Central and local government agencies in New Zealand have fared better than their Australian counterparts in a University of Otago study of e-government responsiveness.
The study, headed by Associate Professor Robin Gauld from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, set out to see if e-government was making government services more responsive.
"Our key and consistent finding was that the Australian agencies performed significantly worse than their New Zealand counterparts, bringing into question their higher ranking in international e-government studies and also their potential to deliver on the Australian government policy that e-government means more responsive government."
Researchers sent out an email message to 273 government agencies at both local and national level in Australia and New Zealand asking two simple questions: 'Where are you located?' and, 'what are your open hours?'.
They would have contacted more agencies but found 29 per cent of Australian federal agencies had no such facility for email contact.
Responses were monitored, recording how long they took, and then analysed for quality of response.
Associate Professor Gauld says they heard back from 209 agencies, with 199 replying within 45 working hours.
"A total of 67.5 per cent of the Australian and 89.3 per cent of the New Zealand agencies responded to the email, with strong evidence that the Australian agencies were less likely to respond than their New Zealand counterparts," he says.
"The Australian central agencies, at 60 per cent, were the least likely to respond and New Zealand local government agencies were the most likely, with 91.4 per cent providing a response of some sort."
Earlier research in the United States by Darrell West at Brown University found 91 per cent of federal and state offices responded.
In terms of quality of response, just over a third of all Australian agencies managed to answer both questions, compared with 75 per cent of New Zealand agencies. New Zealand local government agencies were the best performers at 81.5 per cent.
Associate Professor Gauld says the performance of local government agencies is an interesting one.
"Perhaps it is to do with local government's closeness to their communities. Maybe they also have the capacity to be more customer focused."
He says the study also suggests the phone may be a better option for making contact with agencies in Australia, although he has reservations about that.
"Young people today usually go to text and email before they pick up the phone. You can't assume they will go for the phone."
Despite the overall poor performance, many of the agencies provided detail well beyond what was requested and also asked if there was any other way in which they could help.
Associate Professor Gauld says government agencies on both sides of the Tasman can improve their performance, especially given their commitment to e-government.
"Both ought to be aiming to have contact email addresses for all agencies and both should be committing to replying to email requests and to providing appropriate and accurate responses," he says.
"If capacity to respond remains questionable, this will do little to boost confidence and trust in e-government mechanisms."
Associate Professor Gauld is currently looking for funding to do a similar study on a global scale.