Issues and Recommendations for Community-Based ICT Implemantation in the Social Sector

Issues and Recommendations for Community-Based ICT Implemantation in the Social Sector

Oscar Gutierrez (DeVry University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5974-2.ch007


Complex Information and Communication Technology (ICT) applications dedicated to support the provision of community-based services can rarely be implemented by single social services agencies. Technical and funding requirements make it almost prohibitive for such agencies to undertake them in isolation. Furthermore, in the social sector the degree of service interdependence within a community makes it almost necessary that such complex systems be implemented in collaboration as a community-based initiative. But implementations in this context are filled with challenges not normally found in single institutional ICT projects, making community-based ICT initiatives paradoxical and difficult to manage only with conventional project management techniques. This chapter compares ICT management in various sectors. Using the case of Homeless Management Information Systems in the United States, the chapter presents some complexities involved. It then presents a model for understanding the contrasting opposing forces at play in the social sector and offers implementation management recommendations to increase the likelihood of their success.
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Social sector Information Technology projects offer unique challenges to achieving successful implementation. Other than the implementation of basic communications and productivity tools, broader information systems applications in social services agencies tend to be tied to multi-institutional, community-based projects and are subject to many funding and collaborative uncertainties. It is for such type of conditions that ICT implementation management in this context offers challenges that cannot be effectively addressed with approaches that are commonly used in other sectors of the economy.

All management information systems require measures of implementation success through such criteria as information and systems quality, perceived usefulness, user satisfaction (Masoner, Lang & Melcher, 2011), derived benefits from the system and the system’s impact on the user’s job (Guimaraes, Staples & Mckeen, 2007). In some contexts systems implementation that leads to these measures can be tightly controlled and single-handedly managed, allowing for stringent and purely objective implementation management actions. Other systems however, operate in politically charged, dynamic and turbulent environments, which make it almost inappropriate to follow a purely deterministic approach because these types of systems are driven by broad social or public policy criteria that almost invariably present conflicting perspectives from diverse stakeholders. In such contexts, Hodgett and Deneulin (2009) explain that implementation techniques involving sense making, explanation and documentation, a hermeneutical approach, may prove equally or more useful than empiricism which is driven by hard, objective facts. In the nonprofit sector, many social services agencies, -the type of nonprofits addressed in this chapter-, deploy ICT solutions that can be referred as human services information systems (HSIS). These typically operate in very complex and turbulent environments and the methods for managing their implementation must be consistent with the context in which they operate.

Information systems implementation management in social services agencies could be interpreted as a mechanism for documenting progress when things are not going well; or as a method for determining where the problems are and for assisting in identifying areas of deficiency, where corrective action should be taken. This interpretation of implementation management is the normal tendency here since no one would engage in it if everything was fine. Furthermore, it is known that in these types of implementations, progress is seldom linear and orderly, and that things are not always fine (Šabić & Zaimović, 2012; Montealegre & Keil, 2000). In fact, more often than not, implementers spend considerable amounts of time and energy in actions and activities that fall outside the formal system implementation plan (Lapointe & Rivard, 2007). One should always ask: why is it this way?

Here, the notion of implementation management makes use of specific recommendations for multi-institutional projects that, if put into practice, may increase the likelihood of implementation success. Also this notion is used to explain and communicate the more difficult dilemmas and contradictions that those involved in the day-to-day implementation of the system confront. Therefore, the issues covered in this chapter offer a tool that empowers a community of committed stakeholders to engage in a more rational discourse over what may sometimes appear irrational.

The challenges facing implementers will vary, depending on the stage each specific community is with respect to ICT experience. While communities new to ICT implementation will spend considerable amount of time focusing on resolving policy, technical and procedural uncertainties, experienced communities will confront different challenges. They must focus their energy on effectively developing and strengthening their internal and external partnerships, on finding adequate sources of support and information and on managing a targeted implementation agenda.

This document aims to provide a strategy for those community-based initiatives to address these new types of challenges. It assumes re-thinking and realigning a comprehensive implementation model into a focused and tightly controlled initiative which is fundamentally based on trust. Where the parties directly involved in the project have key representative roles.

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