Online transparency remains a top priority for federal government agencies and it's easy to see why: Research shows that federal websites that better reflect open government objectives build trust with citizens, save governments money and keep users coming back for more.

But for 27 surveyed federal sites, their aggregate transparency score is down a point this quarter at 75 out of 100, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Transparency Index report from ForeSee Results. The drop, the report notes, mirrors a decline with the overall Satisfaction Index, which is down 1.5 points.

While online transparency drives e-government satisfaction, trust and efficiency, not all agencies need to make it the highest priority. Some sites may need to put more emphasis on improving search, navigation or site functionality. That's where the importance of measuring comes in.

"Some federal sites will see huge returns from making small improvements to online transparency; others can maintain the status quo and focus on other things," said the study's author, Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results. "But measuring transparency is the first step because you can't manage it if you don't measure it."

But as part of an ongoing study of nearly 58,000 U.S. citizens who visited federal websites in the second quarter of 2010, the ACSI report illustrates that citizens' perception of transparency contributes the most to satisfaction -- more than search, navigation, and look and feel. And as satisfaction goes up, governments save more money as "citizens turn to the Web channel before turning to costlier communication channels," Freed wrote.

That's not the only advantage. The report highlights connections between federal agency websites with high transparency scores (80 or higher on a 100-point index) and citizens' behavior patterns. For instance, high transparency corresponds to repeat visits to the site from citizens and word-of-mouth recommendations. These citizens also tend to use the site as a primary resource.

"Each of these behaviors has the ability to increase government efficiency by driving traffic toward the most efficient channel for serving the public," according to the report, which measured only 27 federal websites out of thousands, although most of the federal government's department sites are represented.

The sites with the highest individual transparency scores in the second quarter include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (85), the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (84) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (82). The agency with the lowest score in the report comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior (58).

"Embracing e-gov initiatives can not only accomplish the open government objectives of transparency, collaboration, and participation so highly prized by the Obama administration," Freed wrote in the report, "it can also make our government more democratic, accountable, effective and cost-efficient."

 

Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer