Analysing e-Government Project Failure: Comparing Factoral, Systems and Interpretive Approaches

Carolyne Stanforth


It is a well-known secret in the computer industry that information systems projects are more likely to fail than not. Academic studies by e-government researchers provide the analytical findings that confirm this practitioner insight. Failure and success are subjective assessments that vary over time and with the standpoint of those making the judgement. Evaluation results are often contested, with the dispute based on political, legal or contractual matters – and even differing academic points of view.

This short paper reviews the three main categories of diagnostic approach being used in the study of failed e-government projects – factoral analyses, systems approaches and interpretive studies. It shows that each category derives from a separate academic discipline, is based on differing theoretical constructs and entails a particular epistemological stance and research methodology. The story is told of the author's own experience in deciding on an appropriate research strategy for the study of a failed e-government project in Sri Lanka. Practical conclusions and recommendations are drawn to guide future research.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Explain why it is important to analyse e-government project failure.  [Part A].
  2. Summarise the content and criticisms of the three main categories of diagnostic approach: factoral, systems and interpretive.  [Part B].
  3. What are some of the main differences between the three main categories of diagnostic approach: factoral, systems and interpretive?  [Part C].
  4. Which of the diagnostic approaches did the author apply to her e-government research project, and why?  [Part D].
  5. Why is it valuable to have a theorised approach to understanding e-government failure?  [Part E].

Development questions

  1. Is there an absolute measure of success / failure? What is the difference between e-government project failure and the failure of other government infrastructure investment projects?
  2. With the high failure rates associated with information systems projects, is investment in e-government an inappropriate use of the loan funds available to the international financing institutions?
  3. How do we 'learn from failure' on e-government projects? What are the potential feedback loops?
  4. How does an interpretive socio-technical theory provide a different perspective that is useful in the analysis of an e-government project?
  5. What approach would you use if analysing a case of e-government failure?
  6. Review two or more other cases of e-government project failure and the types of diagnostic approach adopted.  How did the author's conceptual taxonomy assist you in identifying and comparing the differences in the researchers' academic points of view?