The Evolution of E-Gov

Political Science Assistant Professor Ben Epstein brought his research project on web-based government services to the Social Science Research Center this summer, phase two of an on-going project to chart the evolution of e-government.

His survey analysis of 83 small, medium and large U.S. cities in the first phase of the project identified 32 types of financial, informational and interactive e-government services available. San Francisco led the group with 28 services, followed closely by downstate Santa Monica with 24. Minneapolis, MN and Fort Collins, CO also ranked high, despite having fewer financial resources to draw on. The cities were randomly selected from the country’s 792 cities with populations of at least 50,000 (Chicago was not among them). They were analyzed for the number, type and level of e-government services they offered.

E-GovWhile the number of services and how long cities have been engaged in e-government vary greatly, “we’re seeing a stabilization over time,” he noted. An estimated 75–80% of the cities analyzed offer their citizens the option to pay their utility bills online, followed next by online parking ticket payment services. But when it comes to decisions on expanding their web-based services further—be it payment of taxes or interactive social media features like Facebook—governments weigh a wide range of considerations, from cost and staffing, to issues of security, transparency, confidentiality, control and administrative complications.

“The verdict on e-government service is still out, and far from universal,” Ben said. To get the story behind the numbers, he and two assistant professors at other universities interviewed city managers, communications directors or other decision-makers from six of the 83 survey cities: Santa Monica, CA, Scottsdale, AZ, Lakeville, MN, North Richland Hills, TX, St. Lucie, FL and Margate, FL. Working with Ben were Leticia Bode of Georgetown University, who shares Ben’s interest in political communications and media and has co-authored a journal article with him, and Jennifer Connolly of the University of Miami, whose knowledge of city government and administration added a new dimension to the project. “E-government was totally new for us,” said Ben. They used an inexpensive application called TapeACall Pro to record their 20–50 minute interviews on an iPhone and then emailed or texted the digital recordings to each other. Mike Constantino, a DPU journalism graduate student, used the SSRC’s transcription software to script the interviews for analysis.

The interviews exceeded expectations, Ben said. “We had an incredibly rich variety of qualitative data that we could use from only six interviews.” They revealed that “cities are thinking of e-government in a number of ways,” Ben said, and are talking about it in terms of citizen expectations. Next spring or summer, the project will turn its attention to citizens’ perceptions and experiences to find out if cities and citizens are thinking alike about e-government. “I think cities assume a lot,” Ben explained, including the extent of what citizens know. The ultimate goal of the project, he said, is “to get a more holistic view of what e-government is” and what it means today, both top down and bottom up. “It was a fun project and I’m glad that it will continue moving forward,” he added.

During his teaching leave this fall quarter, Ben is completing a book manuscript with the working title, “The Political Communications Cycle: The Process of Change from the Newspaper to the Internet,” that will offer a theory of the cyclical process of changes in political communications over time. It will include a chapter on e-government.

Video Resource for Learning Stata

In my forays into Youtube for help on a command earlier this month, I stumbled across a great set of videos for working with data in Stata.  The videos are done by Alan Neustadtl, who teaches the class “Statistical Programming Using Stata” at the University of Maryland.  He uses data from the General Social Survey to walk through the steps of examining the data, creating/recoding variables, and cleaning data.

Examining a Dataset and Creating and Recoding Variables

Creating New Variables Using Stata

Cleaning Data in Stata

Creating Additive Indices Using Stata

The videos are shortish- like 15-30 minutes for each.  They could be a great tool for faculty members who are working with grad students on projects, but don’t have time to sit down and walk them through the basics using Stata.

Documentary Viewing of the Film: “Everywhere But Safe: Public Injecting in New York”

The DePaul Social Science Research Center will be hosting a screening of Everywhere But Safe: Public Injecting in New York on Friday September 18th, from 7:00-8:30 pm in SAC254.  The film is a documentary, produced by Sawbuck Productions, Inc examining public injection drug use in New York.  The documentary makes the case why supervised injections can contribute to healthier, safer communities.

Join us for the viewing!  The filmmakers, Matt Curtis of VOCAL-NY and Taeko Frost of Washington Heights Corner Project will attend the screen and host a Q&A afterwards.

