Actor-Network Theory: A Bureaucratic View of Public Service Innovation

Actor-Network Theory: A Bureaucratic View of Public Service Innovation

Noel Carroll (University of Limerick, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6126-4.ch007
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Public sector institutions continue to significantly invest in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a solution for many of their service provision challenges, for example, greater efficiency and quality of services. However, what has come to light is that there is a lack of research on understanding the contributory value or “success” of technological innovations. This chapter introduces a socio-technical view of public service innovation. The aim of this research is to extend on the notion of bureaucracy, which is traditionally focused on the politics of office environments. This socio-technical view extends this traditional view to include the politics of service networks, particularly within IT-enabled public service innovation. The chapter focuses on how service innovation is exploited to align specific interests through the process of translation and shifts the focus from value co-creation to value co-enactment. In essence, this chapter explains how public service technological innovations act as an agent of bureaucracy that alters the relational dynamics of power, risk, responsibility, and accountability. For demonstrative purposes, this chapter describes a case study that examines IT-enabled service innovation with an academic service environment.
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1. Introduction

Service comprise of socio-technical (human and technological) factors which exchange various resources and competencies. Service network environments remain one of the most significant, yet ‘invisible’ infrastructures within the modern business era (Carroll et al., 2010). Service networks become increasingly complex when technology is implemented to execute specific service processes. This ultimately adds to the complexity of a service environment, making it one of the most difficult environments to examine and manage. In addition, although the emerging paradigm of ‘Service Science’ calls for more theoretical focus on understanding complex service systems, few efforts have surfaced which apply a new theoretical lens on understanding the underlying trajectories of socio-technical dynamics within a service system (Spohrer et al. 2007). Often, researchers are tasked with defending a particular theory to focus their research, but as Walsham (1997; p. 478) suggests:

There is not, and never will be, a best theory. Theory is our chronologically inadequate attempt to come to terms with the infinite complexity of the real world. Our quest should be for improved theory, not best theory, and for theory that is relevant to the issues of our time.

While it may seem contradictory after reading Walsham's quote, this chapter sets out to advance theoretical developments to extend our understanding of the traditional view of bureaucracy to include the politics of service networks, particularly within IT-enables public service innovation. To achieve this, the chapter proposes the need to examine the socio-technical impact of technology on public service network dynamics. This empirical research explores an academic service network, with particular attention paid towards a critical end-to end exam grading process. A single case study (Yin, 2009) is employed to examine the introduction of a Web-based system on a traditionally bureaucratic public service system and its transformation from a paper-based system to an automated system. The research adopts actor-network theory (ANT) as a research lens. ANT offers a rich vocabulary to describe the interplay of socio-technical dynamics which influence the service system reconfiguration. Thus, this chapter also offers a discussion on how ANT may be employed to examine the complexity of service systems and service innovation and builds on the efforts of Carroll et al. (2012). More specifically, this chapter examines the ‘translation’ process of IT-enabled public service network innovation. In essence, it explains how public service technological innovations commands control over public sector behaviour and therefore acts as an agent of bureaucracy which alters the relational dynamics of power, risk, responsibility, and accountability. The descriptions resulting from ANT assists us to uncover the difficulties of service innovation diffusion by various actors and structural forces. This highlights the importance of ‘translation’ in service provision. This chapter argues that the concept of service co-enactment replaces co-creation within public sector networks since interaction is inscribed and governed through service regulation.


2. Society And Technology

There have been numerous conceptualisations of the relationship which exists between technology and society and many studies highlight the important factor in which information technology (IT) plays to enable and increase the transformations of organisations (Orlikowski, 1991; Demirkan et al. 2008). However, it is difficult for Service Science practitioners to accept a presumptuous attitude towards the promise of technology, and suggest that these assumptions regarding the affordance of technology are becoming a cliché (for example, Demirkan et al. 2008).

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