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How often is a project successful

Success and Failure Rates of eGovernment in Developing/Transitional Countries: Overview

Overall Results

Survey and poll results produce the following working estimates about e-government initiatives in developing/transitional countries:

  • 35% are total failures
  • 50% are partial failures
  • 15% are successes


We have very little data about rates of success and failure of e-government in developing/transitional countries. This paper provides some very basic estimates from three sources:

  • First, a survey of cases and studies in the literature.
  • Second, a poll of those with e-government expertise.
  • Third, analysis of more than 40 reports on e-government cases from developing/transitional countries.

What is eGovernment Success and Failure?

We can divide e-government initiatives into three camps:

  • Total failure : the initiative was never implemented or was implemented but immediately abandoned.
  • Partial failure : major goals for the initiative were not attained and/or there were significant undesirable outcomes.
  • Success : most stakeholder groups attained their major goals and did not experience significant undesirable outcomes.

Findings from Existing Surveys

In industrialised countries there have been a few surveys of ICT projects in government1. On the basis of the range of figures provided in these surveys, we can estimate that something like one-fifth to one-quarter of industrialised country government ICT projects fall into the total failure category; something like one-third to three-fifths fall into the partial failure category; and that only a minority fall into the success category.

Current survey evidence from developing/transitional countries is very limited. One overview concludes, "successful examples of computerisation can be found . but frustrating stories of systems which failed to fulfil their initial promise are more frequent"2.

A few more specific multiple-case studies have been conducted, with examples summarised below:

Health information systems in South Africa's public sector: widespread partial failure of high cost systems with little use of data3.

  • IS in the Thai public sector: "failure cases seem to be the norm in Thailand at all governmental levels"4.
  • Donor-funded public sector ICT projects in China: all were found to be partial failures5
  • World Bank-funded public sector ICT projects in Africa: almost all were partial failures; often systems that closed down after a year or so of operation6.

Failure seems to be the main message here and, likewise, reports from individual developing countries find failure to be the dominant theme7.

So, there is no evidence, nor is there any theoretical reason, to support the idea that e-government failure rates in developing/transitional countries should be any lower than those in industrialised countries. On the other hand, there are plenty of practical reasons - such as lack of technical and human infrastructure - to support the idea that e-government failure rates in D/TCs might be higher, perhaps considerably higher. At the very least, then, we can estimate the following thresholds levels:





Partial Failure


Total Failure


Table 1: Success and Failure of eGovernment in Developing/Transitional Countries (Past Survey Estimates)

Poll Results

In September 2002, a poll was conducted on the egov4dev mailing list. It produced the following estimates:



Total Success


Partial Failure


Total Failure


Table 2: Success and Failure of eGovernment in Developing/Transitional Countries (Poll Estimates)

Only fifteen respondents voted to produce these results, and the 'partial failure' category is a residual from votes which were only cast on the first and last categories. The figures cannot therefore be seen to have strong statistical significance. However, the first:last category ratio can be seen to have indicative value for adjustment purposes (see below).

Survey Results

Further evidence comes from the survey of e-government case reports.
Each case is classified, with evidence, into one of the three outcome categories.


Number (Percentage)


7 (17%)

Partial Failure

29 (69%)

Total Failure

6 (14%)


42 (100%)

Table 3: Success and Failure of eGovernment in Developing/Transitional Countries (Current Survey Estimates, unadjusted)

The case reports are works submitted for academic assessment. There has been no systematic evaluation of biases that may arise because of this assessment or because of the group from which the reports are drawn. However, incorporation of total failures into the assessment framework is difficult and it is therefore likely that the figures provided underestimate the proportion of total failures. This is supported by interviews with the case study providers, some of whom were aware of total failures in their organisation, but felt unable to use them.

Adjusting the figures on the basis of the poll result ratio of total failure:success produces the following figures:


Percentage (Number)


15% (7)

Partial Failure

50% (29)

Total Failure

35% (18)


100% (54)

Table 4: Success and Failure of eGovernment in Developing/Transitional Countries (Current Survey Estimates, adjusted)


The working estimates from the two surveys suggest that more than one-third of e-government projects in developing/transitional countries are total failures; a further half are partial failures; and roughly one-seventh are successes.

Because of limitations in the methods used, we cannot use these figures as evidence that e-government failure rates are higher in developing/transitional countries than in industrialised countries. However, the clear weight of evidence is that the great majority of e-government projects are failures of some kind.

Systematic analysis of the individual cases suggests a mix of points and issues. One plain conclusion is that, the higher up the management pyramid you go, the greater the likelihood of failure. In simple terms, the management pyramid goes from clerical/operational functions at the bottom, through middle/tactical management in the middle, to senior/strategic management functions at the top.

Most of the successes are operational-level systems that automate basic clerical functions like data processing. Many of the partial failures are systems in which the operational component works, but in which the tactical or strategic management components do not work. 

[1] Korac-Boisvert, N., and A. Kouzmin, 1995. Transcending soft-core IT disasters in public sector organizations.Information Infrastructure and Policy 4(2):131-61.

James, G., 1997. IT fiascoes.and how to avoid them. Datamation November:84-88.

The Economist , 2000. No gain without pain, Government and the Internet Survey. 24 June:7-10.

[2] Avgerou, C., and G. Walsham, 2000b. IT in developing countries. In Information Technology in Context , eds. C. Avgerou and G. Walsham. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, p1.

[3] Braa, J., and C. Hedberg, 2000. Developing district-based health care information systems. In Information Flows, Local Improvisations and Work Practices , Proceedings of the IFIP WG9.4 Conference 2000. Cape Town: IFIP.

[4] Kitiyadisai, K., 2000. The implementation of IT in reengineering the Thai Revenue Department. In Information Flows, Local Improvisations and Work Practices , Proceedings of the IFIP WG9.4 Conference 2000. Cape Town: IFIP.

[5] Baark, E., and R. Heeks, 1999. Donor-funded information technology transfer projects. Information Technology for Development 8(4):185-197.

[6] Moussa, A., and R. Schware, 1992. Informatics in Africa. World Development 20(12):1737-1752.

[7] E.g. World Bank, 1993. Turkey: Informatics and Economic Modernization . Washington, DC: World Bank and Oyomno, G.Z., 1996. Sustainability of governmental use of microcomputer-based information technology in Kenya. InGlobal Information Technology and Socio-Economic Development , ed. M. Odedra-Straub. Nashua, NH: Ivy League Publishing