Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Victorian government web usage survey

The Victorian government released the results of it's year-long internet usage survey last week, providing a Demographic Profiling of Victorian Government Website Visitors.

Taking into account nearly 250,000 respondents, this is the largest sample I've seen for an egovernment usage survey within Australia.

The full results are available from Victoria's eGovernment Resource Centre, however I've commented on some highlights below.

Demographic comments
  • Victorian users over-represented
    The survey was heavily weighed towards Victorian users, with roughly 80% of respondents living in the state - this may bias the survey, as Victorians may not have the same views towards egovernment as elsewhere in Australia. I'd love to see a breakout of the remaining 20% (around 50,000 respondents) to determine if there were differences by state.

  • Females slightly over-represented
    Women made up 60% of respondents - comparing this to other data I've seen from Hitwise, this makes them slightly over-represented. Hitwise generally reports that usage is, from memory, 53% women and 47% male.

  • The internet is mainstream
    The demographics largely represent the age spread of Australia's population - if you exclude those under 18, who are generally less likely to visit government sites as they do not transact with government in the same way.
    I have been noticing for years (in studies conducted by various organisations) that, except for a slight under-representation of older people, internet demographics and Australian population statistics align quite closely.

Usage comments

  • Citizens want to have input into state government policies and initiatives
    64% of respondents were interested in having input in the decision-making processes of state government. The report did not specify if this indicated online participation, however I would consider that respondents to online surveys would have at top-of-mind using the same medium for their input.

  • Citizens want governments to respond by email
    60% of respondents indicated that they wanted government to respond to their enquiries via email.

    This is particularly interesting to me as my agency prefers to channel responses to the phone channel, which is both higher-cost and requires that the caller catch the customer at an appropriate time. We also do not guarantee a fast response time for emails - maintaining the same response time (28 days) as with letters, and much slower than phone.

  • A large minority were interested in engaging online via live chat
    29% of respondents wished to be able to live chat with the government online. This percentage is higher than I have seen previously and is continuing to grow as this approach rolls out in the private sector.

    Telstra, eBay and similar sites offer this as one of their primary customer engagement tools and the awareness for this is building. My understanding, from past dealings with Telstra's customer service area, is that on average a customer service representative can deal with four times as many online chats as telephone conversations at the same time - making this an efficient means of engagement.

    Over 90% of enquiries can be handled within the chat, with any overly complex engagements transferred to telephone for resolution.

  • Large minorities of citizens are reading blogs, listening to podcasts and posting to online communities and forums
    Roughly a third of citizens were involved in these online mediums, 34% reading blogs, 30% participation in one or more communities/forums, and 29% listening to podcasts.

    14% indicated that they wrote blogs - this might sound small, but when you consider the percentage of Australians writing for newspapers (under 1%), the blog authoring community represents an extremely high level of active participation in the active creation and dissemination of content. Another point to consider is that (the printed version of) a newspaper is geographically restricted and articles disappear quickly. Blogs are available to all internet users, persistent (articles remain online for the life of the blog) and findable via universal search tools.

    A single blog article has significantly more impact than a single newspaper article, even, potentially, in the case of major dailies.

    These are mediums that government should not ignore.

  • More than half of respondents watch online video
    56% of respondents indicated that they watched online video, making this an important vector for government communications.


  1. Hi Craig,
    The results you've summarised support what I and many of my colleagues suspect - that people want to engage more directly with government through the web. I think most state & fed govt departments will find the survey results useful.

  2. Hi Maree,

    The question is whether these types of results are sufficient to convince agencies to make policy, operational and budgetary changes to support web interactions.

    My hat is off to the Victorian government for doing this initial work.

    The work of now selling this into our agencies is up to us.

  3. Interesting that females slightly over-represented, perhaps women are more generously inclined to freely give their time to respond to surveys !

    Survey also shows 61% want info relevant to their street, suburb, region, ie geographically determined information. I just looked at the new VicPol which claims to provide information at local level.

    Unfortunately, it is a major disappointment, in comparison to the real local information delivered by US Police and now in the UK. Yes, you can enter your postcode, except cynical exercise that this seems to be, all it does is generate a bunch of rehashed crap with only the most meaningless 3 monthly stats, a chloropleth kiddy-pretend map (no real interractive map), no context and little relevance.

    Responsive government actually listens and engages broadly throughout the organization - and I am very mistrustful of sideshow execrcises such as internet 'chats' with the Chief, usually just another lot of spin & corporate image marketing.

    Citizen engagement is about trusted relationships and multiple positive interractions over time. That's the kind of genuine interraction that would provide VicPol and other government organizations with feedback as to what is actually interesting or meaningful to the public. They wont get much feedback on stuff that's inherently not even worth commenting on.

    So, the VicPol is another erxample of wasted taxpayers money going to promote a brand. The content is just rehashing and publishing stuff we can get out of annual reports and of little local interest (and based on Ombudsman Report rather suss data anyway...Garbage in Garbage Out). Frankly, Vic Pol may find anualised Crime Against the Person increasing from 1117 to 1149 or 2.9 % in postcode 3004, very rivetting but it does not mean that I give a stuff. I'd be more interested in their allowing their best reosurce, which is their local officers, to use the internet, twitter, whatever, and engage in conversation with the community in open honest fashion (within the usual contraints re privacy ofcourse).

    Yeah yeah, that's how they meet their performance targets, but I want to know what's happening on the streets where I live this week.

    And a researcher want more detailed data to work with...RSS feeds, gml on google maps, data we can interrogate, extrapolate, mas-up, hash-up and tweet. No doubt this is a very confronting idea.

    So on it goes, too much so-called public information is of this sort, just self-centric rehashed govt reports with no attempt to understand or listen to citizens. I call that lip-service.

    Now, the constraint is one of political will, not technical. Govt can get pretty creative and clever (or at least hire people who are, anyway) when it comes to on-line transactions that they can charge us fees for, and there are some very good services in for example. I do not object to this, as long as the fees are reasonable enough to offset the cost of driving somewhere and lining up, great.