Implementing open government: a qualitative comparative analysis of digital platforms in France, Italy and United Kingdom

Abstract

Open government is spreading throughout the world as a policy agenda oriented to foster transparency, participation and collaboration. Despite its increasing relevance in policy documents, there has been a scarce interest in deepening the analysis of how such agenda has been implemented in different national contexts. By adopting a multidimensional and multilevel perspective, we propose a qualitative comparative analysis of institutional digital platforms able to gather the evolution of open government in three European countries. We retrieved 979 open government platforms in France, Italy, and United Kingdom and analyzed them with an original set of indicators grouped in the three macro-areas of e-government, open data and transparency, participation and collaboration. Our study has methodological and policy implications: from the one hand, we provide the widest and deepest survey of open government platforms so far, contributing to the standardization of research methods on this field. From the other hand, we can observe that open government implementation is characterized by some typical traits, suggesting a trans-national convergence; this evidence is particularly prominent in the e-government and open data areas, whereas Participatory platforms are characterised by higher degrees of fragmentation both at the trans-national and at the intra-national levels. The analysis of open government platforms also reveals that, at the intra-national level, public administrations’ approaches to digital government are not homogeneous, although at different degrees among the three countries involved in our study, suggesting the need of a better integration and coordination by central authorities.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We followed the most similar–most dissimilar logic developed in the framework of comparative politics by John Stuart Mill. This framework relies on two assumptions: according to the method of difference, comparing similar cases or systems is necessary to identify the independent variables, whereas the method of similarity consists in comparing different cases or systems to show the same result in terms of the dependent variables (Morlino 2005).

  2. 2.

    Analysis of the European Union’s digital government policies is beyond the scope of this article. Notwithstanding, we can provide some basic references to the main documents. We relied on Alabau’s (2004) historical outline of European policies until the approval of the 2005 eEurope Initiative. For policies since 2004, we took into account the e-Government Action Plans 2006–2010, 2011–2015, and 2016–2020; the Europe 2020 strategy; the European Digital Agenda; and the Digital Single Market Strategy.

  3. 3.

    Nonetheless, we agree with Wright and Street (2007) that the relationship between technological design and human behaviour should not be considered from a technological determinist perspective. Technology can facilitate participation and deliberation but cannot guarantee that it will happen in any way; furthermore, “technology is itself a product, in part at least, of choice” (Wright and Street 2007:855).

  4. 4.

    For instance, the United Nations surveyed the development of e-government into a framework of connected (or networked) governance, which “involves the governmental promotion of collective action to advance the public good, by engaging the creative efforts of all of society. It is about influencing the strategic actions of other stakeholders” (United Nations 2008). At the same time, the new Obama administration implemented its open government policy, whose “principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone” (The White House 2009), and the European governments agreed on the Malmö Ministerial Declaration on e-Government, affirming that public administrations must be “open, flexible and collaborative in their relations with citizens and businesses” (European Commission 2009). Moreover, in November 2010, the ministers of the OECD Member States signed a Communiqué in which they acknowledged the importance of ICT in building digital government strategies; that agreement coalesced into the Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies, which highlighted the “need to reflect public expectations in terms of economic and social value, openness, innovation, personalised service delivery and dialogue with citizens and businesses” (OECD, 2014). This evidence has also been confirmed by Scholl (2014), who conducted an extensive literature review of English-language e-government articles and noted a “shift in focus” towards open government.

  5. 5.

    Of course, in this case, the subject is institutional; this indicator stands for the possibility of applying the codebook to non-institutional platforms, such as bottom-up platforms.

  6. 6.

    For descriptive reasons, we have further subdivided the platforms into a number of categories. E-government platforms fall into the categories of service delivery (as they provide a broad spectrum of materials and services), e-procurement, e-payment, planning, e-schooling, e-health, e-justice, and demographics. Open data and transparency platforms are open data catalogues, geoportals et similia, transparency websites, and accountability websites. Participation and collaboration has the most categories: reporting, e-learning, e-petitions, consultation, deliberation, network coordination, participatory budgeting, and collaborative urban planning.

  7. 7.

    The most similar–most dissimilar strategy was developed in the framework of comparative politics by John Stuart Mill and relies on two assumptions: according to the method of difference, comparing similar cases or systems is necessary to identify the independent variables, whereas the method of similarity consists in comparing different cases or systems to show the same result in terms of the dependent variables (Morlino 2005).

  8. 8.

    We found different approaches to the determination of cutoff thresholds. Usually, scholars use a consistency cutoff of 0.75 and a coverage cutoff of 0.9 or 0.95 (Schneider & Wagemann, 2010). However, the consistency threshold can be lower depending on the number of cases: generally, the greater the number of cases, the lower the cutoff is (Ragin 2006). After some tests, we verified that the cutoff of 0.65 is a good compromise for guaranteeing the validity of the results and the empirical relevance of our observations.

  9. 9.

    Insufficient but necessary conditions (INUS) are those conditions that, considered individually, do not influence the outcome but are part of a combination that does influence the outcome: such conditions are combined by using the logic operator AND (*).

  10. 10.

    Sufficient but unnecessary conditions (SUIN) are part of combinations united by the logical operator OR (+). The outcome also exists when they are absent, but their presence always influence the outcome.

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Correspondence to Donatella Selva.

