“E” the People: Do U.S. Municipal Government Web Sites Support Public Involvement?


James K. Scott is an associate professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri–Columbia. His research interests include community conflict management and Internet use in community governance. His papers have recently appeared in State and Local Government Review, Public Administration Review, and Community Development.E-mail: scottj@missouri.edu.


To what extent do local government Web sites support practical, meaningful public involvement? Fifteen years after the adoption and diffusion of the World Wide Web, the answer to this question remains cloudy and controversial. The promise—and peril—of Web-based public involvement, known as e-democracy, has been widely debated. Much of the debate has focused on theoretical abstractions or extrapolations of current political or technological trends. Empirical studies have been limited to reports on pilot projects, case studies, or special population surveys. This paper contributes to our empirical understanding of the question. It reports results of a recent comprehensive survey of official government Web sites in the principal cities of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. In particular, it examines whether and how U.S. city government Web sites facilitate users’ involvement in local public issues.