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EGovernment Information Quarterly 24 (2007) 646 – 665

E-government research: Reviewing the literature, limitations, and ways forward Mete Yildiz ⁎
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Hacettepe University, Turkey Available online 23 March 2007

Abstract This article claims to be both a review and an agenda-setting piece. It is argued that e-government research suffers from definitional vagueness of the e-government concept, oversimplification of the egovernment development processes within complex political and institutional environments, and various methodological limitations. In order to address these issues, the article reviews the limitations in the e-government literature, and it suggests ways forward. To do so, the study critically analyzes the development and various definitions of the e-government concept. After discussing the limitations of the concept, methodological and conceptual remedies such as (i) better examining and explaining the processes of – and participation patterns in – e-government projects within complex political environments, (ii) addressing the problem of under-specification in the e-government literature by the production of more grounded, empirical studies that would create new theoretical arguments and provide new concepts and categories so as to enhance our understanding of e-government policy processes and actors, and (iii) tying the subject of e-government strongly to mainstream public administration research are suggested in the final part of the analysis. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: E-government; Literature review; Public administration and management

⁎ Fax: +90 11 90 537 6605410. E-mail address: [email protected] 0740-624X/$ - see front matter © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.giq.2007.01.002

M. Yildiz / Government Information Quarterly 24 (2007) 646–665


1. Introduction: technology use in government The objective of this article is to review the limitations in the e-government literature and provide suggestions regarding how to overcome those limitations and come up with methodological and topical suggestions in order to push the field further into innovative research. As such, it claims to be both a review and an agenda-setting article. Part of the problem that this article deals with arises from the vagueness of the e-government concept (Aldrich, Bertot, & McClure, 2002, p. 351; Hwang, Choi, & Myeong, 1999, pp. 277–278). What is also lacking in the treatment of the subject is a more in-depth analysis of the political nature of the e-government development processes, and a deeper recognition of complex political and institutional environments. However, e-government research up to date for the most part limited itself to the study of the outcomes and outputs of the e-government projects. Thus, understanding the political processes behind e-government development is vital for overcoming both definitional and analytical limitations. Such an effort requires a historical understanding of the relationship between technology and administration. The rest of this introductory section presents a brief review. Later sections present various definitions of egovernment, the limitations of the concept, and methodological and topical suggestions for future e-government research. Early students of technology1 regarded technological issues in government as a peripheral concern rather than as a core management function. Technology was seen as a means to manage the limitations of bounded-rationality and provide the infrastructure for better decision making (Simon, 1976, p. 286). In other words, until the introduction of the Internet and widespread use of personal computers, the main objectives of technology use in government were enhancing the managerial effectiveness of public administrators while increasing government productivity. Until then, the main use of technology in government organizations was the automation of mass transactions such as financial transactions using mainframe computers (Schelin, 2003, p. 121). This was an era in which most government agencies are creating and operating their computer systems independent from each other, in ‘stovepipe’ fashion (Aldrich et al., 2002, p. 349) Technology was buffered from the core in order to manage the uncertainty. This was necessary since technology and environments were perceived to be the two basic sources of uncertainty that challenge rationality in organizational decision making (Thompson, 1967, p. 1). In addition, since information technology (IT) was used for the automation of backroom operations and improvement of the efficiency of clerical activities (Zuboff, 1988), government IT professionals were isolated from functional and executive oversight (Holden, 2003, p. 56). Perrow (1967) differed as he argued that technology is an important determinant of the structure and the strategy of the organizations that use it. The diffusion of personal computers in the 1980s provided each public administrator with a personal information technology system, and thus opened a new period of IT use in government. At this point, technology management began to be decentralized in government agencies. Along with decentralization came the realization that IT issues should be integrated to the core functions 1 “The concept of ‘technology' is used rather loosely here. In addition to the meaning of ‘machines and sophisticated devices', technology also generically means the study of techniques or tasks” (Perrow, 1979: 162).


