Analysing eGovernment Research: Perspectives, Philosophies, Theories, Methods and Practice

Richard Heeks and Savita Bailur


In recent years, there has been rapid growth in the volume of research output on the topic of e-government.  To understand this research better, we used content analysis of 84 papers in e-government-specific research outlets (two journals and one conference series).  Our analytical focus took in five main aspects: perspectives on the impacts of e-government, research philosophy, use of theory, methodology and method, and practical recommendations.

Normative evaluation identified some positive features, such as recognition of contextual factors beyond technology, and a diversity of referent domains and ideas.  Alongside this, though, research draws mainly from a weak or confused positivism and is dominated by over-optimistic, a-theoretical work that has done little to accumulate either knowledge or practical guidance for e-government.  Worse, there is a lack of clarity and lack of rigour about research methods alongside poor treatment of generalisation.

We suggest ways of strengthening e-government research but also draw out some deeper issues, such as the role of research philosophy and theory, and the institutional factors - particularly pressures of competition and time - that may constrain development of e-government as a research field.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Describe the way in which past e-government research was selected and analysed. [part A]
  2. What are the different viewpoints on technology outcomes represented in e-government research? [part B]
  3. What are the different research paradigms/philosophies represented in e-government research? [part C]
  4. What are the different types of theory represented in e-government research? [part D]
  5. What are the different research methods represented in e-government research? [part E]
  6. What are the different types of recommendation represented in e-government research? [part F]
  7. What should be done to improve e-government research, and what constraints are there on implementing such improvements? [part G]

Development questions

  1. Are there other ways in which you could analyse past e-government research?
  2. What is your own/the class' viewpoint on technology outcomes and causes?  How might your viewpoint affect any research you do on e-government?
  3. Why do you think positivism explicitly or implicitly dominates so much e-government research?  Do other perspectives - such as social constructionism - have much to offer?
  4. Notwithstanding what is said in the paper, can theory really make any useful contribution to e-government?
  5. Is research method really an issue worth worrying about in relation to e-government?
  6. Why has there been such a growth of research publications about e-government?  Is this growth a good or bad thing?
  7. What do you/the class feel are the priority e-government topics to research over the next five years?