Academic journal article URISA Journal

Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) and E-Governance: A Quest for Appropriate Evaluation Approaches

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) and E-Governance: A Quest for Appropriate Evaluation Approaches

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Oxford English Dictionary defines evaluation as "the action of evaluating or determining the value of something or somebody, or the action of estimating the force of probabilities, evidence." Evaluation is a natural activity for human beings. Most people are inclined to consider carefully before deciding on a course of action, and often individuals and organizations need to demonstrate that decisions made were rational.

Evaluation is endemic to human existence. Whether consciously or not, people evaluate the products and processes of their labour. Food, drink, appearance, social interactions etc. are constantly being evaluated by someone or something. ... Evaluation is undertaken as a matter of course in the attempt to gauge how well something meets a particular expectation, objective or need. People, it seems, have an insatiable appetite or curiosity for such things.... Evaluation is apparently an important and intrinsic property of the process of understanding, which in turn is a prerequisite for, or a prelude to, a carefully considered action. (Hirschheim and Smithson 1999, 381)

The growth of information system (IS) evaluation research comes as no surprise. In commercial organizations, the sheer size of information technology (IT) investment and management's expectation for the highest possible future gains account for the unabated interest in IS/IT evaluation (e.g., Willcocks and Lester 1999). Specialized academic journals have provided a forum for academics and practitioners to debate evaluation theories, methods, and data relevance. Despite decades of attention to IS/IT evaluation, however, evaluation research seems unable to achieve a soft landing (Berghout and Remenyi 2005).

Public-sector organizations face similar concerns. E-government and e-governance initiatives require extensive IS/IT investments to make the full range of government activities available electronically. Investments in information technology for government in most industrialized nations are estimated to be greater than 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (Petricek et al. 2006). However, attempts by either international organizations (e.g., OECD 2003) or by private-sector consultancies (e.g., Accenture 2003, 2004) to assess e-government internationally are considered methodologically questionable and too narrowly focused on government electronic services (Petricek et al. 2006). Bannister (2004) refers to evaluations by international organizations as "beauty contests" of countries trying to measure how they are doing against the competition with the result that what gets scored is what can be easily measured, or even measured at all.

Evaluation research has also received considerable attention in the geographic information community (Clapp et al. 1989; Didier 1990; Johnson 1995; Krek and Frank 2000; Krek 2000; Lopez 1998, 1997; Nedovic-Budic 1998; Rodriguez et al. 2002). With the reconceptualization of interorganizational GIS as spatial data infrastructures (SDI) in the 1990s, the complexity of the object of evaluation, SDI, increased substantially. SDIs have emerged as a significant area of development with geographic information underpinning wider government strategies and initiatives such as e-governance. SDI evaluation approaches have matured with a steady increase in research instruments, from questionnaires to case studies to the use of theoretical grounding (e.g., Craglia and Johnston 2004; Crompvoets et al. 2004; Delgado et al. 2005; Hyman et al. 2001; Masser 2000, 1999; Onsrud 1998; Pavlova et al. 2002; Rodriguez 2005; Steudler 2003). However, there is still considerable concern related to the difficulty with identifying and measuring benefits, and the increasing complexity as we move from a SDI data-centric to a service-centric point of view (JRC 2006, Grus et al. 2006). Furthermore, with SDI now broadly understood as the geo-IT realm of e-governance, we contend that a shift to a governance-centric SDI evaluation is warranted. …

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