Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Elizabeth Bird

Co-Major Professor

Susan Greenbaum


anthropology, citizenship, design, e-government, urban studies, welfare policy


Many Americans appreciate the availability and ease of using government websites to conduct their business with the state. What then of the most vulnerable in society? How do they access and use a standardized application process for government assistance, considering their potential resource, educational and physical constraints? Many go to public libraries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which shifts the responsibility to help applicants from the government agency administering the program to local actors whose primary duties lie elsewhere.

The aim of this research is to document the experiences of three groups of people, primarily located in a central Florida, urban environment, who interact with an electronic government (e-government) program known as "ACCESS." This program is an online application for lower-income Floridians seeking food, medical and temporary cash assistance. ACCESS is part of the growth in e-government where public information and services are placed online.

The first group of stakeholders in this research is the applicants themselves who frequent public libraries and NGOs, seeking technological access and assistance with the ACCESS program. The second group is the employees at these locations who provide varying levels of support to the applicants. Finally, there are the employees of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) who created and continue to manage the program.

The formal research process involved ethnographic methods spread over 16 months, including participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, free listing and think alouds with the applicants and those who help them at libraries and NGOs. No DCF employee agreed to participate in the research, leading to a reliance on reports either produced by DCF, or shared with them by other government agencies about the ACCESS program. The data from the above methods were used to construct a survey, administered to a largely different group of ACCESS applicants and employees at the same public libraries and NGOs.

The interpretation of findings was informed by the anthropological literature on U.S. poverty studies and public policy as well as the disciplines of e-government and design. The findings produced a model for analyzing e-government anthropologically. The model arose to fill several gaps in the literature. First, little work in U.S. anthropology deals with e-government and e-governance. Second, triangulation through ethnographic methods is not widespread within e-government research. Finally, the model demonstrates that the "audit culture" or evaluative norms and assumed ideologies of assessing e-government can shape program design, maintenance, and ultimately the experiences of users or citizens. The model is instructive and emergent, intended as a strategy to encourage further research about e-government.