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Shefali Virkar

Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, UK

Any examination of the relationship between ICTs,


organisational reform and institutional change may
commence with the words of Nye (2002): Technology affects society and government, but the causal
arrows work in both directions. Technological change
creates new challenges and opportunities for social
and political organizations, but the response to those
challenges depends on history, culture, institutions,
and paths already taken or forgone. The outcome of
an e-government project, therefore, does not rely on
a single project entity alone, and instead depends on
the interaction between different actors in the process
and the nature of the relationships between them. Gaps
in project design and implementation can in reality
be seen as expressions of differences arising from the
interaction between different (often conflicting) actor
moves and strategies, determined to a large extent by
actor perceptions, and played out within the context
of set, often inflexible circumstances.
In order to assess the extent to which success or
failure impacts e-government project implementation,
this article will examine the analytical framework first
proposed by Richard Heeks The Design-Actuality
Gap Model and its three seminal archetypes; which
contends that the major factor determining project
outcome is the degree of mismatch between the current
ground realities of a situation (where are we now),
and the models, conceptions, and assumptions built
into a projects design (the where the project wants
to get us). In doing so, the article endeavours to pay
due cognisance to the degree to which project failure
(or the general inability of the project design to meet
stated goals and resolve both predicted and emerging
problems) is symptomatic of a broad, complex set of
interrelated inequalities, unresolved problems, and

lopsided power relations; both within the adopting


organisation and in the surrounding environmental
context.

Traditionally, political institutions have been seen as


preconditions for civilised society, with students of
politics being interested in how they work and how
their organisation within a social system impacts the
everyday lives of citizens (March & Olsen, 1989).
Institutions may be thought of as: the structure
that humans impose on human interaction and therefore define the incentives that together with the other
constraints (budget, technology, etc.) determine the
choices that individuals make that shape the performance of societies and economies over time (North,
1994, p. 1). Institutional change, therefore, according
to Prats (2000), refers to the intentional or voluntary
insertion of innovation into a current system through
a sufficiently assumed transformation of its rules and
internal games.
Alterations of relative prices, such as information
costs or technology changes, become the most important
sources of institutional change, however, changes in
relative prices are motivated both by the transformation
of actor perceptions regarding those changes as well as
the behaviour alterations which those perceptions give
rise to; that is, through the construction of new mental
models that result from the acquisition of learning
and skills which help interpret the new context. More
precisely, such institutional change generally occurs
when an alteration in a relative cost is perceived by
one or more group of actors to be a win-win situation
for either that group alone or for all the participants
involved. Whilst such change thus depends chiefly

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch316
Copyright 2015, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.

on actors perceptions with respect to the gains (the


payoffs) to be obtained, it must be remembered that
it is the existing structure and form of an institution
itself that determines the nature and direction of the
payoffs (North, 1994).
If, like Thomas and Bennis (1972), one understands
organisational change within institutions to be the
deliberate design and implementation of a structural
innovation, a policy, a new goal, or an operational
transformation; it may be accepted that ICT applications could result in organisational changes (such as
the efficient and speedy delivery of public services,
the increased proximity of services to the citizen, or
the simplification of formalities and requirements) that
impact core public management values. What is less
clear, though, is how public sector ICT applications result in either formal or informal institutional alterations,
which include, to paraphrase North (1990), the reform
of the rules of interactions within those structures, or,
more strictly speaking, the alteration of the constraints
that humans impose on their political, economic, and
social interactions. This is largely due to the fact that
the relationship between technology and institutional
transformations has not yet been clearly defined.
In assuming that the manner in which ICT applications are being used depends on the type of institution
they are adopted by, Fountain (2002) believes that the
potential benefits of implementing an e-government
strategy will be strongly influenced by current institutions of government, as the actors involved determine
the choices they make depending on the incentive
systems within those structural arrangements. ICTs
in the public sector are thus designed, developed,
and used according to the preferences of government
stakeholders which, in turn, have been shaped taking
into consideration the formal and informal rules and
constraints (or institutions) as well as the enforcement
characteristics of both (Fountain, 2002).
The stated design of an information system on
paper, however, does not automatically translate into a
successful project on the ground, nor does it lead one to
necessarily conclude that technology transformations
alter significantly the status quo of the adopting public
organisation. According to Gasc (2003), Information
and Communication Technologies will give way to
institutional change only if the new skills and learning
that governmental actors acquire mesh with current
ground realities in such a way that they conclusively
alter employee perceptions regarding the potential gains