Shut Up and Write Tuesdays

In an effort to assist faculty in their creative and scholarly endeavors, the Social Science Research Center is hosting a weekly Shut Up and Write Tuesday Session.  If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you set aside dedicated writing time and make progress towards your writing goals.  By doing so, you are joining an community of academic writers, both at DePaul and abroad.

Our chapter is a little different.  For instance, we will be taking over a physical space for 2 hours.  We also will provide coffee, tea, and some variety of lovely baked good.  Participants should bring their laptops, tablets, legal pads (and pens), scrolls, parchments and the like.  We are not holding each other accountable- you can drop in as you feel the need (your not writing is between you and the productivity gods).  You will not be shamed for missing a week.  Hitting up SUWT definitely does buy some amount of smugness though, so be prepared to consider yourself superior to your peers.


Shut up and Write Tuesdays (SUWT) will begin Tuesday September 15th at 12pm and continue throughout the fall semester.  Come for an hour or two.  We will be in Suite 3100 of 990 W. Fullerton.  While you should definitely bring your favorite coffee mug, don’t panic if you left yours at home- we will have coffee, cups, creamer, and tea.  Just bring your writing stuff and ideas, we have the rest.  So join us.  And be productive.

Research in Service of Action


Utilizing services of the SSRC this summer, Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio and students from the Master of Public Health program have been working with Rush University Medical Center to compile a portrait of what health looks like in the eight West Side and three Oak Park Community Areas that make up the hospital’s city and suburban patient base.

This is among the first projects of the new LAS Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Co-directed by Fernando and Dr. Raj C. Shah, a geriatrician and an associate professor in Rush’s Department of Family Medicine and its Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Center is embarking on an ambitious goal: to help improve community health outcomes and eliminate health inequities in Chicago. By linking the two institutions’ research, teaching and experiential assets in a strategic partnership across disciplines, it aims to connect research and action, recognizing that, “it is not enough to identify a problem and then do nothing to fix it,” Fernando said.

Every three years, as a condition of the Affordable Care Act, non-profit hospitals must conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment describing the health needs of the residents within their service area and to what extent they are meeting them. They receive a mandate and an injunction (don’t exclude any populations within the service area), but get little methodological guidance, Fernando noted. DePaul’s participation through the CCHE now offers an opportunity to introduce “a social science approach” previously missing from Rush’s health assessment, Fernando said. Before, qualitative data was a very small component of the report, which lacked the “richness” valued in social research. “The actual voice of the participants was lost,” he noted.

The benefits of collaboration are already evident. A combination of health care utilization information from Rush, sociodemographic and economic data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), along with GIS mapping and data analysis from the CCHE (assisted by the SSRC) have added a significant change to the next report: Austin will be included in Rush’s Chicago service area for the first time. The 2015 assessment will also include quantitative data collected by a Cook County-wide collaboration of hospitals and qualitative information from focus groups. “The end result, I think, is going to be one grounded in qualitative insight,” Fernando said. “The voice of residents — in Austin, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and other high-hardship communities — should have a more prominent role in the report.”

DePaul students are benefiting from the opportunity to directly observe the assessment planning, implementation and analysis processes. Students Denisha Brown, Kerianne Burke, Ernesto Flores, Aneta Jedrazsko, Maggie Nava and Adenike Sosina have participated as focus group note-takers, facilitators and transcribers. Denisha and Maggie got to join Fernando on a Rush committee that formulated the focus group questions, and Kerianne helped Fernando and Dr. Shah analyze the CDC data. The SSRC has trained students in how to represent data through GIS maps and how to use SSRC transcription equipment to capture the focus group discussions. Fernando said his preliminary examination of the initial transcripts is already revealing “valuable insight, which should add a layer of richness to the community health needs assessment.”

As of September, the Center will be housed at the Loop campus. An official kick-off event is scheduled for Oct. 29 at Rush. “All of us are really excited by the potential of the Center,” Fernando said. “It is a way for us to meaningfully collaborate across disciplines and professions, with community involvement, and work on one of the big injustices in our city — the simple and stubborn fact that your zip code largely determines your life expectancy.”