L. Kraemer, James
Danziger, Rob Kling, John King, James Perry,
Dutton, Alana Northrop, Debora
During the 1970's and 1980's, CRITO researchers
worked on a series of major NSF funded projects
totaling around $5 million and titled "Evaluation
of Urban Information Systems in Local Government"
(URBIS). The purpose was to assess the level
of computing in U.S. cities and counties and
to evaluate the patterns of diffusion, the impacts
on delivery of local government services, management
decision-making and worker’s quality of life.
The project started with a review of existing
research, and defined areas that needed research.
In 1975 and 1985, a census of larger cities
and counties were surveyed regarding information
systems capabilities, uses and impacts. In 1976,
and again in 1986, a subset of cities were selected
for more intensive study of computing impacts
on key business processes, including traffic
ticket processing, detective investigation,
patrol allocation, budget reporting, and management-oriented
computing. Finally, the data on U.S. cities
was compared with similar data from major European
The heart of the research was to systematically
examine a number of claims about computing.
First was Leavitt and Whisler’s thesis that
IT would result in massive elimination of middle
managers. The results showed that generally,
the number of middle managers had not been reduced.
In fact, in cities with strong economies and
where computing decisions were left to middle
managers, the number of middle managers increased
— because these managers continually found new
uses for computers that justified their roles.
Second, Herbert Simon had speculated that computers
were an apolitical technology for improving
the rationality of decision making and efficiency
in organizations. The research showed that computing
was highly political, both in terms of struggles
over who would control this new resource and
how it would be used, which together determined
who would benefit most. Computer use reinforced
the existing political and administrative structure
and distribution of benefits.
Third was the claim in the news media that computing
dehumanized work. In contrast to the reporting,
a systematic survey of local government workers
found that all levels of city employees were
positive about the use of IT in their work.
In particular, they felt that computing led
to greater productivity and a sense of accomplishment.
The results of these studies were reported in
five books, including Computers and Local
Government, Technological Innovation
in American Local Governments, The
Management of Information Systems, Computers
and Politics and People and Computers,
and numerous articles in premier academic journals
such as Public Administration Review,
Administration and Society, Telecommunications
Policy, Management Science, MIS
Quarterly and The International Review
of Administrative Sciences.