new tools pose a major challenge to agencies (Degenne and Forse, 1999, p.136). With many agencies viewing the use of social media technology as a technological issue, rather than a communications tool, many decisions are made based on technological considerations (Degenne, and Forse, 1999 p.150). This leads to agencies focusing more on what can’t be done instead of embracing openness and transparency. Therefore, agencies need to be aware of the social and cultural results the use of social media will have in present day. Despite governments organization embracing the advantages of using social media and the risks associated with it, the government should streamline and improve its use to promote and encourage transparency and dependability in today’s e-governments.
Public accessibility to online technologies and social networks sites have compelled Information Technologists to caution that, social networks sites harbor high traffic therefore creating higher risks for inexperienced users and information technology tools. Organizations therefore have devised ways of limiting frequent access by setting up measures such as blocking employees from opening popular social network sites such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook among other popular social sites during normal working hours. However strict security measures can be performed to counter these malware and spyware risks. In addition effective guidelines and management controls need to be in place. Employees’ waste of time is often used as an excuse to restrict their access to these tools although it is more of a management problem and not a technology issue (Homburg, 2008, p.96).
Sites such as YouTube have been known to consume a notable amount of bandwidth so agencies should budget for this to enable the use of these tools to communicate with the public. Terms of service; Users of most online sites are needed to either register or create an account. For them to do so, they must agree to terms that federal agencies cannot agree to.
Moreover, many websites and social media platforms ensure the account owners account for legal overheads that arise because of such legal battles. This condition infringes the “Antideficiency Act”, which federal organizations are not committed to. When companies involve in negotiation on the latter disputes, it will entail negotiating a distinct pact with several unlike organizations; which is a challenging and time-consuming task (Homburg, 2008, p.109).Also, it will be worthwhile for organizations involved to frame out agreements or pacts with ever surging list companies.
Central organizations such as the National CTO and GSA among other important organizations should contribute in setting up simple measures that guide social media technologies and websites. The measures should strive to reduce the above-mentioned threats befalling the federal government. Alternatively, creation of standard federal terms of service with each site should be done with rules for adding in new agreements. The merits of recognizing social network sites are comparably higher than threats associated with it. Therefore, organizations should incorporate them as tools of reaching out to larger populations as they await agreements and terms of usage (Homburg, 2008, p.119).
By having users create free accounts, websites earn money from these websites by placing advertisements on all their pages. These advertisements may not necessarily express the will of the agencies although is very difficult to control what advertisements are placed and when. For instance, ethical concerns arise when government content appears near inappropriate advertisements e.g. Pornographic material, violence, political content and other ethical issues; these advertisements tend to give the impression the government is approving the contents (Homburg, 2008, p.126).
It is essential for the administration to issue memos explaining that government agencies should accept this kind of contextual advertising because of using social media sites. Thus, they should embrace social networking sites to reach more people because it has the same principles in tandem with advertising; newspapers, television, or radio among other advertisement media where there are no check-in issues on contents and context. If the latter reasons are not achieved, concise criteria for organizations involved in such advertisement are acceptable in such areas as; inclusion of phonography and violence. However, the language to trace the account owner should exist or be understood, and clearly approved for the approved contents to be viewed or read.
Government through its procurement guidelines does not expect flow of companies giving free apparatus to anyone who is in need to use them. Different organizations encompass these rules in a more different way which contributes to misperception and improbability (Homburg, 2008, p.134). These agencies that want to use these tools are constantly faced with three issues. The first issue is unlawful organizations that give social media networking services. They have crafted rules and controls which entices organizations to accept. Some organizations have a long history of gift services existing whereas others have just begun to embrace the technology. By obliging gifts, organizations providing it may give the giving organization more or unsuitable information about the product therefore leading to the likelihood of returning the product at the same time billing the government.
The Second is selecting winners without a competition (Homburg, 2008, p.154). Federal organizations should outline their rules and controls in coming up with decisions towards fixing reliable and secure sites on which they can pass their information in form of video or file sharing. Popular social sites such as Facebook and other file-sharing sites should be considered as well to reach its diverse citizens. This will overwrite the challenge of government selecting randomly companies to give the service on behalf of it. By carefully selecting apt social media to provide multimedia communication, it adds value to the chosen site whereas driving the intended goal to the end recipients or citizens.
