Most eGovernment-for-Development Projects Fail: How Can Risks be Reduced?

Richard Heeks


eGovernment can make a valuable contribution to development. However, at present, the majority of e-government-for-development projects fail either totally or partially. This paper explains the underlying cause of failure: the oversize gaps between project design and on-the-ground reality (known as 'design-reality gaps'). The dimensions of these gaps are identified, as are archetypal situations in which failure is likely to occur. The paper then provides a step-by-step guide to identifying and addressing failure risks for e-government projects. It concludes with a real-world case study of using the design-reality gap approach to reduce risks in an e-government project.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Do egovernment-for-development projects mainly succeed or fail? Is failure a problem? [part A]
  2. Why do egovernment-for-development projects fail? [part B]
  3. What can you do to reduce the risk of failure on egovernment-for-development projects? [part C]
  4. Explain the relative success of the Epidemiology Service project in design-reality gap terms. [part D]

Development questions

  1. Are egovernment-for-development projects more or less likely to fail in developing countries compared to industrialised countries? Explain your answer.
  2. Identify an online egovernment-for-development case study. Apply the design-reality gap model. Does the model help to explain the success or failure of this project?
  3. Is there just one design in an e-government project? Is there just one reality? What are the implications of your answers for the design-reality gap model?
  4. Identify other explanations for e-government information systems success and failure. How do they compare with the model presented in this paper?
  5. Identify other recommendations for increasing e-government project success rates or decreasing failure rates. How do they compare with the recommendations presented in this paper?
  6. If you are familiar with a public sector organisation, which, if any, of the part C recommendations would be feasible and desirable in that organisation?