that result from the new situation. In turn, the degree


to which those perceptions may be altered depends on
how much the workplace and other ground realities of
an actor is affected by the new structures that result
from ICTs applications.
The question is, then, what will motivate that
change? Fountain and Osorio-Urzua (2001) identified
three groups of institutional variables that would collectively influence not only whether a project would
be undertaken at all, but also whether a new technology would be adopted by all the actors concerned;
thereby giving rise to alterations in their perceptions
of the given technology. The first group consists of
Technological Variables, which include the ability of
a user-population to access ICTs, the quality of the
user populations Internet use, the availability of an
internal technological infrastructure, and the provision
of technical skills to the government workforce. Fountain and Osorio-Urza argue that the quality of an
agencys Information and Communication Technology
infrastructure and overall skill level are critical inputs
to make-or-buy decisions.
The second group is that of Managerial Variables,
in which are included the efficiency and effectiveness
of the supply chain, the characteristics of the agencys
culture, and the capacity of the adopting agency to
adapt to and to manage change. Again, Fountain and
Osorio-Urzua argue that an agency that is well
managed is likely to have a higher probability of
success implementing either internal or outsourced
e-government solutions. The final group, Political
Variables, consists of the perceptions public servants
have regarding potential labour cuts, administrative
turnover, and changes in executive direction generated
by the development of e-government, together with the
impression they have of the desire of other political
actors to be associated with e-government projects,
the budgetary resources available, and the direction or
orientation of the project to long-term results.
Only when all these variables are present and sum
total of their interrelationships taken into account will
both organisational and institutional change occur in
permanence. In sum, because Information Technology
projects within the public sector result in new organisational forms that exploit new knowledge and give
rise to work alterations, there is obviously a chance for
institutional change to take place (Gasc, 2003). Like
all political interactions, the behaviour of actors related
to the design and uptake of e-government projects is

circumscribed by the organisations and institutions of


which they are a part, and by the range of actors itself
taken from the individuals and groups directly and indirectly involved with the process of governance. From
this discussion, two areas of study present themselves
as useful starting points for this article:

Actor Perceptions: Organisations and institutions both shape and are shaped by the use
of technology, which is in turn influenced by
changes in the perceptions of governmental
actors towards that technology. Understanding
actor preferences and opinions is thus key to
determining the disjoint between project design
and current ground realities, together with the
nature and direction of organisational reform
and institutional change.
Project Outcome: The design and implementation of a project must be carried out within
the constraints of the current organisational and
institutional set-up. In other words, the outcome
of a project depends on the interaction between
organisational and institutional realities and the
project design. In turn, project outcome has an
impact on the existing organisational and institutional frameworks.

Central to the study of e-government success and failure


is the degree of difference between the design of the
e-government project and the actuality of the current
situation. Heeks (2003) concluded that the major factor determining project outcome was the degree of
mismatch between the current realities of a situation
(where are we now) and the models, conceptions, and
assumptions built into a projects design (the where
the e-government project wants to get us). From this
perspective, e-government success and failure depends
largely on the size of this design-actuality gap: the
larger gap, the greater the risk of e-government failure,
the smaller the gap, the greater the chance of success
(Heeks, 2003).

In this context, the first step to assessing the extent


to which a given case study has succeeded or failed
is to first locate it within Heeks seminal three-fold
categorisation. By examining numerous case studies
related to ICTs and e-government failure in developing countries, Heeks (2002) identified three dominant
categories of reported outcome: total failure, partial
failure, and success. Though not theoretically exhaustive they do not, for instance take into account the
mutation of outcomes over time these categories
are nonetheless valuable and comprise the first step
of a framework within which the degree of difference
between stated aims and actual project realities might
be evaluated.

The first possible outcome is total failure,


where a project is either never implemented or
in which a new system is implemented but is
almost immediately abandoned.
A second possible outcome is the partial failure of an initiative, in which major goals are
unattained or where there are significant undesirable outcomes. There are dierent kinds
of partial failure. In straightforward, easily
identifiable cases, only a subset of initiallystated objectives are achieved. Where cases are
analysed longitudinally, another type of partial
failure can emerge: the sustainability failure
of an initiative that at first succeeds but is then
abandoned after a year or so. The most dicult
partial failures to identify are those that grapple
with the issue of subjectivity, where an evaluation needs to recognise that some outcomes,
whilst beneficial to some groups of actors, may
be detrimental to others.
Finally, one may see the success of an initiative, in which most actor groups attain their
major goals and do not experience significant
undesirable outcomes.