The third challenge is the contracting authority. This arises where employees are given powers to bind an organization by embracing contracts. This is burdensome especially when trying to create accounts on social media sites that are flooding the internet. To make proper and efficient use of social media sites, agencies should be allowed to use free Web products and services and to set their own criteria about which of the free products and services they want to use (Homburg, 2008, p.168). Thus, employees with hidden personal interests can sabotage the business of organization can open an account to enjoy the services provided free with the help of the management.
Privacy and importance of information associated with social media technology are vital. This challenge affects all spheres of every government. Though privacy is not guaranteed by federal organizations, every citizen should exercise caution when benefiting his or her information on social networking sites. However, Federal government should institute correct strategies to ensure maximum protection of information and services is ensured to simplify accurate and reliable information flow between its citizen and the government itself. Besides, federal government should incorporate tools such as disclaimers to signal on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or MySpace where they commonly use to pass their information to its people. The disclaimer should make public aware that they have left the federal site and the nonfederal site they are visiting has its own privacy policies and orders, and possibly provide a link to that policy.
General Services Administration
In 1947, the then-president Harry Truman formed a commission that would look into ways of improving administrative activities of the government and make its recommendations. The commission, led by former president Herbert Hoover, recommended and the major one was the setting up of an office of general services.
The suggested office would bring together the tasks of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Federal Supply and Office of Contract Settlement, the National Archives and Records Administration Establishment, the Federal Work Agency, and the War Assets Administration (Margetts, 1999, p.134). GSA was incorporated as a liberated public organization in US in 1949 when “Federal Property” was agreed upon. Its major responsibilities included aiding in running and supporting the primary performance of federal agencies, supplying products and communications for U.S. government offices, offering transport and office room to federal workers, and coming up with government-wide cost-reducing strategies, among other administrative duties.
The mission of GSA is “to use expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions and by so doing foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.” GSA currently has about 12,000 federal employees with an annual performing budget of about $26.3 billion, 1% of which is catered for by the taxpayer money. By providing tools, equipment, and nontactical vehicles to the U.S. military GSA ensures safety is argued (Heeks, 2001, p. 187). For GSA to improve service delivery there was a need to increase its contact with the public. With the revolution of social media technology this public engagement in government affairs is made possible, therefore GSA made use of social media services to involve the public more in its affairs.
Using this social media technology GSA may provide a direct contact to a wide range of government services. This includes customer safety information through the official Web portals of the federal government, USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov. Owing to the large numbers of users who access social networks e.g. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter GSA has created accounts where people can log in to these social sites and be able to get more information about what GSA is offering and to access government services (Heeks, 2001, p. 178). Online videos are also available to the public who may want to know more about the government procedure and processes (Heeks, 2001, p. 176). The major benefit of these services is there is increased contact between the central government and communities through social media.
The interaction brings a new dimension to the idea of government and governance since the processes seem to be more clear and transparent. People can access the information at any time, anywhere and this means a decline in the time taken by the traditional procedures of say walking into an information desk to inquire about services (Heeks, 2001, p. 189).
Social media technologies play a significant role in transforming the way governments reach out to their citizens. Social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have enabled the government and its agencies to reach out to its citizens. The high subscription level of social networks has an increasing advantage if the government uses them to relay accurate information, solicit participation and gather public opinions.
Degenne, A. and Forse, M. (1999) Introducing Social Networks. London: Sage.
Homburg, V. (2008) Understanding E-Government: Information Systems in Public Administration. New York: Routledge
Heeks, R. (2001) Reinventing Government In The Information Age: International Practice In IT-Enabled Public Sector Reform. New York: Routledge.
Margetts, H. (1999) Information Technology in Government: Britain and America. New York: Routledge
Schepp, B. and Schepp, D. (2009) How To Find A Job On Linkedin, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, And Other Social Networks. New York: McGraw Hill Professional.