From the Editor: If You Build It, Will They Come?

As a growing number of public services are available online, governments must ensure that all citizens--regardless of age or income--can access them.

In the not-too-distant past, electronic government was little more than an online directory of agencies. You might find a phone number for the public works department or a bio on the governor, but you couldn’t count on much beyond that.

Spurred by citizen demand for convenience, technical innovation by industry, and the pursuit of cost cuts and efficiency inside government, the age of e-government has arrived—in bits, bytes and spurts. According to a 2005 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 70 million Americans go online on any given day. In terms of government services, more than 97 million adult Americans have used government Web sites, and more than one-third, or 36 percent, say that the Internet has improved the way they deal with government, according to the report.

But let’s not give ourselves a pat on the back just yet.

Even with that good news, there’s still a way to go. There are a lot of good e-government services out there, but a big percentage of the public doesn’t know what’s available, where to find it or how to use what’s online. Gaps in awareness cause some online services to sit idle, while gaps in Web access, tech skills and computer equipment keep numerous citizens from taking advantage of what’s available.

Barriers to Success

A recent poll of public sector IT leaders and private sector partners at the National Association of State CIO’s Midyear Conference reveals some poor perceptions about American attendance online, as far as e-government services are concerned. According to 58 percent of the attendees polled, lack of awareness of what is available online and where it is located is the single biggest barrier to driving more citizens and businesses to e-government services. Security fears ranked as the second biggest barrier, getting 18 percent of the vote. Luckily, fees, identity management and privacy concerns didn’t figure as prominently as barriers to success, according to those polled.

The awareness gap won’t go away on its own, but some municipalities, like Cleveland and Madison, Wis., are doing a great deal to overcome that gap.

In our last issue, State Tech explored government efforts to bridge the rural divide. In our current issue, we explore the “Digital War on Poverty ” on page 32. State Tech reporter Melissa Solomon examines big-city efforts to expand access to technology and fuel the fight against poverty.

In Cleveland, for instance, Mayor Jane Campbell realized that all the city’s e-government services would be for naught if the citizens couldn’t access them. So, as Cleveland CTO Melodie Mayberry-Stewart describes in her column on page 47 , Campbell led a citywide initiative to bring computers, Internet access and technology training to low-income neighborhoods. Her campaign endeavors to drive awareness as well as equip citizens with new skills.

In “Technology and the Generational Divide ” on page 29, Nick Wreden documents the great challenge of ensuring that seniors can access e-government services. Cities like Madison and New York are not only getting the marketing message out—they’re making sure that no one gets left behind in the age of e-government.

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief

Oct 31 2006