Fueling the Failure

This week in class we discussed and read about why ICT4D projects fail. An article titled “Failed ICT projects, learning from the mistakes of others” offers an insightful response to the question: Why are we making the same mistakes over and over again, if we know why projects fail?

I must ask; do we really know why ICT4D projects fail? Sure, there are commonly-sighted reasons for failure like ‘not understanding the infrastructure capacity of the region’, but they are so general. We have a serious lack of case-specific evidence for why projects failed. The article’s main argument (which I agree with) is that there is a lack of direct evidence pinpointing which part or parts of the development project ‘caused’ it to fail. Too often, development agencies do not take the time to investigate and analyze their failures thoroughly, because it is easier to just sweep them under the rug and put a tally in the ‘loss’ column. And if/when the proper project evaluation is conducted, the article notes that the results are in-frequently publicized.

In response to their criticism of the handeling of ICT4D project failures, the article provides an example of what should be done when projects fail. The article presents a study conducted George Brouwer (the Ombudsman for Victoria, Australia) about 10 specific state-run ICT projects that have failed over the past decade. His detailed analysis of these 10 projects yielded interesting information about why ICT4D projects fail. In my opinion, the most relevant conclusions that Brouwer drew from his study were:

1)   Development agencies did not spend enough time on planning and project development

2)   Development agencies did not “give proper consideration and gain adequate understanding of the current state of the systems and business processes, which would be affected by the project”

3)  Roles and responsibilities within the agencies were not clearly defined, which made it difficult to hold people accountable for mistakes and/or failures

4)   Development agencies tried to take on “overly ambitious and complex projects”

In conclusion, the article argues that Brouwer’s report is invaluable because it provides detailed, case specific reasons for project failure (which I did not go in to fully above).  It is so useful for research like this to be published, because if it is not, development agencies continue to repeat the same mistakes.

I think that the importance of developing thorough impact and process indicators, and spending ample time and resources on project evaluation is completely underrated. This article validates the importance of analyzing projects after they are implemented, especially ones that fail. If we do not take the extra time and resources to investigate ICT4D project failures we are only making it more difficult on ourselves, and making it harder for us to succeed in the future. We can break the vicious cycle of failure by simply stopping and taking a close look at what went wrong, and sharing this research with others.

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