E‐participation Opportunities and the Ambiguous Role of Corruption: A Model of Municipal Responsiveness to Sociopolitical Factors

Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
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Abstract: Municipalities ostensibly scale the ladder of e-participation improvement to gain legitimacy. However,
research has not yet addressed how e-participation initiatives are affected by serious legitimacy concerns such as
corruption. One municipal response to corruption is to use e-participation offerings as a remedial effort to gain citizen
trust, but window-dressing strategies might also be used. In this article, the authors attempt to make sense of this
ambiguity by hypothesizing that the effects of perceived corruption on e-participation offerings depend on the type of
e-participation as well as the level of local social capital and local public accountability demand. Analysis of data from
104 municipal websites in South Africa between 2013 and 2017 reveals support for two moderation mechanisms: (1)
a positive remedial response to corruption in the presence of strong social capital and (2) a negative avoidance response
to corruption in the presence of high demand for accountability.
Evidence for Practice
• E-participation tools are a viable way for municipal managers to tackle corruption.
• Selection of tools for one-way or two-way interaction should be based on careful consideration of citizen
capacity and demand rather than a blanket approach.
• High levels of e-participation offerings depend not only on physical resources such as financial resources and
internet access but also on social capital and public demand for accountability.
• Building social capital is a good long-term strategy for preventing corruption and creating sustainable
e-participation engagement.
Alex Ingrams
Tilburg University
Hindy Lauer Schachter
New Jersey Institute of Technology
E-participation Opportunities and the Ambiguous Role of
Corruption: A Model of Municipal Responsiveness to
Sociopolitical Factors
This article explores the role of corruption as
a factor in local government e-participation
development. Today, government interest
in citizen participation is growing across the globe
(Bingham, Nabatchi, and O’Leary 2005; Lee, Chang,
and Berry 2011; Vigoda 2002). Some of the debates
on the merits and challenges of participation have
moved into electronic territory as jurisdictions have
adopted information and communication technologies
(ICTs) both to inform and to interact with citizens
(Barber 1998; Bovens and Zouridis 2002; Kakabadse,
Kakabadse, and Kouzmin 2003). Scholars have tried
to find out what variables explain e-participation
adoption, but so far studies do not convincingly show
which variables are important (Borge, Colombo, and
Welp 2009; Zheng, Schachter, and Holzer 2014).
Further, scholars have yet to solve the problem posed
by Arnstein (1969) in her theory of the “ladder of
participation”: that a jurisdiction’s motivations for
participation adoption can range from remedial (to
help address policy problems) to inauthentic. Arnstein
describes the latter motivations as nonparticipation—
manipulation and therapy—and tokenism—the
placation of citizens’ wishes or consultation without
ceding power. The problem created by jurisdictions
offering empty participation rituals rather than
opportunities to affect outcomes remains acute and
gains further urgency as policy makers continue to
embrace new forms of online participation.
So far, however, researchers addressing Arnstein’s
theory have not empirically examined which variables
correlate with jurisdictions seeking to manipulate
citizens and which correlate with governments
offering authentic involvement opportunities.
Instead, many studies have offered normative advice
on how administrators who want to offer authentic
participation should proceed (e.g., Bryson et al. 2013;
King, Felty, and Susel 1998). Others have tried to
revise the ladder to include additional concepts such
as collaboration (Cooper and Bryer 2007). This article
is one of the first to offer an analysis exploring how
several social variables affect where a jurisdiction’s
offerings fall on the ladder of participation—that is,
whether these opportunities constitute some type
of nonparticipation or tokenism or actually offer an
authentic participation opportunity.
Hindy Lauer Schachter is professor in
the Martin Tuchman School of Management
at New Jersey Institute of Technology. In
addition to articles in academic journals, she
has authored
Reinventing Government or
Reinventing Ourselves
(State University of
New York Press, 1997),
Frederick Taylor and
the Public Administration Community
University of New York Press, 1989), and
Public Agency Communication
(Nelson Hall,
1983). With Kaifeng Yang, she coedited
The State of Civic Participation in America
(Information Age, 2012).
E-mail: hindy.l.schachter@njit.edu
Alex Ingrams is assistant professor
in the Institute of Governance at Tilburg
University. He earned his PhD in public
administration at Rutgers University–
Newark in 2017. His research focuses on
digital government transformations, theory
of public information, and government
transparency and accountability. His recent
work has focused on government adoption
of big data and algorithmic decision-making
and its impact on public sector performance.
E-mail: a.ingrams@uvt.nl
Research Article
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 4, pp. 601–611. © 2019 The
Authors. Public Administration Review
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13049.

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