M. Yildiz / Government Information Quarterly 24 (2007) 646–665

in government. Three important events marked the movement towards the integration of technology and technology-related issues in public administration in the United States. The first is the Urban Information Systems (URBIS) project, which was conducted from 1973 to 1978 at the University of California, Irvine, by a multidisciplinary team. This was the “first large, systematic, empirical study to focus specifically on policy and outcomes related to computer use in complex service organizations” (King, 2004, p. 97). It uncovered the “continuing social and political processes in which the technology is constrained – somewhat controlled and shaped – by its environment" (Danziger, Dutton, Kling, & Kraemer, 1982, p. 7). These researchers adopted an open systems theory perspective of technology and its environment and emphasized the continuous interaction between government organizations and their internal and external environments (Danziger et al., 1982, p. 8). They argued that, “computing will reinforce the power and influence of those actors and groups who already have the most resources and power in the organization” (Danziger et al., 1982, p. 18). Second, in 1985, a National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) committee recommended that computing should be a main skill taught in MPA programs (Northrop, 2003, p. 2). The resulting NASPAA report introduced four important recommendations for Master of Public Administration (MPA) Programs (Kraemer & Northop, 1989). These recommendations included offering a prerequisite mandatory computer appreciation course for all students, a mandatory computer applications for management course for all students, an information-management concentration at several universities, and integrating computer skills and knowledge into core public administration courses. Third, Bozeman and Bretschneider (1986) wrote a seminal article in the Public Administration Review, in which they argued that technology is transforming the government and more academic attention should be given to this area. Still, as mentioned above, one had to wait for the widespread of use of the Internet and the Web for the emergence of a full-fledged e-government concept. Before this, IT use in government was primarily internal and managerial (Ho, 2002). Together with the introduction of the World Wide Web, the 1990s also witnessed the incorporation of IT to government reform with the National Performance Review (NPR) Report in 1993 and the resulting ‘reinventing government’ movement. One of the important results of the NPR movement is the creation of a one-stop all-inclusive government portal, currently named as ‘firstgov’ (Aldrich et al., 2002, p. 350). The enactment of some very important legislation during this decade supported the reform movement and the use of IT in government (Schelin, 2003, pp. 122–123). The 1995 amendment of the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) provided guidelines for government IT investments and encouraged more cross-agency information sharing. The 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act (EFOIA) clarified the rules for issuing of and public access to the government electronic records. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) mandated the social services agencies to test the promise of e-government applications on the field at intergovernmental levels. The 1996 Information Technology Management Reform Act, known as the Clinger–Cohen Act created the position of chief information officers (CIO) in every agency (Relyea, 2000, p. 382) and encouraged performance measurement as a proxy for

M. Yildiz / Government Information Quarterly 24 (2007) 646–665


return on government technology investments and integration of IT into the strategic planning process (Westerback, 2000), although there are calls for a critical evaluation of the impact of creation of such a position (McClure & Bertot, 2000). All of these legislative efforts culminated in the enactment of the 2001 E-Government Act, which provided both the organizational and financial infrastructure of widespread e-government applications (Schelin, 2003, p. 124). The tragic events of September 11, 2001, caused a major shift in the perception of egovernment from a tool for increasing the convenience of government service provision, facilitating administrative reform and furthering democratic participation to a tool of defense against terrorist threats (Halchin, 2004, pp. 406–407, 416; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, pp. 400–401, 404). Among the changes brought by the post September 11 environment are the government's desire to promote information sharing among agencies (Halchin, 2004, pp. 409–410; Relyea, 2004; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, p. 402), merger and/or sharing of government databases (Halchin, 2004, p. 410), increasing the security of the government information systems against possible terrorist attacks (Halchin, 2004, p. 411), evaluation and if necessary withholding and/or elimination of the contents of the government Web sites that would compromise security, a practice known as ‘Web scrubbing’ (Feinberg, 2004, p. 445; Halchin, 2004, pp. 412–416; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, p. 404), an expansion of the quantity and scope of factual data analysis and data mining practices (Feinberg, 2004, p. 451; Seifert, 2004; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, pp. 402–403) accompanied by some negative externalities such as ‘mission creep’ (Gellman, 2004, pp. 499–500; Seifert, 2004, p. 467), reducing the safeguards against the collection, integration, and interagency sharing of private personal information, even including from the private sector (Regan, 2004; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, pp. 402–403), creation of new information classification categories such as ‘sensitive but not confidential’, ‘critical infrastructure information’ (Feinberg, 2004, pp. 443–444), and thus creating an alarming secrecy tendency in government and raising issues of privacy and legitimate information use (Feinberg, 2004, pp. 451, 454; Seifert & Relyea, 2004, pp. 402–403), among others. In addition to all these changes, the egovernment system itself and its infrastructure became a potential target of terrorism (Halchin, 2004, pp. 410–411). Time will tell whether this major shift in focus will jeopardize the potential administrative and political benefits of e-government and its further development. On the one hand, closely related to the change in e-government focus is the inherent incompatibility between a security-oriented perception of e-government and at least three of the original founding principles of the e-government phenomenon, namely fast and easy access to government information, open government, people's right to know, transparency, and responsiveness (Doty & Erdelez, 2002, p. 370; Halchin, 2004, p. 417; Hernon, 1998). On the other hand, regardless of the change of focus in e-government efforts, several critics warned the public against possible pitfalls of the e-government phenomenon. Jaeger (2002), for example pointed out that extensive cooperation and information-sharing among agencies may endanger some constitutional principles such as the separation of powers, and the distribution and balance of powers between the federal, state, and local governments (Doty & Erdelez, 2002).


M. Yildiz / Government Information Quarterly 24 (2007) 646–665

2. Definitions of e-government Information and communication technologies2 (ICTs) were recognized to have tremendous administrative “potential” (for a discussion of limitations and failures of ICT in helping governments in information and service delivery, see Heeks, 1999a, 2001a). For example, ICTs could help create a networked structure...

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