Conceptually, the Design-Actuality framework


may be nuanced through the introduction of two base
perspectives (Baqir et Al., 2009): Dimensional Gaps,
or the degree of mismatch in a situation along the axis
of dimension, where a dimension of Design might not
meet in equality a dimension of Actuality and vice
versa. In this respect, both the dimension of Design

Figure 1. The ITPOSMO dimensions of e-government project design-actuality gaps (Source: Heeks, 2003)

and that of Actuality may be further divided into and


measured according to key underlying elements or
sub-components.
The second perspective is that of Elemental Gaps,
or mismatches in dimensional sub-components that are
found more particularly where the separate elements of
each Design dimension along which a project is evaluated are not identically matched to the sub-components
of each Actuality dimension put forward. The concept of
dimensional elements may, therefore, be underlined, in
that it breaks down each axis of design and actuality into
measureable pieces. In consequence, an understanding
of the differences that may arise between the two base
axes and within the elements or subcomponents of both
Design and Actuality allows for a better, in-depth, and
more subtle comprehension of the top-level gaps that
might come about (Virkar, 2014).

Seven dimensions, summarised by the ITPOSMO


acronym and illustrated in Figure 1, have been further identified by Heeks (2006) as being necessary
and sufficient to provide the researcher with a base
understanding of design-actuality gaps. These are:
Information, Technology, Processes, Objectives and
Values, Staffing and Skills, Management Systems and
Structures, and Other Resources.
These conditions may be further classified into
three so-called archetypes of failure, situations when
a large design-actuality gap and, hence, failure is
more likely to emerge: Hard-Soft Gaps, Public-Private
Gaps, and Country Context Gaps (Dada, 2006).

Hard-soft gaps refer to the difference between the


actual, rational design of the technology (hard) and

the actuality of the social context people, culture,


politics, etc. within which the system operates (soft).
These sorts of gaps are commonly cited in examples of
e-government failure in developing countries, where
soft human issues that are not initially taken into
account whilst designing a project result in undesirable effects after implementation (Dada, 2006). Many
scholars, such as Stanforth (2006), see technology as
just one of a number of heterogeneous socio-technical
elements that must be considered and managed during the design and implementation of a successful
e-government project, whilst different sets of case
studies have revealed that numerous factors which allow individuals in developing countries to access ICTs
(and which depend on resources, skill-levels, values,
beliefs, and motivations, etc.) are often ignored (Madon,
2004). It may thus be inferred that a lack of training,
skills, and change management efforts would all affect
rates of failure, as it is these factors that would bridge
the gap between the technology itself and the context
within which it exits.
A major cause of project failure in developing
countries is a general lack of skills and training, which
are necessary for both government officials and citizens
to effectively use a system (Moon, 2002). This is a particularly significant problem in developing countries,
where there is often a chronic lack of qualified staff
and training schemes. According to Basu (2004):
there are insufficient numbers of people in developing
countries trained in appropriate technologies to do all
the work. Training opportunities are also straining to
meet needs. Widespread low rates of literacy make
this situation very difficult and costly to change,
exacerbating failure of projects in these countries
(Bhatnagar, 2004).
Jaeger and Thompson (2003) assert that an egovernment system would fail if the government did
not take an active role in educating citizens about the
value of e-government, a fact all the more pertinent
in developing countries where low levels of education
and skills amongst end-users and a lack of familiarity
with technology could result in systems not being used
to their full potential. Thus it may be inferred that the
rate of success or failure is likely to be influenced by
the ability of a population to access useful information
and services (Virkar, 2011).
The issue of change management also impacts the
hard-soft gap in developing countries, as e-government
projects result in the realignment of working practices

and government functions (Dada, 2006). As this article


will discuss later, the successful implementation of an
e-government project requires that the public sector
changes and re-engineers its internal processes to adapt
to the new technology and work culture. In situations
where corruption and rent-seeking is the norm, the
realignment of information flows and power structures
can be heavily resisted by actors with vested interests
(Peterson, 1998). Project design often does not take into
account the potential for resistance amongst government
employees, and project designers are consequently not
equipped with the tools necessary to counter it when
they come across it.
In their paper examining the impact of the Gyandoot Project on the rural population of Andhra Pradesh
(India), Ceccini and Raina (2004) state that in order
for e-government projects to succeed, it is imperative
that the service and information needs of the end-user
community are established, and that technology should
be developed in collaboration with local staff. Doing
this, they feel would create a sense of local ownership
and significantly decrease any hard-soft gap. They also
advocate greater participation in project implementation, from local administrators and other political
actors to the community at large through a sustained
campaign of local awareness (Ceccini & Raina, 2004).
Hard-soft gaps thus may be seen as the outcome
of interactions played out primarily at the level of the
project itself, between individuals and agencies involved
with the design and acceptance of the technology
(Virkar, 2011). For instance, decisions taken by senior
officials relating to issues of change management and
skill levels might be motivated by the desire of the top
brass to curtail and keep in check the power of their
junior employees and to maintain control over their
territories. Similarly a clash between powerful rivals
on a project planning committee could result in either
half-baked compromise decisions or strong decisions
that are not followed through, leading to chaos at the
implementation stage that has repercussions on more
junior staff.

