Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Exploring the Dialectics Underlying Institutionalization of IT Artifacts

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Exploring the Dialectics Underlying Institutionalization of IT Artifacts

Article excerpt


Researchers generally agree information communication technology (ICT) has a beneficial role in development (e.g., Donner, 2009; Heeks, 2008; Sein & Harindranath, 2004; World Bank, 2012). Heeks (2008) defines ICT for development (ICT4D) as harnessing digital technologies in the service of the world's most challenging development problems. However, senior scholars have identified a high failure rate of ICT4D projects and an enduring "techno-centric" approach that indicates the positive relation between the widespread investment in ICT and economic growth (Avgerou, 2008; Dodson, Sterling, & Bennett, 2012; Fonseca 2010). Literature over the last two decades has emphasized the importance of social and cultural dimensions in enrolling IT artifacts1 in organizations. Walsham and Sahay (1999) provide one example, which details the problematic implementation of geographical information systems (IS) in India due to the lack of congruence between Western embedded values (e.g., the use of maps) and local understanding. This and other research (e.g., Miscione 2007; Puri & Sahay, 2007) presents ICT4D as problematic and contested and casts doubt on the "techno-centric" deterministic premise that the introduction of ICT will lead inevitably to development.

In recent years a stream of contexualist research has emerged both in mainstream IS (Nielsen, Mathiassen, & Newell, 2014) and ICT4D (Avgerou, 2010; Noir & Walsham, 2007; Rajäo & Hayes, 2009) that applies new institutional theory to understand institutionalization2. However, with the exception of Rajäo and Hayes (2009), few studies have identified the importance of a dialectical lens to understand the role of historically embedded institutions, conflict, and contestation in ICT adoption in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

These foundational elements serve as the main motivating force for our paper: we propose a framework based on an institutional and dialectical approach to ICT4D. We draw on Seo and Creed's (2002) dialectical perspective on institutional change to empirically examine the emergence of contradictions that ICT and historically embedded institutions present. By adopting this approach, we can analyze in detail the sources of contradictions and praxis that, when considered together, explain change or persistence.

We conducted an interpretive case study (Walsham, 1995, 2006) of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in the informal sector that the Mexican Government targeted as part of the millennium development goals (MDG). We analyze how the interplay of the political and technical aspects of IT artifacts shape institutionalization and how understanding this interplay provides rich insight into the dynamics of ICT4D in the context of the informal sector in an LMIC.

We posit two research questions:

RQ1: How does the institutionalization of IT artifacts create contradictions in and between institutions?

RQ2: How, through praxis, are these contradictions resolved?

With this paper, we contribute a novel theoretical framework that allows researchers to examine the dynamics of the institutionalization of IT artifacts and involves the three-stage process of contradiction, praxis, and outcome. We also challenge techno-centric and deterministic assumptions of the institutionalization of IT artifacts and instead offer a complex explanation based on contestation. Finally, we bridge the ICT4D and mainstream IS domains by contributing reverse innovation with the lessons abstracted from the case analysis to offer insights into institutionalization relevant to wider IS research.

The paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we outline the paper's theoretical background. In Section 3, we describe the research design and methodology. In Section 4, we apply the theoretical framework that we developed to examine the case through three vignettes. Specifically, we examine 1) the potential use of mobile phones to improve efficiency in the ordering process, 2) the outcome when an MSE attempted to develop an Internet-based ordering system, and 3) institutions related to the business utility of using email, digital catalogs, and websites. …

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