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Uncertainty, human agency and e‐government

Fu‐Lai Tony Yu (Department of Economics, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan Department of Economics, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, North Point, Hong Kong, Republic of China)

Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy

ISSN: 1750-6166

Article publication date: 1 August 2008




This paper aims to formulate an Austrian model of the governmental process and to apply the theory of human agency to discuss the problems in transforming government into a digital organization.


The paper applies the Schutzian theory of human agency to analyse public agents' behaviour and the decision‐making process involved in adopting information technology (IT) in the public sector. The study incorporates cognitive elements such as opportunity discovery, learning, experimentation, trial and error, and revision of plans to understand problems in adopting new technology in government.


From an Austrian perspective, the government is viewed as an institution for coordinating economic affairs. Advances in IT will facilitate the coordination. However, public agents will face structural uncertainty when they consider adopting new technology. During the process of making an adoption decision, public officials perceive new incoming events and formulate plans according to their experience and knowledge. The subjective interpretation of a problematic situation by public officials yields provisional judgements to be confirmed by subsequent experience. With new information and experience, they subsequently revise their plans in order to eliminate errors. A new problem situation requires the public planner to produce new trial solutions which are then subjected to further testing in daily operation. The revision of plans by public officials is thus seen as a continuous process and results in administrative and coordination changes.


Unlike neoclassical public economists who act as omnipotent advisers on how the e‐government should behave, the theory of human agency analyses the operation of digital government from the “first person perspective”. It suggests that public officials, equipped with better IT, act or make decisions under uncertainty and constraints. Hence, the impact of a government action on an economic issue is not deterministic. Instead, many government policies take society by surprise and result in institutional change. It is concluded that agents in both the private and the public sectors are journeying into an unknown future.



Tony Yu, F. (2008), "Uncertainty, human agency and e‐government", Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 283-296.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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