Paradoxes of participatory practices: The Janus role of the systems developer

Debra Howcroft, Melanie Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper sets out on a political exploration of the paradoxes of participatory practices which are brought to the fore via the application of a critical framework. In addition, the worker participation literature is used to illuminate some of the contradictions of user participation in Information Systems Development. This approach places emphasis on the fundamentally conflictual nature of organizational relations. The set of resultant paradoxes which this phenomenon engenders is presented. One consequence of the conflictual nature of organizations is the antagonistic relations between end-users (employees) and sponsors of the system (managers). In this paper we highlight the contradictions entailed in the systems developer's role when intervening between the groups, attempting to enrol them into participation as well as develop a system that will deliver on the promises made on its behalf during the enrolment process. The analogy of the two-headed Roman god, Janus, is made in relation to the role of the systems developer, in order to emphasize the incompatibility of needs of organizational members. The paradoxes enumerated in the paper (namely: rhetoric of empowerment, rhetoric of involvement, exclusion of dissent, illusions of compatibility, and outcome of participation) are adjusted to the role of the Janus systems developer, revealing the latter to be a captive of these contradictions. Finally, some conclusions for future academic research and professional practice are drawn. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages23
JournalInformation and Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2003


  • Conflict
  • Contradiction
  • Critical management studies (CMS)
  • End-user
  • Janus
  • Paradox
  • Power
  • User participation


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