Steering e-Government Projects from Failure to Success: Using Design-Reality Gap Analysis as a Mid-Implementation Assessment Tool

Lemma Lessa, Solomon Negash, Mesfin Belachew


There are many e-government failures in developing countries. Most studies look at these after the event (post hoc) but we wanted to take an original approach to look mid-implementation (durante hoc) in order to provide recommendations for improvement. We chose a partial failure / partial success land management information system being implemented in one Ethiopian city. The project has made retrieval of land information quicker and simpler but is only partly implemented, and is still – on occasion – circumvented by public servants for personal gain.

To understand why the project had partly failed in some ways, we used the design-reality gap framework, which analysed the shortfall between design expectations and implementation realities. Drawing data from four stakeholder groups, our analysis showed more-serious gaps around management systems and structures, staffing, and stakeholder objectives and values; and less-serious gaps around some of the e-government system components.

We used the design-reality gap analysis to propose an action plan that would help institutionalise the system, steering it from partial failure to success. We therefore demonstrate the value of the design-reality gap framework as a tool for mid-implementation analysis of e-government projects. It provides a clear understanding of past progress – both success and failure factors – and clear guidance for future action. We therefore recommend its usage on other ongoing e-government projects in developing countries.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. How big a problem is e-government project failure, and why does it happen?  [Part A]
  2. What is the case study e-government system?  [Part B]
  3. What is the design-reality gap model, and how was data gathered to feed into the model?  [Part C]
  4. Where were the main gaps between design and reality, and what should be done to address them?  [Parts D & E]
  5. What were the critical success factors underlying this project?  [Part F]

Development questions

  1. From your own experience, or evidence you can gather from literature: is e-government failure as much of a problem as portrayed in the paper?
  2. Why do you think most e-government project analysis is done after completion (post hoc) rather than mid-implementation (durante hoc)?
  3. What other tools could be used to analyse an e-government project mid-implementation?
  4. How and when would you use the design-reality gap framework if you were managing an e-government project?