The history of public sector IT capital projects is littered with examples of projects that have been delivered late, or have exceeded their budgets, or have proved unsuitable for their intended use. Such projects include the computerised passport processing system, the National Insurance Recording System and the Libra project (Comptroller and Auditor General, 1999,2001, 2003). Other projects such as the Benefits Card Payment project (Comptroller and Auditor General, 2000) have been cancelled prior to completion after the expenditure of significant sums of public money, having made little progress over an extended period of time. These project failures and their consequent negative impacts on the delivery of public services have been widely reported in an almost continuous stream of newspaper headlines. This succession of revelations about the problems of public sector IT capital projects has been accompanied by high levels of political and public concerns that the benefits of the projects are lost and that large sums of public money are being wasted. In the first part of the paper we argue that there has been a historical focus on institutional accountability at the expense of research into individual accountability. We explore how and why the traditional doctrine of civil servant accountability has declined, with a resultant increased emphasis on both the accountability of civil servants and on managerial performance. We examine the effects of managerialism on the changing subject of civil servant accountability and on the emergence of the SRO role. We formalize our arguments by developing two propositions that illustrate the basic flaws in the SRO concept that arise from subjective and cognitive aspects of understanding. In the second part of the paper we explore the potential and limitations of five different approaches to the study of SRO accountability that might take into account its cognitive and subjective components. We conclude that one of the five - experientialism, or phenomenography - offers to overcome the limitations of the others. We present three further theoretical propositions using phenomenographic principles to illustrate the argument for the existence of a range of understandings of SRO accountability. We conclude that the subjective and cognitive limitations outlined open the way for further research into the field of accountability and the management of IT projects across the public sector.School of Managemen
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