World governments increasingly turn to social media to communicate with citizens

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Christopher Reddick

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(Aug. 16, 2012) -- Christopher Reddick, associate professor and chair of The University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Public Administration, has published "Web 2.0 Technologies and Democratic Governance," a book that explores how democratic governments around the world are using free and low-cost online tools to strengthen their relationships with citizens. Reddick co-edited the book with Stephen Aikins from the University of South Florida.

Unlike static websites, Web 2.0 technologies promote dialogue and facilitate two-way communication by allowing organizations and individuals to share content, ideas, photos, video and other types of information. Examples include blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia.

"We're finding that over the last five years, governments and citizens have really embraced Web 2.0 tools to interact with each other," said Reddick. "Democratic governments at all levels are using online tools to engage and empower their citizens. At the same time, the citizens are using the tools to access government services and voice their opinions of their governments."

Reddick notes that Egypt's use of Web 2.0 tools offers an excellent example to governments looking to take the plunge. Following the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution that led to the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egypt has worked to develop an open form of e-government that would build trust between the incoming elected leaders and Egyptian citizens. The project called LoGIn2EGYPT examines the effectiveness of Web 2.0 tools to promote government transparency and accessibility as well as civic engagement. The initiative has proven extremely successful so far, providing equal access to government for male and female citizens, expediting the turnaround time for the types of services available online and improving the customer experience of citizens interacting with the government.

In their new book, Reddick and Aikins edited chapters contributed by scholars and government leaders around the world. The book examines developed and developing countries, and it addresses best practices and challenges in social media and information policy, microblogging, public service delivery, online grassroots mobilization, web monitoring and strategic issue management, topical discourse, campaigns and elections, and transparency.

According to Reddick, governments, like organizations, must be strategic in the ways they use Web 2.0 tools.

"Web 2.0 tools are very promising tactics to improve the efficiency of public management and public governance and to promote accountability, but governments need to remember that they shouldn't just use the tools because they're available," said Reddick. "Governments at all levels need to develop a strategy, and the tools they choose need to support the strategy."

Currently, 92 percent of local governments have Facebook pages, 70 percent of local governments have Twitter feeds, 45 percent of local governments post videos to YouTube, 20 percent of local governments have blogs, and 15 percent of local governments post photos to Flickr, according to a 2011 survey by Donald Norris and Reddick in collaboration with the International City/County Management Association.