A new study has revealed central government agencies in New Zealand as well as Australia are performing poorly when it comes to responsiveness online.
The University of Otago study of e-government responsiveness has been published online by Government Information Quarterly, the top ranked journal in the field.
The longitudinal study - carried out in 2006, 2008 and 2013 - involved sending an email to 790 Australian and 115 New Zealand national, state and local government agencies asking their location and opening hours.
The agencies were then graded on their responses, giving A to agencies that did more than answer the two questions, and a B to ones which simply gave their hours and location. Those that only answered one question received a C and those which gave an inadequate answer or failed to answer at all were ranked D.
“Over time we have found the Australian federal agencies have had a woeful performance,” says Professor Robin Gauld, director of the Centre for Health Systems in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.
“However, they have improved from a median ranking of D to a C during that time, but state-level agencies have slipped from a C to a D,” he explains.
“The New Zealand performance has also dropped at central government level, going from a B median to a C over the same period,” says Gauld.
“If you want to find responsiveness then local government is where you should go. New Zealand agencies have scored a consistent B median throughout the study with Australian agencies scoring a B in the 2013 round of responses — which was the first time we included Australian local government in the study,” he says.
Gauld says government agencies are increasingly encouraging people to use e-government services for things like applying for passports or doing tax returns.
“If you are going to invest in services via e-mail or online portals and websites then those services should be responsive,” he says.
“Our study shows the quality of response - in other words, whether you actually get an answer to your questions, and whether you get accurate answers to your questions - has gone down over time.”
Gauld says the agencies need to ask themselves what is going on.
“We speculate it might be people are just getting more and more emails these days and prioritising them,” he says. “But having said that, if the Government is investing tax money in these services, then as a member of the public you would expect a response to your queries.
“If agencies have this form of contact on their website, then they need to think how are they are supporting it to ensure people’s enquiries are answered.”