The next archetype put forward by Heeks (2003) is that


of private-public gaps, which refers to the difference
between organisations in the private and public sectors,
and the mismatch that results when technology meant

for private organisations is used in the public sector


without being adapted to suit the role and aims of the
adopting public organisation. A common problem is
again the lack of highly skilled professionals in the
public sector, resulting primarily from uncompetitive
rates of pay in that sector as compared to the private
sector (Ciborra & Navarra, 2005). The design of egovernment projects is consequently outsourced to the
private sector, resulting in a clash of values, objectives,
culture, and large design-actuality gaps.
The gap between the public and private sector may
also be discussed in terms of management styles, values, and cultures; and the impact that these differences
have on system design (Ciborra, 2005). For instance,
private sector systems are designed to see recipients
of services as customers, while to governments they
are citizens. There are numerous problems associated
with viewing citizens as customers, not in the least
that customers by definition need markets to operate
in and have the ability to choose between alternative
products, both of which are necessarily difficult to find
in the public sector since public service providers are
usually monopolies. Further the private sector sees
customers as a means of making a profit and thus prices
its goods accordingly, and not always to the benefit of
all (Virkar, 2011).
On the other hand, government services are public
goods that every individual has a right to access, and
thus the government needs to set prices to ensure equal
access of services to everybody. In other cases, private
sector organisations with activist leanings may attempt
to impose their own value systems and goals on the design of a project, leading to a clash of priorities. Overall,
in adopting private sector values, governments would
often be required to make an enormous paradigm shift
and tailor their way of working accordingly, something
that developing country agencies often find difficult
to adjust to (Virkar, 2013).
Another private-public mismatch has to do with
project design in relation to funding. e-Government
projects in developing countries are usually driven by
government departments who rely either on public
funds or aid from donor agencies, money that usually
comes in as a block budgetary allocation that has to
be used by a particular date (Heeks, 2003). Projects
are thus often planned as one-off investments a very
private sector mind-set. However, this may result in
an all-or-nothing approach to systems development,
rather than a set of incremental improvements, to the

overall detriment of the project. Public-private gaps


often arise out of games played at the level of the
adopting government agency, generally between the
agency and its private sector counterparts, although it
is not uncommon to find interactions between public
and private individuals on project committees having
an impact on the outcome of a project as well.

The final archetype of failure defined by Heeks (2003)


is the country context gap, or the gap that arises when
a system designed for one country is transferred into
the reality of another. This is particularly true for systems transferred between developed and developing
countries, where designs for one may clash with the
actualities within the other. Country context gaps are
closely related to hard-soft gaps as they arise from,
amongst other things, differences in technological
infrastructure, skill sets, education levels, and working
cultures (Dada, 2006).
As discussed in previous sections, benefits to
be had from e-government in developed countries
include a reduction in processing costs and in the
time saved through the complete automation of work
and the processing of all transactions online. In order
that they be fully realised, both service providers and
end-users need to have the skills and savoir-faire to
use the technology to its full potential. On the other
hand, developing countries often lack the basic infrastructure physical and human needed to support
the wholesale computerisation of tasks and services,
and as a consequence those systems adopted in their
entirety from the developed world without taking into
account these factors have a high chance of failing.
Country-context gaps emerge chiefly as a result of
games played by national, provincial, and international
actors operating across borders. For instance, decisions
to adopt or promote a certain management style or value
system, to buy or sell a particular technology from a
particular organisation or country, or to collaborate
with particular government agencies in different parts
of the world, all stem from games of international trade,
aid, and diplomacy.

This article contributes further to the Design-Actuality


Gap Framework proposed in earlier sections through the
introduction of the dual concept of dimensional gaps and
of elemental gaps. The extended framework explains
with greater precision the gaps that arise between a
governments ICT policies and current on-the-ground
actualities, particularly when neither the design and
actuality dimensions of a situation nor the elements
of each dimension are the same, and allows for both
a better, in-depth evaluation of current circumstances
and a more comprehensive identification of the ways
in which the design process might be enhanced.
In this vein, the research on and the application of
the base theory of the proposed framework therefore
contributes significantly to the literature on ICT for development and on the positioning of ICTs in developing
countries, whilst its nuances enrich the literature canon
surrounding the mechanisms of policy evaluation,
especially through the development of a method that
assesses policy design success in terms of the degree
of difference between design objectives and citizens
realities. The key outcome of this research, therefore,
for both practitioners and policymakers is the fulfilment of the need for a thorough assessment tool that
encourages the involvement of citizens and business
representatives in the policy design process, in order
that design-actuality gaps may be either completely
avoided or so that their closure has a greater impact on
a countrys ICT growth and efficient usage.

