Auditing the adequacy of government websites is an active and regular effort in at least eight countries, according to a Freedominfo.org review.
Website audits have been conducted by nongovernmental organizations in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus Georgia, Russia, the Ukraine and the United States. Some of the evalutions are periodic.
The auditors devise numerical or “report card” grades to demonstrate improvements, facilitate comparisons and foster competition.
“Local governments are competitive with each other, and they don’t want to be the only one in the area that is not doing a good job,” said Brian Costine, who works on comparisons of local governments in the U.S. state of Illinois.
A few of the audit programs, including his, give out awards to the best performers. Press conferences are usually held to publicize the findings, good or bad.
In some places the audits are done in close conjunction with government officials. Sometimes the methodology and the results become the topic for meetings and conferences.
While most of the audits concern only national government agencies, others cover a wide range of government entities. Most of the audits get updated every year.
Using multi-point rating systems, the audits focus primarily on the information content, but also rate the ease of use.
Detailed evaluations and recommendations also are made in some of the audits.
For example, a March audit in Georgia covered the Tbilisi city hall and reached a number of conclusions, including: “The following important databases should be refined and upgraded: decrees, orders, instructions, competitions etc. The project costs should be given in separate section of web-site. The structure of web-site must be ordered, the news archive and its calendar needs to be created, the communication standards with citizens need the refinement, the contact section of web-site should be created etc.”
Several of the Eastern European studies are based on methodology developed by the Institute for Information Freedom Development based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The assessments by three related assessment in the United States – by Sunshine Review, Public Interest Research Group and State Integrity — can be compared on this chart.
Freedominfo.org would be pleased to supplement this list with new entries.
Audits of government websites: a FreedomInfo.org list
The latest report is a continuation of similar monitoring in 2010 and 2011. It includes a description of the methodology, which was developed by the Institute for Information Freedom Development, St. Petersburg, Russia.
The websites were evaluated by 177 parameters, of which 150 referred to the content, and 27 are technical.
The reports are placed on the Monitoring section on the website.
All these websites were evaluated in accordance with the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of the published information, in particular:
- the existence of the required information or the lack thereof,
- completeness of information,
- accessibility (from a technical point of view).
Azerbaijan: Media Rights Institute
Since 2007 the Media Rights Institute has been reporting on the very slow creation of official websites despite legal mandates. The monitoring effort is described in a semiannual report, pages 25-26.
On May 17, 2012, the latest ratings, on 68 agencies, were published (in Azerbaijani).
Bulgaria: The Access to Information Programme
The 2012 AIP audit on the proactive disclosure of public information online “reviewed and evaluated 474 websites of 487 executive bodies at a central, regional, and local level.” The group has been doing the audits since 2006, but in 2012 adding a rating system. The audit also measures responses to requests for information.
The level of transparency is assessed on the basis of 39 or 40 (for the municipalities) indicators, including:
- Institutional information – legal basis of the institution, functions, services provided, data bases and information resources;
- Organizational structure and contact information;
- Operational information – acts, strategies, plans, activities;
- Financial and other transparency – budgets and financial reports, contracts, conflict of interests declarations;
- Existence and content of the Access to Information sections.
AIP reported that the 2012 audit results “show that the great variety in institutional web sites structure and content observed last year still persists,” but also found some areas of “considerable progress.”
AIP launched in 2012 the first Active Transparency Rating in Bulgaria (In Bulgarian). “The Active Transparency Rating was launched to serve as a stimulus and model for public bodies to develop their web sites in line with active transparency standards and legal requirements for online publication of information.”
The audit results are available (in Bulgarian) by institution and by indicators, and include the responses of the institutions on the access to information requests.
Author of the analysis of the audit results is Gergana Jouleva, AIP Executive Director. The analysis and the Comparative data for 2010 – 2012 are part of AIP annual report Access to Information in Bulgaria 2011.
Cyprus: The Open Cyprus Project
A 2011 report on access to information in Cyprus includes considerable information on government websites.
The Open Cyprus Project evaluated the websites of 10 public bodies in the northern part of Cyprus and 10 in the Republic of Cyprus, rating them on a 21-point scale.
The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has conducted a series of audits of government websites. Numerical scores are given for an “information transparency rating” and an “E-accessibility and technical operating rating.”
A recent one focused on the website of the president, concluding that it “leaves only the impression of resource designed for presenting the general information to the society.” Also in April 2012 the IDFI published an audit of the Social Service Agency. A March audit covered the Tbilisi city hall and reached a number of conclusions, including:
“The following important databases should be refined and upgraded: decrees, orders, instructions, competitions etc. The project costs should be given in separate section of web-site. The structure of web-site must be ordered, the news archive and its calendar needs to be created, the communication standards with citizens need the refinement, the contact section of web-site should be created etc.”
The methodology used is explained in a 2011 report in English in which IDFI evaluated the websites of many public institutions in Electronic Transparency in Georgia. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)
The Institute for Information Freedom Development monitors websites of executive government bodies of the Russian Federation, regional bodies, political parties and nongovernmental organizations. The ongoing series of reports can be seen in a special “Official Websites Monitoring” section of the website.
The methodology in English was published in April 2011. Ratings are developed based on scoring by experts for both information content and the ease of site navigation.
Ukraine: Regional Press Development Institute
The latest website monitoring report (in Ukrainian) was published in May 2012.
The monitoring methodology involves 224 topics, covering completeness, relevance, and navigation.
United States: Sunshine Review
A transparency checklist was created in 2008 to evaluate the website features on state agencies, counties, cities, and school districts. Awards are given to good performing sites. In May 2012 the winners of the third annual Sunny Awards were announced: 214 government entities out of more than 6,000 government websites and graded each on a 10-point transparency checklist. “Editors looked at content available on government websites against what should be provided. They sought information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes.”
United States: Public Interest Research Group
This survey by the Public Interest Research Group primarily rates state government financial transparency, but also evaluates website usability. Clear information expenditures is a primary criterion, but keyword searchability also gets states extra points on the 100 point scale.
United States: State Integrity
This “corruption risk index” covers 14 areas and generates a report card on all 50 states.
The areas include: access to information, information on the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state and local levels, rules on accountability for top officials, whether the state budget process is open to the public, state hiring and firing regulations, laws governing the purchase of goods and services, state level internal auditing, lobbying finance rules, information on pension plans, ethics rules, insurance regulation and redistricting.
United States: Illinois Policy Institute
The Illinois Policy Institute publishes periodic evaluations of government websites in the state of Illinois. See one recent example in which researchers found that only 13 of 22 local government agencies in the York Township-area in DuPage County received passing grades. The Institute uses a 10-point transparency checklist and a scoring rubric.
The audits are shared with the local government entity, then redone after two months, after which the results are publicized. High ranking localities receive ”Sunshine Awards.”
Since the project was launched by the Institute in February 2010, more than 160 government entities have been graded.
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