Comparative Digitalization

  • Concetta MetalloEmail author
  • Benedetta Gesuele
  • Sergio Longobardi
Living reference work entry



The digitalization of the public sector concerns the ICTs usage in public organization for improving government activities, supporting online interaction with citizens and businesses.


Since the beginning of the 2000s, public sector (PS) has been characterized by modernization process for improving government activities. In this process, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has played a key role, enabling new possibilities for providing citizens and businesses better, more efficient and effective services. Indeed, ICTs promote interactions between government and citizens, and encourage decentralization, transparency, and accountability. The digitalization of the PS was characterized by implementation of several technologies at different levels of government all around the world, contributing to the diffusion of digital government or e-government. The OECD (2003) defines e-government as the use of ICTs, and particularly Internet, as a tool to achieve better government. Fountain (2001, p. 4) prefers to use the term “digital government” as a government that is “organized increasingly in terms of virtual agencies, cross-agency and public–private networks whose structure and capacity depend on the Internet and web”.

Benefits resulting from digitization of the PS concern improvements in communication with citizens and businesses, a better access to government information and services, as well as a greater public participation in government activities. The rising adoption of ICT tools by government has attracted the interest of several scholars and practitioners, who have begun to investigate this issue. In particular, Helbig et al. (2009) identified different approaches to digital government research: comparative studies, benchmark reports, regional studies, fundamental issues, best practices studies, and transnational studies. In particular, the comparative perspective for research on the digitalization in the PS is mainly aimed to identify similarities and differences across nations as well as transferable best practices, about ICT usage. The focus is on the role played by contextual factors (such as culture, history, political structures, and social norms) on the level of digital government (Fountain 2003; Pardo and Styrn 2010).

This study is aimed to investigate the digitalization process in a comparative prospective considering Spanish and Italian municipalities. Municipalities in Italy and Spain were interesting fields for the investigation of these phenomena. Both countries have legislative reforms that regulate mandatory information disclosure through municipalities’ websites. However, in many cases, this information disclosure through websites is still very fragmented, failing to take advantage of the full potential of ICTs to improve government activities.

State of Art

Many countries have implemented specific projects to encourage the use of the web as a tool of electronic service delivery and electronic democracy. These initiatives are an attempt to improve the political and social environment and to change the ways in which PS functions are performed. For example, the diffusion of digital government allows to simplify and speed the access to information about the political process and services and to support citizen participation, involving them in government decision-making.

Important requirements of digital government are both implementing a civic culture oriented towards new technologies and, at the same time, the availability of technical infrastructure that enables the effective diffusion of these tools.

Indeed, the differences, between or within countries, in diffusion and use of ICTs and electronic networks (digital divide) can potentially limit the success of digital government.

In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the availability of technical infrastructure and the introduction of ICTs in the PS will not automatically create a better or more open government unless it is accompanied by policies and strategies aimed to promote and support the effective utilization of these tools.

In this light, digitalization research in PS is characterized by many studies on “maturity models” or “e-government development models” that show the implementation status of the e-government process. A maturity model is a method for assessing the progress and success of the e-government implementation process in the PS through the definition of development stages. Thus, it is possible to identify best practices for comparing and benchmarking. In particular, Layne and Lee (2001) proposed a first model based on four stages. The first stage is “cataloguing,” it is related to the one-way communication between government and citizens through websites that, thus, provide public information. The second stage is defined as “transaction” because allows online transactions with governments and the communication is bilateral. The third stage is the “integration” of government operations within of the same functional areas of the several government agencies. The final stage is the “horizontal integration” that allows to the different functional areas to be integrated within the same digital system and to share a central portal. Overall, these development models of digital government are agreed in easier and faster access to public information as initial stage until to later stages characterized by greater integration and more functionality for citizens.

The disclosure of information via website is considered at the basis of the transparency process, which is the “ability to determine what is going on inside government” (Piotrowski and Van Ryzin 2007, p. 306). Therefore, ICTs improve transparency, favoring citizens’ trust in the public institution, the organization’s image, and the public expense monitoring. Many legislative reforms have regulated mandatory disclosure via municipalities’ websites, the so-called e-disclosure. For example, in Italy, the legislative decrees 150/2009 and 33/2013 regulate mandatory information disclosure by municipalities. In particular, the legislative decree 150/2009 emphasizes the extension of control of municipalities’ activities to citizens to improve their performance. The legislative decree 33/2013 regulates mandatory disclosure via municipalities’ website, listing the specific information that municipalities must disclose on their website. In the case of Spain, law 57/2003 underlines that ICTs are a tool to contribute to transparency in the public sector. Law 11/2007 regulates citizens’ electronic access to public services to increase citizen participation and involvement. In particular, law 19/2013 states that information on local governments must be published on their websites in a clear, structured, and reusable way.