Two major criticisms have been levelled against Heeks


model in the literature, which emerge from the discussion of the framework presented in this article. The first
is that it is much too simplistic: it is fairly obvious that
the larger the gap between a proposed system and the
realities on the ground as a consequence of differences
in factors relating to resources, culture, preconceptions,
and other rigidities; the more difficult it would be to
implement a new system successfully. The second criticism is that the classification is prone to subjectivity
in the expectations about the future and in perceptions
of reality, especially since some issues can be arguably
included into different categories.

In recognising these drawbacks, this author maintains that Heeks model forms an integral part of any
evaluation of e-government success or failure, as any
initial evaluation made using the basic model may be
nuanced and expanded upon (as has been done) by
exploring in greater detail the factors resulting in the
eventual outcome. Further, it is important to remember
that placing different reasons for failure into the various categories is not as important as understanding the
issues and the underlying factors themselves, thereby
being able to anticipate and deal with such problems
if they were to arise.
The model is particularly useful given the large
investments made by developing country governments
in e-government systems and the large opportunity
costs associated with implementation, as it encourages
project planners to take a focused, holistic view of
problem solving; making them consider concurrently
the technology at hand, the current circumstances, the
impact of actors motivations and actions, and possible
vested interests. It may be used both as a predictive
tool anticipating potential failings and heading them
off at the initial stages, as well as being used to diagnose problems during the execution of the project.
The framework is thus a means of evaluating outcome
and problem solving strategies at all stages during the
development of a project, and not just to examine what
went wrong in hindsight.

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Actor Perceptions: Include the preferences and


opinions of key institutional players that help determine the disjoint between project design and current
ground realities, together with the nature and direction
of organisational reform and institutional change.
Country Context Gap: Refers to the gap that arises
when a system designed in theory for one country is
transferred into the reality of another.
Design-Actuality Gap Model or Framework:
Is a framework for project evaluation which contends
that the major factor determining project outcome is
the degree of mismatch between the current ground
realities of a situation (where are we now), and the
models, conceptions, and assumptions built into a projects design (the where the project wants to get us).
Dimensional Gap: Refers to the top-level degree
of mismatch in a situation along the axis of dimension,
where a dimension of Design might not meet in equality
a dimension of Actuality and vice versa.
Elemental Gap: Refers to the mismatches in
dimensional sub-components that are found more particularly where the separate elements of each Design
dimension along which a project is evaluated are not
identically matched to the sub-components of each
Actuality dimension put forward.
Hard-Soft Gap: Refers to the difference between
the actual, rational design of a technology (hard) adopted within a project and the actuality of the social
context, namely people, culture, politics, etc., within
which the system operates (soft).
ITPOSMO Acronym: Summarises seven dimensions, as being necessary and sufficient to provide the
researcher with a base understanding of design-actuality
gaps. These are: Information, Technology, Processes,
Objectives and Values, Staffing and Skills, Management Systems and Structures, and Other Resources.

Managerial Variables: Are those institutional


variables relating to project management and other soft
variables of project design and implementation, which
include the efficiency and effectiveness of a supply
chain, the characteristics of an agencys culture, and
the capacity of an adopting agency to adapt to and to
manage change.
Partial Failure: Of an initiative is a situation in
which major goals are unattained or where there are
significant undesirable outcomes.
Political Variables: Are those soft institutional
variables relating to the perceptions and impressions
that public servants have regarding potential labour cuts,
administrative turnover, and changes in executive direction generated by the development of e-government.
Private-Public Gap: Refers to the mismatch that
results when technology meant for private organisations
is used in the public sector without being adapted to suit
the role and aims of the adopting public organisation.
Project Outcome: Or the sum total of the interaction between organisational and institutional realities
and the project design carried out within the constraints
of the current organisational and institutional set-up.
Success: Of an initiative is a situation in which
most actor groups attain their major goals and do not
experience significant undesirable outcomes.
Technological Variables: Are those institutional
variables relating to technology and other hard elements
of project design and implementation, which include the
ability of a user-population to access ICTs, the quality
of the user populations Internet use, the availability of
an internal technological infrastructure, and the provision of technical skills to the government workforce.
Total Failure: Of an initiative is a situation where
a project is either never implemented or in which a
new system is implemented but is almost immediately
abandoned.