In the area of governmental information for and services to citizens digitalization has certainly become a buzzword. Framed within the discourses on e-government or e-governance – or different mixtures of the two – various analyses have tried to point out, or even anticipate possible consequences of the appropriation of digital technologies, mainly the internet, in governmental services.
On the one hand, these analyses have pointed out a great deal of opportunities connected to the incorporation of the internet into governmental information and services. Policy makers have been quick to point to the increased accessibility as a great opportunity for the citizens; in Sweden this vision of accessibility has even been referred to as ‘24:7-governmental agencies’. Academics, among others, have also suggested that the digitalization of information and services opens up new possibilities for citizen control of governments.
On the other hand, a number of problems have also been identified. For instance, the digitalization of public registers holding personal information has been interpreted as a threat to the citizens’ integrity: Will digitalization bring a new surveillance society? The most frequently debated problem, however, at least within research, has been the fear of digital divides. Will the internet create digital cleavages between different groups of citizens?
So far, however, neither the hopeful nor the dystopian analyses have made enough efforts to critically evaluate their claims. Such evaluations can start from different points of departure, and in this paper the starting point is the citizens as users of governmental information and services through the internet: What patterns of inclusion and exclusion emerge as a governmental agency digitalizes its information and services by making them increasingly internet based?
The paper presents statistical data from a survey of 762 unemployed citizens using the Swedish Public Employment Service, a governmental agency that has come to rely specifically heavy on internet based information and service. The initial analysis of data reveals interesting differences between social groups in terms of both perception and use of the internet – in general – and the resources offered by SPES in particular. For instance, the users’ various degrees of education is a strong, determining factor when it comes to use of internet SPES’ services.
The paper starts from a conceptual elaboration of various notions of e-government and e-governance. Thereafter, the survey data is described and elaborated on before moving into a discussion of the wider significance of the findings: What does data suggest in terms of patterns of inclusion in and exclusion from a society in which governmental agencies, to an increasing extent, use the internet for their information and services?