Connected citizenry: An exploration of local government social media adoption for community engagement

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  • As social media becomes an increasing part of daily life, we may wonder why this virtual environment has not been used widely for community engagement activities by municipal government institutions. Information and communication technologies (ICT’s) offer the opportunity to expand interactions between residents and their local government. Despite examples from municipalities around the world, the adoption rate of social media for community engagement amongst local governments remains low. Although municipal governments in Alberta are mandated to seek public input on key initiatives, rates of participation remain low. The research on government adoption of technology reveals benefits such as facilitation of new and existing services and, encouragement of citizen participation. Moreover, the participatory nature of social media technology reveals more flexible and convenient ways for citizens to be informed, consulted, and participate in their local government. Despite these findings municipalities in the Alberta Capital Region have been slow to adopt the technology for community engagement. This study seeks to explore the perceptions and attitudes toward social media for the purpose of community engagement amongst municipal government organizations in order to ascertain why this technology has not been more widely adopted. Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory and Brian Winston’s model of technology adoption act as the lenses in this exploratory study. Two qualitative research strategies were applied. The first was grounded theory whereby a systematic set of procedures were divided into different stages – developing a research question; using theoretical sampling to collect data; analyzing data through a progression of coding procedures and a review of relevant literature. The endeavor to understand why social media is not more widely adopted led to selection of the second strategy - case study. A desire to augment external validity and help defend against researcher bias resulted in the choice to conduct the research with multiple cases. Data collection was conducted through open-ended interviews with selected municipal government communication professionals. Interpretation and analysis was based on a list of categories and data codes. As the code frequency began to reveal patterns of similarities and differences, links between the data analysis evolved to identify dominant themes. These themes were then verified against the literature for explanations and insights. The data coding and analysis suggests that in the context of municipal community engagement activities social media is an attractive mechanism for awareness generation, sharing information, feedback solicitation, collaboration, and accessibility to the population by decreasing space and expanding time. Respondents provided minimal indication that security, privacy, difficulty in use and understanding and, technological implications would negatively impact adoption of social media for community engagement. The results suggest that the potential for municipalities to adopt social media for community engagement lies primarily in their ability to fit the technology within their organizational context and match the advantages with values, needs and past experiences. A primary finding was that the heteronomous nature of municipal government organizations limits the potential of social media adoption for community engagement. The research results indicated that adoption accelerators outweighed adoption suppressors therefore suggesting the important influence of the social sphere on technology adoption. The study concludes with recommendations that consider the heteronomous nature of municipal government organizations by promoting a phased approach to facilitate the advancement of social media for the purpose of community engagement.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International