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Information and communication systems and technologies (ICTs) are part of our daily lives, at home and at work. Public sector organisations increasingly adopt ICTs to improve their service delivery. Policies to better serve citizens, businesses and patients, among others, are continuously issued by government. However, Public Service Industries (PSOs) need to translate such policies into practical action. Too often, ICTs are implemented but their potential is never realised, and the end users do not easily perceive their benefits. Failure occurs, creating a massive waste of public finance, public servants' time and effort, and depreciated infrastructures.

While the module focus on public sector organisations, the module material is also relevant to the circumstances and staff of non-governmental (NGO) and non-profit organisations.

This module seeks to address three issues:

  • the great potential of information systems and technologies in the public sector;
  • the reasons behind the widespread failure to achieve that potential;
  • the possibilities of, and constraints on, closing this gap between potential and actuality through appropriate management.

Learning outcomes

When you have completed all your work on this module, you will be able to:

  • distinguish between data, information and knowledge
  • describe the role of information in public sector organisations
  • define what an information system is, and describe its key components through two different models: the process model, and the "onion-ring" contextual model
  • critically assess case studies and experiences on information systems
  • explain and use the concept of the rationality (how things should be) – reality (how things are) gap within organisations and the role of this factor in the successful implementation of information systems in public sector organisations
  • begin to describe how the rationality–reality gap can be closed.

Study materials

Study guide

You will receive a looseleaf binder containing eight units. The units are carefully structured to provide the main teaching, defining and exploring the main concepts and issues, locating these within current debate and introducing and linking the further assigned readings. The unit files are also available to download from the Virtual Learning Environment.

  • Heeks R (2006) Implementing and Managing eGovernment. Sage.
  • Córdoba-Pachón J-R (2010) Systems Practice in the Information Society. Routledge.

You will receive Reader volumes as part of the study materials. These are mainly case studies of computerised information systems in public sector organisations from around the world.

Virtual learning environment

You will have access to the VLE, which is a web-accessed learning environment. Via the VLE, you can communicate with your assigned academic tutor, administrators and other students on the module using discussion forums. The VLE also provides access to the module Study Guide and assignments, as well as a selection of electronic journals available on the University of London Online Library.


Information systems

In this podcast José-Rodrigo Córdoba-Pachón (the author of this module) and Norman Flynn discuss the applications and tools that are increasingly being used in the public sector, including the rise of the network society and use of data mining tools. They consider whether governments have had unrealistic expectations about what information systems can achieve and whether companies have oversold the effectiveness of their knowledge systems. They also discuss the concept of e-government and how the development of successful information systems should be seen as a social process.

Download audio

Module overview

Unit 1 An Introduction to Information Systems in Public Sector Organisations
  • 1.1 Data and information in Public Sector Organisations (PSOs)
  • 1.2 Defining Information Systems I: The Process Model
  • 1.3 Systems and Systems Thinking
  • 1.4 The importance of knowledge
  • 1.5 The Reality of Information Systems in Public Sector Organisations
  • 1.6 Analysing Information Systems' Case Studies
  • 1.7 Defining Information Systems II: The 'Onion Ring' Contextual Model
  • 1.8 Information Systems and the Organisational Rationality-Reality Gap
  • 1.9 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 2 Information and Communication Technologies in the Knowledge Era
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 The Network Society
  • 2.3 The Structure of Networks
  • 2.4 Software Applications
  • 2.5 e-Commerce: Supply and Sell
  • 2.6 Emerging Trends in ICTs
  • 2.7 Summary
Unit 3 Knowledge and Decision Making
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Data, Information and Knowledge Revisited
  • 3.3 Knowledge and its Management
  • 3.4 Decision Making
  • 3.5 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 4 People and Information in Organisations
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 People as Knowledge Workers
  • 4.3 Defining Organisations
  • 4.4 Management Roles and Management Information
  • 4.5 The Role of People in Information Systems
  • 4.6 The Impact of Computerised Information Systems on Organisations
  • 4.7 Emerging Issues of Information in Public Sector Organisations
  • 4.8 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 5 Types of Information Systems
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Types of Information Systems
  • 5.3 Knowledge Systems
  • 5.4 Structured Decisions: Management Information Systems (MIS)
  • 5.5 Unstructured Decisions: Decision Support Systems (DSS)
  • 5.6 Executive Information Systems (EIS)
  • 5.7 Information System Trends: CRM in the Public Sector
  • 5.8 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 6 Planning and Managing Information Systems
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 The Day-to-Day Responsibilities of IS Managers
  • 6.3 Revisiting the Information Society
  • 6.4 Dealing with Transformations
  • 6.5 Engagements
  • 6.6 Unintended Consequences
  • 6.7 A Final Consideration
  • 6.8 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 7 Information Systems Development
  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Types of IS Development
  • 7.3 System Planning Revisited
  • 7.4 System Analysis
  • 7.5 System Design
  • 7.6 System Implementation
  • 7.7 System Support
  • 7.8 Closing the Reality-Rationality Gap in System Development
  • 7.9 Summary and Review Questions
Unit 8 e-Government Strategy
  • 8.1 Introduction
  • 8.2 Key Messages So Far
  • 8.3 Defining e-Government
  • 8.4 e-Government in Practice
  • 8.5 Developing an e-Government Strategy
  • 8.6 Summary and Review Questions

Tuition and assessment

Students are individually assigned an academic tutor for the duration of the module, with whom you can discuss academic queries at regular intervals during the study session.

You are required to complete two Assignments for this module, which will be marked by your tutor. Assignments are each worth 15% of your total mark. You will be expected to submit your first assignment by the Tuesday of Week 5, and the second assignment at the end of the module, on the Tuesday after Week 8. Assignments are submitted and feedback given online. In addition, queries and problems can be answered through the Virtual Learning Environment.

You will also sit a three-hour examination on a specified date in September/October, worth 70% of your total mark. An up-to-date timetable of examinations is published on the website in April each year.

Module sample

Click on the link below to download the module sample document in PDF.