Human Factors in Adoption of Geographic Information Systems: A Local Government Case Study

Article excerpt

How do perceptions, experience, attitudes, and communication behavior of local government employees affect the adoption of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology as an organizational innovation? Nedovic-Budic and Godschalk examine the largely unexplored of GIS diffusion inside local governments in terms of the impact of human factors, internal organizational context, external organizational environment, and GIS management activities. Using a multiple-case study off our agencies within a North Carolina county government, the authors find that GIS diffusion is a very complex process. They conclude that perceived relative advantage, previous computer experience, exposure to the technology, and networking are the most significant determinants of employee willingness to use new GIS technology, while organizational and GIS management factors strongly influence GIS diffusion. The research findings have important implications for devising strategies for effective incorporation of GIS and other information system technologies in public organizations.

Computerized geographic information systems (GIS) are increasingly used by public and private organizations as tools for storage, selective retrieval, and manipulation of spatial and nonspatial data. Local governments find GIS technology attractive for three major reasons: (1) spatially referenced data represent a large proportion (estimated at over 70 percent) of data processing in local government agencies (Somers, 1987), (2) information is considered a fundamental resource of government (Howard, 1985; Repo, 1989), and (3) pressure for improving government performance (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Gore, 1993) has prompted governments to look for more efficient ways of doing their work.

Availability of more affordable computer technology in the late 1980s coincided with the increased interest of local governments in GIS technology and its intensified diffusion. Difficulties in capturing the exact GIS adoption rate sometimes result in inconsistent approximations, ranging from 2 to 3 percent to over 30 percent.(1) In this article, we focus on the factors that influence GIS diffusion in local government agencies. We look at employee perception, experience, attitudes, and communication behavior as they affect the success of GIS implementation. Organizational and management factors are studied as important contextual elements in the diffusion process.

GIS Incorporation as Innovation Diffusion

Viewing the spread of GIS technology into local governments as a process of technological innovation, diffusion provides a systematic basis for analyzing adoption. Both scholars and local government decision makers need objective information on constraints and opportunities affecting GIS adoption. Diffusion of GIS technology can be observed at both macro and micro levels (Budic and Godschalk, 1994; Onsrud et al., 1993). Macro-level diffusion concerns local government decisions to acquire the technology (Juhl, 1989; Somers, 1991; Wiggins and French, 1991; Budic, 1993a). Micro-level diffusion happens within local governments when their agencies, organizational units, subunits, or individuals decide to implement the technology acquired by the parent government (Leonard-Barton, 1987). Corresponding to the two diffusion levels are the initiation and implementation phases of GIS diffusion (Zaltman, Duncan, and Holbeck, 1973; Rogers, 1983; Onsrud and Pinto, 1993). During the initiation phase, organizations become aware of an innovation (i.e., GIS technology), evaluate it, and decide about acquisition. Implementation encompasses installing the technology, developing a database, and using and maintaining the system. Acquisition of GIS technology is defined as the successful outcome of GIS initiation, while adoption of GIS technology is defined as the successful outcome of GIS implementation. Both GIS initiation and GIS implementation efforts may result in rejection of the technology. …