Information Technology Acceptance in the Social Services Sector Context: An Exploration

By Zhang, Wei; Gutierrez, Oscar | Social Work, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Information Technology Acceptance in the Social Services Sector Context: An Exploration


Zhang, Wei, Gutierrez, Oscar, Social Work


More than three decades of research on information technology (IT) acceptance has made this field one of the most established research areas in management information systems (Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, & Davis, 2003). However, little has been done to understand IT acceptance in the social services sector, where nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations provide social and human services to "improve the conditions of disadvantaged people in society" (WordNet 2.0, 2005). Such organizations drive their operations and services on an overwhelming commitment to serve vulnerable populations, to protect their clients' integrity and privacy, and to improve the scarce resources within which current services are provided (Gutierrez & Friedman, 2005). In this way, organizations in the social services sector differ from other nonprofits, such as museums, private universities, and environmental organizations.

Today the social services sector substantially contributes to the U.S. economy. In 1998, nearly 400,000 nonprofits that provided social and legal services generated $74.45 billion in revenue and employed 1.9 million people (Austin, 2002). The gross output of social assistance reached $112.1 billion in 2003, with an annual increase of more than 9 percent since 1998, which was more than double the 4.4 percent annual increase rate of the overall gross domestic product during the same period (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2006). Employment in the social services is expected to outgrow the average increase in all occupations through 2012 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005).

Compared with the business sector, social work presents a unique context that features highly limited resources coupled with the mandatory acceptance of organizational IT. Although all nonprofits need to adopt a more managerial approach and assume more operational accountability (Speckbacher, 2003), nonprofit social services organizations operate under even greater pressure given that they generate most of their revenue through external funds, half of which come from government agencies (Austin, 2002). It is not uncommon for social services sector organizations to be required to adopt certain IT to meet external requirements of program performance evaluation. Consequently, staff members at such organizations often view IT deployment and usage as a burden that interferes with their core missions. IT expenses, including user training and support, are seen as diverting precious resources from those in need to satisfy bureaucratic requirements (Benedetto & Pirie, 1989; Dukler, 1989). Moreover, the cultural and legal dynamics of data privacy make the electronic manipulation of client data highly sensitive. These organizational-level concerns inevitably cause individuals to treat IT differently than users in the business sector. For example, researchers have found that funding agencies' current emphasis on administrative efficiency, coupled with concerns about the use of data, has resulted in negative user attitudes toward IT (Berlinger & Te'eni, 1999).

This study addresses IT acceptance in the social services sector by taking advantage of the knowledge accumulated from IT acceptance research in other organizational contexts. We based our research on the decomposed theory of planned behavior, a theoretical framework that enabled us to identify a set of factors that contribute to IT acceptance by users in the social services sector so that effective interventions can be designed to promote acceptance.

THEORETICAL DEVELOPMENTS

Decades of research in IT acceptance have identified the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) as one of the leading theories in explaining how users respond to newly introduced IT (for example, Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw, 1989; Taylor & Todd, 1995;Venkatesh et al., 2003). It holds that actual technology usage is determined by users' intentions to use the technology. Three factors contribute to such intentions: (1) attitudes toward IT usage, (2) subjective norms, and (3) perceived behavioral control. …

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