In preparation for a workshop that Ari Herzog and I will be facilitating on March 26 at the Advanced Learning Institute’s Social Media for Government Conference, I spent some time this afternoon reviewing a report by Darrell West of the Brookings Institution called "State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008." The report presents the findings of "a comprehensive analysis of 1,537 government websites (1,476 state government websites, 48 federal government legislative and executive sites, and 13 federal agencies)."
This kind of measurement is important as it holds government agencies accountable by "examining whether e-government capitalizes on the interactive features available on the World Wide Web to improve service delivery and public outreach." However, none of their metrics included a careful, direct look at the use of what we'd call Web 2.0 or social media tools, such as blogs, wikis, social virtual networks, Twitter accounts or other collaborative tools - features that move a government entity deeper into conversation with its constituents and facilitate democratic dialogue beyond its own Internet borders to a more comprehensive and engaging presence across the Web.
To be fair, the report measures the use of audio and video clips and cites the presence of a blog called "Jay 360" hosted by the Louisiana Secretary of State, as well as podcasts and RSS feeds at the State of Michigan's portal. Nonetheless, there is scarce mention or measurement of Web 2.0.
I want to reiterate the value of the study, but stress that it only scratches the surface, measuring only the presence of features and not the actual user experience. It also does not measure the cost savings created by the presence of these features, such as the number of staff members otherwise required to provide these services or the ability to generate revenue through online fees. Perhaps there is a follow-up study in the works. I intend to contact the author, Darrell West, to learn more about their plans and to explore the value of a study on Web 2.0 tools.
In the meantime, I would like to ask a couple questions of readers:
1. Are you aware of any research being conducted that measures the presence and/or user experience of Web 2.0/social media tools on government websites?
2. If you were to create a 100-point index to measure the presence and/or value of social media tools, how would you assign points?
Many voices are calling for government entities to adopt social media tools. So what if they do? How will we measure the relative value of their use? Will we give them points for presence alone as in the Brookings study? Or is there another level of evaluation that should occur?