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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Doubts cloud e-government sites
Woman on the phone
People prefer to talk to the government on the phone
The impact of e-government is under the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic as studies question how much citizens interact with government websites.

A report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project thinktank found that US citizens prefer to pick up the phone when dealing with officials.

In the UK, there are doubts about whether the government's flagship website can attract visitors.

E-government is seen as a good way of improving communication with citizens.


In the UK it has been an important part of Labour's commitment to voters as well as a means of improving and streamlining government services.

Directgov was launched in March by the UK e-Envoy Andrew Pinder.

They want a conversation over the phone so they get immediate feedback on what to do next or even face-to-face interactions for certain kinds of problems
John Horrigan, Pew Internet
He said at the time it was necessary to find a replacement for UK Online because of flagging public interest in the government gateway.

Designed to bring all the public sector content together, Directgov was hailed as a better way of engaging with citizens

But, according to a survey by newsletter E-Government Bulletin, nearly two-thirds of people working in e-government are sceptical that it will attract any more visitors than its predecessor.

Americans may be more net-savvy than their UK counterparts but when it comes to the government, the majority still prefer to pick up the phone and talk to a person rather than send an e-mail.


People are using government websites to find out about issues but 40% would rather use the telephone to pursue inquiries compared to just 18% who would use e-mail, according to the Pew Internet study.

Woman using laptop
The web is seen by officials as a way of reaching citizens
Good old-fashioned people skills could be the best solution to the complex issues people tend to take up with government it finds.

"In sum, e-gov is a helpful tool among several options for reaching out to government, but it is by no means the 'killer app' among them," the Pew Internet report concludes.

"People's problem-solving capacities matter to successful outcomes with government, not a specific technology," the report went on.

The fact that more than a third of Americans do not have internet access is one of the reasons why e-government sites are failing to engage users.

But impatience is also a factor.

"They want a conversation over the phone so they get immediate feedback on what to do next or even face-to-face interactions for certain kinds of problems," said report author John Horrigan.

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