Defining E-Disclosure Attitude

The transparency process and e-disclosure have become an interesting area of inquiry, but research on these issues, mainly at the level of local governments, is still in its initial stages (e.g., Tejedo-Romero and de Araujo 2015; Bonsón et al. 2012). Local government is an important subject for the study of e-disclosure for the traditions of participation at the local level because public information provision and service deliver exerts influence more directly in citizens’ everyday lives. Moreover, the ICTs usage at the local level has increased considerably, though municipalities’ websites in Western Europe are mostly informative and, thus, a one-way communication tool rather than a way to establish a symmetrical interaction with citizens providing a transactional service (e.g., Tat-Kei Ho 2002; Drüke 2005; Coursey and Norris 2008).

In particular, e-disclosure attitude is the propensity to disclose information via web by a public actor. In literature, e-disclosure attitude is traditionally measured through synthetic indicators considering information provisioned on the official municipalities’ websites, known as e-disclosure Index.

Many research underlined the role of political and economic factors as key drivers of the digitalization of PS, and of the e-disclosure attitude in particular (e.g., Laswad et al. 2005; Jorge et al. 2011; Bonsón et al. 2014; Tejedo-Romero and de Araujo 2015). For example, the political setting in terms of political position of the ruling party or the gender of the mayor can influence some aspects of administration culture and, consequently, the propensity for e-disclosure. More visibility on the web or popularity of the website can encourage municipalities to disclose more information for meeting Internet users’ pressure. Moreover, municipalities with greater level of public debt (leverage) as well as better financial autonomy tend to give citizens more information (for example via websites) for helping creditors monitor their activities or on the destination of revenues (essentially taxes and fees). Finally, the citizens’ wealth is considered an e-disclosure determinant because people with higher income expect to receive more services and greater information by government.

In line with previous literature, it is possible to identify two categories of determinants of e-disclosure attitude: political-social determinants, such as gender of mayor, political position, and Internet visibility and economic status determinants, such as financial autonomy, citizens’ wealth, and leverage.

A Comparative Study of E-Disclosure Attitude in Italy and Spain

The digitalization process in a comparative prospective has been empirically investigated considering the e-disclosure attitude of Italian and Spanish municipalities trough the analysis of 287 municipality websites (142 in Italy and 145 in Spain).

For Italy, data on the e-disclosure determinants were collected, in 2013, using data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) as well as from the website “comuniverso,” a free web portal that publicized political, economic, and geographic information on Italian municipalities. For Spain, data on the determinants were collected, in the same year, from Badespe, a free database for the Spanish PS.

The concept of “disclosure index” was proposed by Buzby (1975) and formalized by Cooke (1989) using an item-based approach with a dichotomous procedure in which an item is scored one if it is disclosed and zero if otherwise. The choice of items is based on relevant topics for citizens in Spain and in Italy, and it derives from previous literature (e.g., Jorge et al. 2011).The e-disclosure Index (eDI) is computed considering the following 13 items (described in Table 1): organization (i1), governing body (i2), consults (i3), wages body (i4), organogram (i5), controlled company (i6), internal auditing (i7), performance (i8), balance (i9), balance controlled company (i10), economic planning (i11), support planning (i12), and assets (i13).
Table 1

Items descriptions for e-disclosure Index






Organization description including information concerning the following: political bodies, staffers, and their responsibilities; expertise and resources for each office; name of public official for each office; institutional telephone numbers; and email accounts and certified mail boxes


Governing body

Information about the staff, such as permanent workers and their cost



Information about the staff, such as temporary workers and their cost


Wage bodies

Information about the wages of staff


Organizational structure

Organizational structure of the departments and offices


Controlled companies

Information about supervised public institutions, private-sector entities in public control, and private company investments, such as the following: list of corporate bodies, list of companies with which they have relationships, diagrams that show the controlled companies’ activities, and the relationships with the controlling organization


Internal auditing

Information regarding the activity of internal control structures



Information about organizational and individual performance evaluation, the results obtained in relation to management objectives, political program and services provided to the citizens



Publication of financial statements from the municipalities


Balance controlled company

Publication of financial statements from the controlled company


Economic planning

Information about the plan of indicators and expected results the financial statement


Support planning

Information about the plan of indicators and expected results of the organizational planning



Information about municipalities’ assets, such as values, location, and revenue

For each s-th item, it is constructed a dichotomous variable (is) which assigned a value of 1 if the municipal website disclosed the information in question and assigned a value of 0 if otherwise. The eDI Index was computed by the following equation:
$$ eDI=\sum_{s=1}^n{i}_s/ n $$
where n = 13 (maximum number of disclosure items).

