Information Systems and Public Sector Accountability

Richard Heeks


Increased accountability is a key component of public sector reform. This paper investigates the relationship between accountability and both information technology and information systems. It concludes that IT has had a very mixed impact, supporting accountability in some cases, but also skewing or undermining it in others. Information systems - computerised or not - are an essential part of public sector accountability. However, new IS have a flexible impact, with accountability outcomes being determined mainly by management decisions and by wider organisational and environmental factors. As such, the broader context must be conducive to accountability before accountability IS initiatives will work.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What is public sector reform and why does it happen? [part 1]
  2. What is accountability in a public sector context? [part 2]
  3. What impact do information and information technology have on accountability in the public sector? [part 3]
  4. What determines the impact of information technology on accountability: the technology itself or something else? [part 4]

Development questions

  1. Why do we seek greater accountability of public servants?
  2. What needs to be done to increase accountability in the public sector? Does IT have a role to play? If you are familiar with a particular public sector organisation, relate your answer to this organisation.
  3. IS IT causing more harm than good in the public sector?