An ethnographic study of IS investment appraisal

Debra Howcroft, Robert McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Both academics and practitioners have invested considerably in the information systems evaluation arena, yet rewards remain elusive. The aim of this article is to provide rich insights into some particular political and social aspects of evaluation processes. An ethnographic study of a large international financial institution is used to compare the experience of observed practice with the rhetoric of company policy, and also to contrast these observations with the process of IS evaluation as portrayed within the literature. Our study shows that despite increasing acknowledgement within the IS evaluation literature of the limitations and flaws of the positivist approach, typified by quantitative, 'objective' assessments, this shift in focus towards understanding social and organisational issues has had little impact on organisational practice. In addition, our observations within the research site reveal that the veneer of rationality offered by formalised evaluation processes merely obscures issues of power and politics that are enmeshed within these processes. Copyright © 2007, IGI Global.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-102
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Human Interaction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007


  • Ethnography
  • IS evaluation
  • IS project control
  • Organizational politics


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