Human Factors in Adoption of Geographic Information Systems: A Local Government Case Study
Nedovic-Budic, Zorica, Godschalk, David R., Public Administration Review
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.
Among many possible adopters of GIS technology (organizations, organizational units, organizational subunits, and individuals), individual users are considered the ultimate and most important adopters. Both systematic research and anecdotal evidence point to a high significance of human factors for successful development of computerized information systems. Garson's extensive literature review concludes that "computer systems problems are traceable primarily to human factors" and that "information systems failures are rarely merely of a technical nature" (1993; 515). Similarly, researchers in the GIS field find that obstacles to implementation are mainly nontechnical (Campbell and Masser, 1991; Croswell, 1991; Budic, 1993b). Niemann and Niemann (1994), in their report on some two decades of GIS use in the Termessee Valley Authority (TVA), highlight a system designer's and manager's conclusion that "the organizational, political, and human aspects of implementing GIS are far more difficult than the technical aspects" (p. 50).
After GIS technology is acquired by an organization, decisions on its use are made by or for each employee individually. Employees may either volunteer or be assigned to work with GIS. Within an organization employing GIS, there are different types of GIS users: direct users (hands-on daily GIS users), indirect users (rely on GIS output produced by other employees), and nonusers (do not employ GIS in their work). Depending on the tasks performed by the staff, the level of GIS use ranges from simple data conversion and mapping to data analysis, synthesis, modeling, or integration with other systems or technologies. Individual adoption is a function of the type, level, and intensity (frequency) of utilization of the technology by staff members for organizational purposes.
Although an outsider would see an agency rather than individual employees applying the technology, we maintain that organizational adoption of GIS is a cumulative reflection of the relationships established between the employees and the technology. Moore (1993) agrees that diffusion of innovations occurs through the collective, yet individually based decisions of individual level adopters" (p. 80). We define organizational adoption as use of the technology for performing organizational tasks, that is, its internalization into organizational processes and functions.
Our research focuses on the factors influencing diffusion of GIS technology toward individual users, that is, their personal decisions to adopt or reject the technology. Better knowledge about GIS diffusion and about relevant factors that contribute to successful implementation will enable the design of more effective strategies for incorporating GIS and other information systems into local governments. Effective adoption of GIS by the end-users (and, consequently, by their agencies) is an important goal of GIS implementation for two main reasons:
1. GIS technology promises benefits not only in increasing efficiency but also in improving policy design, decision making, communication, and dissemination of information (Somers, 1987; Rogers and Anderson, 1993a, 1993b; Brown and Brudney, 1993).
2. GIS acquisition and implementation entail large investments of public funds (Lang, 1990; Newcombe, 1993; Dataquest, Inc., 1994).(2)
A Human-Factors Conceptual Framework
This research focuses on the following eight human factors that have been considered as significant in previous research on diffusion of computerized information systems and GIS technology
1. perceived relative advantage of the innovation,
2. personal values and beliefs about computerized technology,
3. computer experience,
4. perceived complexity of the innovation,
5. exposure to the innovation,
6. computer/GIS-related anxiety,
7. attitude toward work-related change, and
8. communication behavior (networking).
All eight factors are rooted in the subjective realm of individual perceptions, experience, attitudes, and communication behavior. They are the basis for individual acceptance or rejection of new technology, they influence decisions about the actual use of GIS. The first five human-factor variables are the attributes of an innovation (GIS technology) defined through individual perceptions and experience with those attributes (Rogers, 1983). The sixth and the seventh variables, computer/GIS-related anxiety and attitude toward work-related change, represent personal characteristics of organizational members (current GIS users, prospective users of GIS technology, or members that are in the position to make GIS-related decisions). The eighth variable, networking, regards interpersonal contacts as an important source of information that can affect the level of individual involvement with the technology. Taken together, these personal characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors are considered important elements of the adopters' "innovativeness," that is, their willingness to adopt GIS technology (Rogers, 1983).
Our research tested propositions related to the eight human factors listed. The propositions about each factor's expected impact on the likelihood of becoming a GIS user were derived from theory and previous research on diffusion of innovations and management of information systems. Hypothesized relationships between the eight human factors and individual adoption of GIS technology are given in Table 1 along with the sources on which the hypotheses were based.
Table 1 Human Factors Determining Individual Decisions about Adopting GIS Technology and Corresponding Theoretical Propositions and Their Sources
Factor 1: Perceived Relative Advantage Proposition: If the relative advantage of using GIS technology over the procedure or system it replaces is small, even though benefits to the overall organization might be great, the intended users of GIS technology will not adopt it (Downs and Mohr, 1979, Zaltman et al, 1973 Rogers, 1983; Leonard-Barton, 1987; Rivard, 1987). Factor 2. Compatability with Personal Values and Beliefs Proposition: If implementation of GIS technology is inconsistent with potential adopters' values and beliefs about computerized technology, the intended users of GIS technology will not adopt it (Zaltman et al., 1973; Rogers, 1983; Danziger and Kraemer, 1986, Rivard, 1987 Igbaria and Nachman, 1990). Factor 3. Compatability with Computer Experience Proposition: If implementation of GIS technology is inconsistent with potential adopters' past experience with computerized technology, the intended users of GIS technology will not adopt it (Zaltman et al., 1973; Ives et al., 1983; Rogers, 1983; Danziger and Kraemer, 1986; Leonard-Barton, 1987; Carey, 1988; French and Wiggins, 1989; Igbaria and Nachman, 1990). Factor 4 Perceived Complexity of GIS Technology Proposition If the perceived complexity of using GIS technology over the procedures or system it replaces is great, even though advantages to individuals, groups, or the organization as a whole may be substantial, the intended users of GIS technology will not adopt it (Zaltman et al., 1973; Ives et al., 1983; Rogers, 1983; Danziger and Kraemer, 1986; Leonard-Barton, 1987; Raymond, 1987; Rivard, 1987; Baroudi and Orlikowski, 1988; Croswell, 1991). Factor 5 Exposure to GIS Technology Proposition If prior to making substantial commitment of their time and resources, opportunities to try out and experiment with GIS technology in their organizational setting and to view operational applications of the technology in similar organizational settings are low the intended users of GIS technology will not adopt it (Ives et al., 1983; Rogers, 1983; Raymond, 1987; Baroudi and Orlikowski 1988; Carey, 1988). Factor 6 Computer/GIS-Related Anxiety Proposition: If the intended users of GIS technology are anxious when confronted with GIS technology and computers in general, they will delay the adoption of the technology (Raub, 1981; Danziger and Kraemer, 1986; Peterson and Peterson, 1988; Igbaria and Nachman, 1990). Factor 7. Attitude …
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Publication information: Article title: Human Factors in Adoption of Geographic Information Systems: A Local Government Case Study. Contributors: Nedovic-Budic, Zorica - Author, Godschalk, David R. - Author. Journal title: Public Administration Review. Volume: 56. Issue: 6 Publication date: November-December 1996. Page number: 554+. © 1994 American Society for Public Administration. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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