More transparency on federal agency Web sites may lead to increased public trust in government, but it hasn't happened yet, according to two related surveys out today.
The results of one report, which may be the first to measure government's online openness, indicate that transparency is a key driver of user satisfaction with federal agency sites. What's more, "highly satisfied" users -- those who rated a site at 80 or above on a 100-point scale -- are 49 percent more likely to trust the corresponding agency.
"Transparency is kind of a means to the end" of citizen satisfaction, said Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that conducted the transparency survey as well as another study measuring user satisfaction with government sites.
The transparency survey measured 2,000 citizens' experiences with five sites, while the other survey -- which ForeSee has conducted every quarter since 2003 -- measured satisfaction with 105 federal agency sites. Overall user satisfaction -- a score of 73.6 out of 100 -- was unchanged from the first quarter.
"We think this is the first time that there's really been any metric around how well we are doing from a transparency perspective," Freed said. "Our hope is that a quarter from now we're measuring between 50 and 100 different sites along those lines of transparency." ForeSee defines transparency as how thoroughly and quickly the agency discloses its activities online, and how accessible the information is to the public.
Online transparency is a signature initiative for President Obama, who, during his first few days in office, sent a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies saying that his administration "is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government."
Generally, users scored the government well on transparency, Freed said, noting that the average transparency score for the five sites was 79 out of 100. The Web sites measured in the transparency survey included those belonging to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey, said Freed, who would not give additional specifics at the request of client sites.
But the relatively positive ratings may not remain that way forever.
"As more topics come up, more information comes up and more discussion about transparency happens, citizens are going to expect more," Freed said.
Alongside transparency, improving site search was the other top priority for government agencies looking to increase satisfaction, according to ForeSee's report. "Highly satisfied" users, in addition to trusting the agencies more, were also 77 percent more likely to use agency sites as a primary resource and 73 percent more likely to collaborate on agency wikis or blogs.
Of the top 10 best-rated sites in the satisfaction survey, four each belonged to the Social Security Administration and the Health and Human Services department. The Web site that allows citizens to apply for Social Security benefits online received a satisfaction score of 91, the highest of all sites surveyed.