Analysing eGovernment Implementation in Developing Countries Using Actor-Network Theory

Carolyne Stanforth


This paper addresses the value of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in supporting the "good governance" agenda of public sector reform programmes in developing countries. Within the overall spectrum of reform, there has been particular interest in improving the accountability and transparency of public finance.

The paper presents actor-network theory (ANT), based particularly on Law and Callon's work, as a framework for understanding e-government for public finance reform. It applies this theory to a longitudinal study of public expenditure management information systems in Sri Lanka. Alongside specific findings about the global and local networks that have shaped this set of e-government applications, the paper also reflects on the value, applicability and operationalisation of actor-network theory in development informatics research.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Explain the link between good governance and ICTs in the area of fiscal reform.  [part A]
  2. Summarise the key ideas within Actor-Network Theory.  [part B]
  3. Summarise the history of public expenditure management information systems in Sri Lanka from an actor-network perspective.  [part C]
  4. What criticisms can be made of ANT as a theoretical framework for understanding e-government?  [part D]

Development questions

  1. Can good governance policy prescriptions be universal? Are the terms "accountability" and transparency" culturally-specific?
  2. If a successful e-government project is delivered on time and within budget meeting the technical needs of a core group of users, does it matter that the wider informational needs (e.g. of civil society) are not being considered?
  3. Is investment in e-government programmes in developing countries an inappropriate use of the loan funds available to the international financing institutions (IFIs)?
  4. Analyse the power politics at play in the Sri Lankan case study.  What power did the IFI have in ensuring its investment was being used as intended?  What measures could the IFI have taken to ensure its objectives relating to improved governance were being met?
  5. Analyse the role of the technology in the networks formed during the implementation of the Sri Lankan public expenditure management information systems.  Was the software an active or a passive participant?
  6. What difference would having a senior Programme Director in place throughout the implementation period have made to the success of this e-government programme?  Should he/she also be involved in the design phase?
  7. How does a socio-technical theory, such as Actor-Network Theory (ANT) provide a different perspective that is useful in the analysis of an e-government programme?
  8. Identify another longitudinal e-government case study and apply Law and Callon's network analysis of technical change model.  Does the model help to explain the success or failure of this project?