Coproduction of Government Services and the New Information Technology: Investigating the Distributional Biases

Published date01 September 2013
Date01 September 2013
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12092
Benjamin Y. Clark is assistant profes-
sor of public administration in the Levin
College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland
State University. His research focuses on
collaboration, public budgeting and f‌i nance,
and reducing health disparities.
E-mail: b.y.clark@csuohio.edu
Jeffrey L. Brudney is the Betty and Dan
Cameron Family Distinguished Professor of
Innovation in the Nonprof‌i t Sector in the
Department of Public and International
Affairs at the University of North Carolina
Wilmington. His major f‌i elds of interest are
public management, nonprof‌i t sector stud-
ies, and research methods and statistics.
E-mail: brudneyj@uncw.edu
Sung-Gheel Jang teaches geospatial
sciences at Stony Brook University. He
earned a doctorate in regional planning
from the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign. His current research focuses on
the effect of neighborhood characteristics
on health service utilization at the individual
level using the multilevel framework and
geographic information sciences.
E-mail: sunggheel.jang@stonybrook.edu
Coproduction of Government Services and the New Information Technology: Investigating the Distributional Biases 687
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 73, Iss. 5, pp. 687–701. © 2013 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12092.
Benjamin Y. Clark
Cleveland State University
Jeffrey L. Brudney
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Sung-Gheel Jang
Stony Brook University
is article investigates how communications advances
af‌f ect citizens’ ability to participate in coproduction of
government services.  e authors analyze service requests
made to the City of Boston during a one-year period from
2010 to 2011 and, using geospatial analysis and nega-
tive binomial regression, investigate possible disparities by
race, education, and income in making service requests.
e f‌i ndings reveal little concern that 311 systems (non-
emergency call centers) may benef‌i t one racial group over
another; however, there is some indication that Hispanics
may use these systems less as requests move from call
centers to the Internet and smartphones. Consistent with
prior research, the f‌i ndings show that poorer neighbor-
hoods are less likely to take advantage of 311 service,
with the notable exception of smartphone utilization.  e
implications for citizen participation in coproduction
and bridging the digital divide are discussed.
Recent years have witnessed local governments
on the brink of employee layof‌f s, major cut-
backs in services, and even bankruptcy. In the
current economic climate, it has become more impor-
tant for local governments to f‌i nd ways to reduce
their budgets yet still deliver the level and quality of
services to which residents have become accustomed.
One method increasingly employed is coproduction,
whereby government engages citizens as partners in
service delivery.
In the traditional concep-
tion of public service delivery,
services are distributed through
government to the citizenry (De
Araújo 2001).  is traditional
model has government as the
active player, while citizens take
more passive roles. Increasingly,
governments are examining
how to best engage the public
(Bryson et al. 2013) and, in par-
ticular, the use of online or electronic means to do so
(Norris and Reddick 2013).  e concept of coproduc-
tion as a new model of service delivery challenges the
standard view by involving citizens directly in service
provision. Traditional ideas of service planning and
management need to be revised to incorporate copro-
duction (Bovaird 2007). Although coproduction was a
prevalent topic for public managers and researchers in
the 1970s and early 1980s, it fell out of favor as gov-
ernments and scholars alike focused on ef‌f orts geared
toward improving services and saving money through
privatization and marketization (Alford 1998). With
continuing budgetary challenges and growing appre-
ciation of the limitations of privatization, though, the
focus on coproduction has been renewed over the past
decade.
Innovations in how government services are delivered
in the 2010s, especially the use of new electronic com-
munications technology, have brought coproduction
back to the fore, both as a service delivery option and
as the subject of academic inquiry.  is article focuses
on one such innovation, the 311 call center.1 ese
centralized government call centers of‌f er nonemer-
gency information to citizens, comparable to 411 for
general information or 911 for emergency services.
Despite the rise of such systems, experts and practi-
tioners worry that they do not attract people from
diverse demographic backgrounds, a perennial issue in
coproduction research.2
is article examines whether
the 311 system for requesting
government services results in
use throughout a jurisdiction
or facilitates the “haves” gain-
ing greater access and limiting
opportunities for historically
disadvantaged groups. To
address this question, we use the
citizen relations management
(CRM) database of the City of
Boston, which includes data
gathered from the city’s Mayor Hotline (Boston’s ver-
sion of 311), online portal, and smartphone applica-
tion.  e workhorse of any 311 system, CRMs are
Coproduction of Government Services
and the New Information Technology: Investigating
the Distributional Biases
is article examines whether
the 311 system for requesting
government services results in
use throughout a jurisdiction
or facilitates the “haves” gain-
ing greater access and limiting
opportunities for historically
disadvantaged groups.

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