The University of Illinois published an interesting report about Civic Engagement and Local E-Government: Social Networking Comes of Age, where 75 largest US cities and 20 largest Illinois cities are ranked by how good their web sites are at providing information services and participation to residents.
The same study had been conducted two years ago, and the report provides a detailed comparison with earlier results and describes how he evaluation grid has changed in 2011 to reflect more recent trends.
The top ranking cities (New York and Seattle on a tie) are no surprise, and other active gov2.0 cities such as San Francisco and Portland are in the top tier (respectively 5th and 4th), while Chicago or LA tend to lag behind compared to their size and relevance. There are also smaller cities, such as Virginia Beach (ranked 2nd), that show better progress than many larger ones.
One of the conclusions of this report is that
As in 2009 local governments have not used their web sites as a venue for citizen participation. Social networks pose some potential for this, but a scan of activities on the web sites doesn’t indicate much active discussion.
One might argue that they have realized that existing social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter (for which there is a significant increase in uptake by local governments) are a much better place for discussion and engagement. This is something I may be checking in the coming weeks by looking in greater detail at the Facebook and Twitter presence of the top cities in this report.
However the report also says something interesting about open data, another milestone for open government and transparency
While the open data portals can promote transparency, their significance over time will depend on what data are made available, and the extent to which it is usable for intended audiences.
So the bottom line is that, despite the progress, not a lot has changed since 2009 when it comes to real engagement and participation. Although we can point to more open data, more blogs, more tweets and more Facebook pages, I am not sure any of this is making a real difference on most citizens can really participate.