The importance of websites as a key delivery channel for the USA's government services and information is growing significantly, with the continuing evolution of e-government's crucial role being augmented by calls for a more citizen-centric government, according to Larry Freed, president and CEO for ForeSee Results.
The September 2003 instalment of the annual Government Satisfaction Index was produced through a partnership of the University of Michigan Business School, the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the CFI Group, and ForeSee Results. The websites measured by the index are run by a cross-section of federal agencies that employ the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) methodology on their websites, using ForeSee Results' online survey technology.
Each of the agencies proactively collects data to ensure the ongoing development of a customer-driven approach to their sites, both on the end-user side and on the provider side. "The resulting scores suggest an industry very much in the making," said Freed.
The e-government satisfaction index currently includes 22 government websites, providing a good 'snap-shot' of the state of e-government at the federal level. ForeSee's analysis reveals that e-government is still in a state of evolution in its non-commercial environment.
Focus on satisfaction
This sector is quite different from the commercial sector which competes for profits, weeds out the weak, and rewards the strong. But despite the fact that e-government is not usually subject to the kind of market forces that drive commercial enterprises to deliver customer satisfaction, some government websites are earning scores that place them among the very best.
E-government is increasingly turning to citizen/end-user performance evaluation as the ultimate measure of success - in some cases even more so than the private sector. As e-government is still relatively young in its evolution, federal agencies are still working to find the right formula.
"Some agencies are doing better than others," noted Freed. "But the fact that so many are formulating their approaches based on citizen feedback should accelerate the process. Remember that the early days of commercial e-business existed in a bubble of unreality in which many companies that were superficially successful (in terms of venture capital) had little to do with how consumers wanted to interact with the web."
Road to success
E-government has certain strengths that it can leverage to be successful. According to ForeSee Results, the evolution of e-government will be in the reorganisation of information and services in accordance with how users think and want to interact, as opposed to the way government is currently organised.
And e-government is becoming increasingly successful at this, with the top-scoring site in the index - the National Women's Health Information Center (www.4women.com) - being a good example.
NASA's websites are also well regarded by the public, with its scores indicating that its sites represent the organisation well, conveying a good and valuable image. The agency offers crisp, well-organised sites, bearing a 'non-government' feel, and addressing specific needs rather than imposing unwanted material on visitors.
But job-search sites do not always score well. Commercial job-search sites also measured using ACSI methodology exhibited scores competitive with those of the federal agency sites included in this index. Clearly, both commercial and non-commercial job searches are still evolving.
Competing with commerce?
One of the benefits of the ACSI methodology employed is that its uniform application allows meaningful comparisons across industries and sectors. Overall, the aggregate online government score of 70.9 is just above the score for offline government, and compares well to the recent ACSI e-business score of 71.4. However the e-government sector is almost 3 full points behind the ACSI's USA national average of 73.8.
It is perhaps an indication of how successful online government has already been in satisfying citizens that the e-government site with the highest score (4women.com) not only beats private sector companies including Yahoo! and ABCNews but matches up to Amazon.com and Google, all having scores into the 80's.
ForeSee Results' ongoing analysis of e-government performance and evaluation of the forces driving e-government show that agencies are increasingly driven to make e-government work. Specific factors that affect the initiative in the US include Presidential mandates, behaviour research, and budget and resource issues.