February 19, 2003
It's estimated as many as 68 million American adults have used government Web sites for everything from researching policies to paying parking tickets. Genie Stowers wants to know how well they're being served.
"E-government has matured to the point where we should be asking questions about effectiveness," says the SFSU professor of public administration.
Stowers has just received her third grant from the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government (formerly run by PricewaterhouseCoopers) to fund a new study of performance measurements in e-government. Through a combination of surveys and Web site visits, the study will examine how state and federal sites measure visitor satisfaction and how effective they are at delivering information and services.
"I expect to find a very mixed bag," Stowers says. She suspects some sites have made inroads into tracking their performance and improving their design and content based on those measurements. But others, she says -- typically those of states and agencies with small budgets -- have probably made little headway.
Her new study, slated to be completed in July, will include a survey asking agencies how they gauge performance on their sites. The survey data will be coupled with visits to the sites to assess how those measurements translate into practical user benefits.
Measuring effectiveness in government is more complicated than in the private sector, she explains, because "government has high standards to maintain in terms of protecting the confidentiality of its data on citizens." As a result, such issues as security, privacy and equal access all weigh heavily in operating a government Web site. "Those values have to be protected," she says.
Stowers concentrates on sites' ease of use and efficiency at disseminating information. In a previous study published last August, she evaluated 148 federal sites. Her report rated federal sites along standard criteria such as navigation, breadth of information and support for visitors with disabilities. She says the best sites, for example, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education, have a user focus and aim specific areas of the site at specific audiences.
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