Examining e-Government Project Failure Through Differing Theoretical Lens

Stanforth, Carolyne
January 2009
Proceedings of the European Conference on e-Government;2009, p594
Conference Proceeding
E-government applications are large, high profile and risky public sector investments. Recent studies suggest that between 60 to 80% of e-government projects fail in some way. But these systems are not alone in being viewed as problematic and hard to judge in terms of performance. There is an on-going fascination with the apparent failure of systems in both the media and in the academic discourse. But what exactly is meant by the emotive term "failure"? It is so difficult to agree on its precise nature that commentators often choose to avoid addressing the issue directly and to couch their discussion of failure in terms of what is needed to achieve success. It is contended in this paper that careful consideration of what signifies failure needs to address the concept in direct terms rather than as the antithesis of success. The way that success and failure are perceived depends on the criteria being used to measure performance and one of the difficulties that arises in setting the performance criteria for an e-government project is factoring in the context in which it is situated. Systems failures are recognised as occurring from a complex interaction of technical and human factors set in a social situation. The development of an e-government application does not occur in isolation: the technical system development will be linked to a number of intended organisational changes and "the system" is the term used to encompass both. Ambiguity can result when the changes associated with the technology are assimilated with the parallel changes occurring through process re-engineering and institutional alignment. Setting relevant targets and assessing performance is difficult as judgement on success and failure can be highly subjective. The theoretical approaches adopted in the study of e-government project evaluation fall into three main categories - factoral analyses, systems approaches and interpretive studies - with the relevant analytical framework being applied primarily to case study or multiple case study evidence. In this paper, the theoretical constructs underlying the process of e-government project evaluation are explored by comparing and contrasting the three diagnostic approaches as applied to a particular case study: namely, a back-end government financial management information system funded by the international financing institutions and implemented by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Finance.


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