The expression, “build it and they will come” may have been made famous by the movie Field of Dreams, but a recent study proves that it applies to government websites as well.

Since 1996, MuniNet Guide has written countless articles highlighting the type of information made available on government websites – particularly in the areas of spending accountability and financial transparency.

Now, a recent survey substantiates the use of online resources by citizens looking for information about the business of government.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently released a survey entitled Government Online, which reports that 40 percent of adult Internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities. The number is even higher – 82 percent – for Internet users seeking information from or completing a transaction on a government website.

“Government interactions in the information age are often fueled by data,” according to Aaron Smith, Research Specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and author of the report.

What kinds of data are citizens looking for? The survey finds that citizens visit government websites for information on how federal stimulus funds are being spent; to read or download the text of legislation; view government data; or see who is contributing to campaigns of their elected officials.

The report also shows that 31 percent of adults have turned to a social media vehicle to stay informed about government activities. These tools – including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, blogs, online videos, and email and text alerts – have increased the effectiveness of government outreach efforts, making government more accessible to populations that have been historically less likely to participate in government.

“Just as social media and just-in-time applications have changed the way Americans get information about current events or health information, they are now changing how citizens interact with elected officials and government agencies.”

The Pew survey broadly applies to citizens’ communications with all platforms of government. But, Aaron Smith tells us, “When we asked our respondents which level of government they deal with most often, the largest number said that they dealt primarily with local agencies or authorities.”

Government Websites: Information, Transactions and More

According to Governing Online, recently released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 82 percent of Internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) visited a government website to look for information or complete a transaction. Following is a sampling of their activities over the past twelve months preceding the survey, which was conducted in late 2009:

  • 48% looked for information about a public policy issue
  • 41% downloaded government forms
  • 33% renewed a driver’s license or auto registration
  • 30% got tourist information
  • 19% received information about (or applied for) a government job
  • 15% have paid a fine such as a parking ticket

Source: Governing Online, Pew Internet & American Life Project