The Index is a ratio comparing the level of disclosure by municipality (the sum of disclosed items) and the maximum level of possible disclosure. It ranged from 0 to 1, with 1 indicating the maximum level of disclosure and 0 denoting a municipality with no disclosure at all. In particular, the construction of the index is based on unweighted items to reduce subjectivity in assigning different weights to each item.

For analyzing the e-disclosure determinants, a Tobit regression model was used. The Tobit model, also called a censored regression model, was designed to estimate linear relationships between variables when there was either left or right-censoring (or both) in the dependent variable, as in the case of the e-disclosure Index that ranged between 0 and 1.

Moreover, cluster analysis was performed to deepen the e-disclosure determinants in Italian and Spanish municipalities. The Kruskal–Wallis (K-W) test was carried out to check for the significance of the differences among clusters in terms of both level of e-disclosure attitude and determinants (The Kruskal–Wallis test is a popular non-parametric procedure. It assesses for significant differences in a continuous dependent variable by a categorical independent variable.).


The findings of the regression model showed that Internet visibility, citizens’ wealth, and leverage are the main determinants of the e-disclosure attitude for municipalities. These results are in line with previous literature on this topic.

By the cluster analysis, Italian and Spanish municipalities were classified into four clusters. The four clusters corresponded to different levels of e-disclosure: poor (cluster 1), fair (cluster 2), good (cluster 3), and excellent disclosure (cluster 4). The results of the K-W test showed a very significant difference among clusters for the e-disclosure Index (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Cluster composition by country

In particular, there was a greater level of e-disclosure in Italy, with over 70% of Italian municipalities being equally divided between the best clusters (3 and 4). Furthermore, almost half of the Spanish municipalities (46.21%) were classified in the cluster with poor level of e-disclosure (cluster 1).

The cluster analysis revealed that higher levels of wealth and leverage characterized municipalities with excellent e-disclosure attitude, while the differences among clusters in terms of Internet visibility were less marked (Fig. 2). Differently, financial autonomy was not significant for the differences between clusters.
Fig. 2

Municipalities by level of wealth and leverage (standardized values)

Moreover, some factors characterized municipalities with high e-disclosure. In particular, these factors were the male gender of the mayor (72% in cluster 3 and 58% in cluster 4) and the political ideology of municipal ruling parties, that is, “right” in 72% of the municipalities within cluster 4 (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Factors that characterize municipalities with high e-disclosure attitude


This research contributes to an overall conceptual understanding of the digitalization process by municipalities via website, deepening the e-disclosure attitude and determinants. Compared to prior studies on this theme, the study offers some important contributions to the existing literature. Findings show the role of ICTs for supporting transparency, demonstrating the municipalities’ characteristics that promoted higher e-disclosure attitudes. Moreover, although a growing number of studies on digitalization of the PS are appearing, there is not enough evidence of investigating from a comparative perspective. In this regard, the cluster analysis between the two countries (Italy and Spain) highlighted that several factors lead to some differences with regard to higher level of e-disclosure attitude. Consequently, the contexts in which transparency is applied could affect municipalities’ e-disclosure attitude. Thus, these findings tend to support a novel lens through which to investigate ICT-enabled transparency issue that emphasizes the role of contingency factors. In this sense, the comparative investigation could further the understanding of how the use of ICTs for digital governments differs by social context, administrative culture, or form of government. In fact, there has, until recently, been very little empirical evidence focused on contingency factors surrounding digital government diffusion (e.g., Zhao et al. 2014).

These findings can offer policymakers several recommendations for developing policies to improve the level of transparency and to support digitalization process in local governments. Public managers should encourage municipalities with citizens with a lower per capita income to use the website for improving transparency. In this sense, policy makers should implement strategies aimed at reducing the digital divide between citizens with different per capita income. Moreover, municipalities should focus more attention on Internet visibility because it would seem that municipalities characterized by greater e-disclosure attitude are those that invest more in web communication, employing qualified personnel and identifying new organizational roles in the municipality, such as web communication manager.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Concetta Metallo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Benedetta Gesuele
    • 2
  • Sergio Longobardi
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Sciences and Technology“Parthenope” University of NaplesNaplesItaly
  2. 2.ACRI, Italian Association of Banking FoundationRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Management and Quantitative Studies“Parthenope” University of NaplesNaplesItaly