Making E-Government Work

HU, Paul J.H. | CHAN, Frank K Y | THONG, James Y L | VENKATESH, Viswanath

From the latest policy information to downloadable car license renewal forms to filing taxes – an increasing array of government services is now available online. There are benefits all round: citizens find accessing government services easy and convenient, while governments can save costs as well as deploy a new channel to engage citizens.

It is not all plain sailing, however, and significant challenges remain. Users complain that the experience can fall short of expectations, as it is evident that e-government services tend to lag behind private-sector standards. How can citizens’ utilization and satisfaction with e-government services be increased?

Viswanath Venkatesh, James Y.L. Thong, Frank K.Y. Chan and Paul J.H. Hu utilized the “uncertainty reduction theory” (URT) to investigate how citizens’ uncertainty in e-government services can be managed. Because e-government is a new and innovative technology, citizens’ evaluation of such services is subject to much uncertainty, especially during their initial interactions. The team’s objective was to investigate how governments can help citizens overcome their uncertainty and increase the use of these online services.

The UR concept originates from the context of interpersonal communication. UR refers to the gathering of information to reduce uncertainty and increase predictability of the other party’s behavior, resulting in a decrease in perceived risks of the interaction. When applied to the context of e-government services, the UR concept suggests that uncertainty may arise from the behind-the-scenes service processes and users’ apprehension about the online channel, making citizens less likely to use these services.

This study drew from research in public administration, consumer services and information systems to identify the key means of UR and associated technological characteristics that jointly influence citizens’ intentions to use these services. The team identified three sets of relevant drivers of e-government service use: means of uncertainty reduction, namely transparency and trust; information quality characteristics, namely accuracy and completeness; and channel characteristics, namely convenience and personalization.

The research model was tested with 4,430 Hong Kong citizens’ reactions to the two e-government services of government websites and online appointment booking. The results supported the model and showed that the information quality characteristics and the channel characteristics had significant effects on citizens’ intentions to use e-government. Furthermore, it was found that transparency and trust mediated as well as moderated the effects of these characteristics on intentions.

Transparency and trust play central roles in reducing uncertainty and increasing usage intentions that in turn boost use and satisfaction with e-government services. When transparency is high, citizens are more likely to use services that are accurate and complete as well as value the convenience of the channel and the personalization capability. By contrast, lower transparency will discourage citizens from using such services despite the potential benefits. Similarly, citizens are encouraged to use e-government: when trust is high, they are more likely to value the benefits.

Hence, governments should foster transparency and trust through careful service design. For example, governments could provide citizens with a better understanding of the inner working of e-government services by listing the number of steps required to perform the services, and they could allow citizens to track the service status through a variety of means and provide ways for users to give feedback. Also, prudent design of website functionality could contribute to trust by signaling that governments care about their people, understand their needs, and have the capability to deliver the services.

The model can serve as a stepping stone for future inquiry into this important area of public administration, which has many important benefits for all parties.

THONG, James Y L

Michael Jebsen Professor of Business, Chair Professor
Information Systems, Business Statistics & Operations Management