Exploring the Role of Participation in Government Employees' Adoption of IT: A Qualitative Study of Employees' Participation in the Introduction of the E-File in Germany

Exploring the Role of Participation in Government Employees' Adoption of IT: A Qualitative Study of Employees' Participation in the Introduction of the E-File in Germany

Mariem Ben Rehouma (University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/IJPADA.2020010103


Employee participation in IT projects is considered to be a critical IT adoption factor in the public sector. However, research into the impact of participation on government employee adoption of IT is very limited. Therefore, this study investigates the role of participation in government employee adoption of IT. A qualitative research study was carried out and project managers were interviewed. Additionally, employees who participated in the introduction of the e-file in Germany were also interviewed. The findings reveal that information and communication, training and support, and active participation in project groups, the formal participation of the staff council and the exchange of experiences between governmental agencies all have a potential positive impact on government employee adoption of IT. However, managers have key positions in this context. Furthermore, barriers to participation, such as the lack of resources as well as a lack of willingness and qualifications, are also discussed.
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The public sector worldwide is increasingly confronted with digitalisation projects. The success of information technology (IT) projects in the public sector depends strongly on the adoption of this technology, not only on the customers’ site, but also within the public sector (Capgemini et al, 2010). The low usage by end-users is still one of the major expansion barriers to e-government projects. In particular, maladapted staff threaten the chances of IT projects becoming successful (Weerakkody, 2012). The introduction of the electronic file, or “e-file” (also known as the electronic document management system EDMS), is one of the most critical intergovernmental IT projects worldwide and can be interpreted as “electronic- the use of modern information technologie; document- a set of information pertaining to a topic, structured for human comprehensation, represented by a variety of symbols, stored an handeled as a unit; and management, retrieval, manipulation, update, and eventual dispotion of documents to fulfill an organizational purpose” (Abdulkadhim, Bahari, Bakri, & Ismail, 2015, p. 422). It deals with the the creation, capturing, modification, storage, archiving and the transfer of electronic documents and should help governments increasing the effeciency of their internal processes on the one hand and supporting the external communication processes with citizens on the other hand (Kunis, Rünger, & Schwind, 2007). German government agencies are legally required to implement the e-file and to achieve a paperless state at all three administrative levels. The implementation of such inter-jurisdictional e-government projects presents a big challenge for many countries (Abdulkadhim, Bahari, Bakri, & Ismail, 2015). The scope of such projects make them uniquely challenging not only in terms of the technical, fiscal, and political dimensions, but especially mangerial and human challenges hinder the implementation of such systems ((Al-Hashimi, Shakir, Hammood, & Eldow, 2017; Distel, 2016). Staff and leadership resistance to change is one of the main factors affecting the implementation of the e-file in the public sector worldwide (Abdulkadhim et al., 2015). According to (Distel, 2016) the success of the implementation of e-file in Germany depends to a large extent on the usage behavior of the administrative staff. Studies on the e-file adoption in the public sector were focusing upon technological factors such as the perceived usefulness and ease of use of the system (e.g. (Hung, Tang, Chang, & Ke, 2009)) and the efficiency of the used tool from an implementation perspective (e.g. (Ejlertsson, Gustafsson, Hagman, Hellgren, & Ullman, 2011)). Several studies have advocated for employees’ participation in the IT introduction process in the public sector and view it as a critical adoption factor in this sector (e.g. (Nurdin, Rosemary, & Scheepers, 2010; O’Brien, 2002)). However, most of these studies have focused on the broader, strategic view of participation as a new public management approach to achieve change in organizations (O’Brien, 2002) and to meet strategic e-services goals (Karlsson, Holgersson, Söderström, & Hedström, 2012). Employees who participate in the change process in an organization are more likely to support this change and continue to use the system that has been introduced (James Roughton, 2015). This is a familiar pattern in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research, especially in participatory design. Participation as an acceptance strategy can replace the conventional top-down approach used for the IT implementation process in the public sector (O’Brien, 2002). In practice, however, employees’ participation in IT projects in the public sector is a poorly used tool (Ben Rehouma, 2018). The authors of (Holgersson, Melin, Lindgren, & Axelsson, 2018) encourage researchers and practitioners to consider research questions such as: How should users participate in IT projects in the public sector? What should be achieved with user participation? To fill this gap, we address the following research question: “How does government employees’ participation impact their adoption of IT?” We aim with this study to advance the research field in this area by investigating the role of government employees’ participation in IT projects in their use of this technology. In order to achieve this goal, we conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews of 11 government employees who were involved in the introduction of the e-file to German government agencies.

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