Appendix: Codebook

Appendix: Codebook

Basic statistics

Variable Label Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Level of governance LEVEL Level of governance  
Dimension POPULATION Population  
Code CODE Code Is the source code open, free and non-proprietary?
Is the source code transparent?
Is there a link to the source code repository?
Financing FINANCING Financing Did the institution fund the platform’s technical development?
Could the platform’s development count on public resources?
Institutionalization DEVICE Legal or institutional devices as foundations of digital processes Is the platform referred to a law or other policy documents?
Is there a law or other policy documents ruling the subject matter of the platform’s processes?
Is there a pact for participation or collaboration?
Is the platform aiming at co-decision of laws or other policy documents?
SUBJECT Promoting subject Is the platform promoted by an institutional subject?

Access dimension

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Access ENTRANCE Entrance Is authentication needed to access the website contents?
Is authentication needed to read what is published?
ANON Anonymity Do users access providing real names?
ORGANISED_INFO Organised information Does the platform have a news feed or a blog?
Are dossiers, reports and other information outlets provided?

Transparency dimension

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Public policies monitoring TRANSPARENCY Transparency Does the platform provide information about the organization, structure, aims, financial sources and allocations?
POLICY_COM Communication of policy goals Is the platform used to socialize policy goals and implementation strategies?
Open data OPEN_DATA Open datasets Are dataset open and downloadable?
REUSE Open data reuse Are there infographics, dossiers or apps based on open datasets?
Geographical data MAPS Maps Are there interactive maps of the territory of competence?

Interaction dimension

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Interaction CONTACT Contact outlets Are there direct messaging services or e-mail?
BASIC_FEEDBACK Basic feedback outlets (like, sharing buttons) Are there tools for providing an immediate feedback?
Are there like/dislike tools?
Could users share contents through social media?
Informal communities COMMUNITY Community spaces Are informal spaces of interaction provided?
Are there communication tools such as chat and forums?
REPORT Report Are there sections or interactive maps to report issues?
Is it possible to publish reports or solicit public intervention?

e-government indicators

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Availability of services AVAILABILITY Availability of basic services Are basic services available to citizens? (i.e. health and assistance services, basic facilities, e-payment)
INTEROPERABILITY Services transversality Does the institution pursue an integration strategy in a unique point of access?
Is the proliferation of thematic portals avoided?
Usability SUPPORT Support outlets Are there on line support outlets? (i.e. chat, e-mail, telephone numbers)
EASE_USE Ease of use Does the platform’s design facilitate the access to services?
Is the platform designed with graphical or organizational tools to highlight services’ area or the different kinds of services provided? (i.e. search bar, diversified menus)
Interactivity ONE_WAY One-way interactivity Can users activate an on line procedure?
Can users send forms?
TWO_WAY Two-ways interactivity Can users receive on line feedback or monitor the procedure’s accomplishment?
TRANSACTION Transaction Can users pay on line for completing the procedure and/or use the service?
PERSONAL Personalization Can users create a personalized profile with preferred services?
Can users activate notifications in order to monitor the procedure’s accomplishment?
Partnership PARTNERS Link to private websites Does the platforms link to websites or services run by private sector?

Open data indicators

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Quality of data FILE_EXT File format Are dataset available in open formats (csv, rdf, json and not Office o Pdf)?
DOWNLOAD Possibility to download datasets Is it possible to free download datasets, without any payment nor registration?
LICENSE Open data license Are datasets licensed by an open license? (i.e. Creative Commons, Open Government License)?
Collaboration SOURCES Data sources Are dataset published by different subjects?
SOCIAL_VALUE Social and economic innovation Is there a space dedicated to applications and services developed using open data?
DEVELOPERS Space for developers Is there a space for developers community to share ideas, experiences and/or resources?

Participation and collaboration indicators

Variable LABEL Indicators Relevant questions checklist
Process legitimization PERMANENCE Continuity Is the process on the platform permanent?
Is the process reiterative over time?
CONTENT_POLICY Publication policies Are there guidelines about what kind of contents are published and what kind of contens can be published?
Is it explained what kind of contents is available on the website?
Is there a netiquette or behavioural rules?
AUTH Authentication Are additional information required during authentication phase?
i.e. address, social insurance, document number
MUTUALITY Mutuality of the process Are citizens entitled of a decisional power?
Do participants share equal rights?
MONITORING Accountability: monitoring powers Can citizens verify or control the implementation of decisions?
Is the platform going to publish updates?
Network coordination NETWORK_COORDINATION Communication for network coordination Is the platform used by many social actors as a tool to know each other and exchange experiences?
Does the platform allow to create network connections?
Are off line participatory processes coordinated also through the platform?
Formal consultation E-VOTING Aggregation of preferences Does the platform have systems to aggregate preferences?
Are there e-voting tools or mechanisms?
Is it possible to answer to questionnaires?
Is it possible to propose or sign e-petitions?
FORMAL_PROPOSALS Formal proposals Is it possible to distinguish proposals and comments?
Can users formulate proposals in specifically deputed spaces?
Open community (deliberative decisional processes) MULT_INTERACT Interazioni multiple Do users engage in dialogues?
Do users answer to each other and/or refer to previous contributions?
ARGUMENTATION Argumentation Do users provide motivations, reflections or data to argument their positions?
RESPECT Respect Do users use a respectful, not offensive language?
DECISION Decision-oriented Does the process lead to a syntesis of positions in order to formulate a collective decision?
Are facilitation mechanisms present?
EXPERT Experts Are experts participating?
Are they recognisable?
Does the platform legitimate their different status?
ACTORS Non-civic actors Do associations, private companies and public institutions engage in dialogues?

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De Blasio, E., Selva, D. Implementing open government: a qualitative comparative analysis of digital platforms in France, Italy and United Kingdom. Qual Quant 53, 871–896 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-018-0793-7

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Keywords

  • QCA
  • Digital government
  • Open government
  • e-government
  • Open data
  • Participation