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"I love their numbers."  Something I have heard again and again all
around the world about the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

This is one of those must read reports about the dynamic role of
e-mail in America cities.  In my opinion, their finding should be
viewed from a half-full perspective.  People and politics change much
more slowly than the rapid uptake of e-mail and other technologies.
Clearly the lessons from e-cities need to be shared with other cities
and leading e-officials need to better express what kind of tools they
need to increase the usefulness of e-mail in their communities.

Steven Clift
Democracies Online


Digital Town Hall:
How local officials use the Internet and the civic benefits they cite
from dealing with constituents online

October 2, 2002

Download the full report in Adobe PDF format:

Table of Contents:
Summary of Findings
Acknowledgement of Partnership with the National League of Cities
Introduction: The Global/Local Conundrum
The Adoption of the Internet in Cities
How Local Officials Use Email
How Local Officials Evaluate Email as a Tool for Communicating with
The Effect of Internet Use and its Ramifications

Summary of Findings

The first-ever survey of mayors and city council members of the
National League of Cities about their use of the Internet shows that
local officials have embraced the Internet as part of their official
lives and most now use email to communicate with constituents. In
contrast to Congressional representatives, who have felt swamped by
email and who often dismiss emails as not very meaningful, local
officials find them useful. And local officials do not feel
overwhelmed by the volume of incoming email.

88% of local elected officials in this broad national sample use email
and the Internet in the course of their official duties.

90% of online local officials use email in their official duties at
least weekly and 61% use it daily for such purposes.

79% of all municipal officials in this survey say they have received
email from citizens or local groups about civic issues. Some 25%
receive email from constituents every day.

61% of online local officials use email to communicate with citizens
at least weekly. 21% do so every day.

75% of online local officials use the Web for research and other
purposes in course of their official duties at least weekly and 34%
use it daily for such purposes.

86% of online officials say they can handle all their email messages.

There is a clear civic payoff to Internet use at the local level as
officials say they learn about constituents opinions and activities
when they go online. More local groups are being heard and recognized
at the local level thanks to email. Still, it is generally the case
that while the use of email adds to the convenience and depth of civic
exchanges, its use is not ushering a revolution in municipal affairs
or local politics.

73% of online officials note that email with constituents helps them
better understand public opinion.

56% of online officials say their use of email has improved their
relations with community groups.

54% of online officials say that their use of email has brought them
into contact with citizens from whom they had not heard before.

32% have been persuaded by email campaigns at least in part about the
merits of a groups argument on a policy question.

21% agree that email lobbying campaigns have opened their eyes to
unity and strength of opinion among constituents about which they have
been previously unaware.

61% of online officials agree that email can facilitate public debate.
However, 38% say that email alone cannot carry the weight of the full
debate on complex issues.

Email still lags behind more traditional communications media between
local officials and citizens.

Online local officials are still more likely to cite phone calls
(64%), letters (35%) and meetings (29%), rather than email, as the
most common means citizens use to communicate with them. (These
numbers add up to more than 100% because officials were allowed to
give several answers.)

24% of officials include email among the most common means used by
citizens to contact them.
Online local officials are also most likely to cite meetings (55%),
phone calls (49%) and letters (27%), rather than email, as the kinds
of contacts from constituents that carry the most weight with them.
Only 14% said that they assign a significant amount of weight to

Online local officials often use both official and personal email
accounts for official business. Officials in small cities are more
likely than big-city officials to rely on personal accounts; big-city
officials are more likely to rely on government-provided accounts.
Those who make use of both government and personal email accounts do
so for reasons of convenience for both themselves and their
constituents. Officials who work day jobs want to be available to
their constituents during the day. Others note it is easier to deal
with their official emails at home.

Although the majority of online local officials use Internet access
provided by their cities and email accounts set up by their cities,
only 30% rely on those accounts exclusively for their official duties.
Some 37% say they use both government and personal accounts, and 33%
rely on personal accounts exclusively for their official business.

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