Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information

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					     Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information
                      Technology Research1
                                                         Par :

                                                Muriel Mignerat
                                                 HEC Montréal

                                                           et

                                                 Suzanne Rivard
                                                  HEC Montréal

                                      Cahier de recherche no 05-01
                                                Juin 2005




Prière d’adresser toute correspondance à :
suzanne.rivard@hec.ca

1
    Ce texte a été publié dans les Actes du congrès de l’ASAC, Toronto, mai 2005.
Copyright © 2005. HEC Montréal.
Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Toute traduction et toute reproduction sous quelque forme que ce soit est interdite.
HEC Montréal, 3000, chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, Québec, H3T 2A7 Canada. Les textes publiés
dans la série des Cahiers de la Chaire de gestion stratégique des technologies de l’information n'engagent
que la responsabilité de leurs auteurs.
                 Chaire de gestion stratégique des technologies de l’information

Mission et objectifs de la Chaire
L’environnement dans lequel évoluent les entreprises est de plus en plus complexe et changeant. Des
marchés saturés, une compétitivité croissante des pays à faibles coûts de production, une compétition
accrue de la part des firmes multinationales, une plus grande accessibilité au savoir, des clients plus
exigeants et moins fidèles et des modifications au tissu démographique sont autant de défis que doivent
relever les entreprises modernes.
Dans un tel environnement, la compétitivité des entreprises dépend de plus en plus de leur flexibilité et
de leur capacité d'innover, tant dans leur structure organisationnelle, leur mode de production que dans
leur mode d'échange avec les clients et les fournisseurs. Les développements récents du domaine des
technologies de l’information permettent aux entreprises de devenir plus agiles, rendent possibles une
multiplicité de structures organisationnelles et offrent une panoplie de modèles de relations avec les
clients ou avec les fournisseurs. Pourtant, aussi prometteuses que soient ces nouvelles technologies,
leur véritable impact ne se fera sentir que si elles sont arrimées à la stratégie de l’entreprise. La mission
de la Chaire de gestion stratégique des technologies de l’information est de contribuer au
développement et à la diffusion des connaissances sur la capacité des entreprises à choisir, déployer et
mettre en place des technologies de l’information de façon à avoir un véritable impact sur la
performance organisationnelle.
Dans ce contexte, les objectifs de la Chaire sont les suivants :
            •   mener des projets de recherche visant à contribuer à l’avancement des connaissances en
                matière de gestion stratégique des technologies de l’information;
            •   diffuser ces connaissances dans les communautés scientifique et professionnelle;
            •   contribuer à la formation de gestionnaires et de chercheurs dans ce domaine.
Membres du Comité d’orientation
     Benoit A. Aubert                                     Louis Raymond
     Professeur agrégé                                    Titulaire de la Chaire de recherche du
     HEC Montréal                                         Canada sur la performance des entreprises
                                                          Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

     Lyne Bouchard                                        Karl Malenfant
     Directrice, services conseils                        Chef, Développement et mise en place
     Gartner Group                                        Projet systèmes d’information clientèle
                                                          Hydro-Québec

     Paule Doré                                           Suzanne Rivard
     Vice-présidente exécutive                            Titulaire de la Chaire de gestion
     Chef de la direction corporative                     stratégique des technologies de l’information
     CGI                                                  HEC Montréal

    Richard Halley
    Premier vice-président Technologies de
    l’information
    Fédération des caisses Desjardins du
    Québec
                 Chaire de gestion stratégique des technologies de l’information



                                                                               ISSN 1702-238X

   Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research

                                        Muriel Mignerat
                                      Étudiante au doctorat
                                          HEC Montréal
                                3000, ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine
                                        Montréal, Québec
                                             H3T 2A7
                                    muriel.mignerat@hec.ca


                                        Suzanne Rivard
                                          HEC Montréal
                                3000, ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine
                                        Montréal, Québec
                                              H3T 2A7
                                       Tél : (514) 340-6493
                                      Fax : (514) 340-6132
                                     suzanne.rivard@hec.ca


                           Prière de faire parvenir toute correspondance à :
                                       suzanne.rivard@hec.ca




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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard



Abstract
This paper assesses the use of institutional effects as a lens for studying information technology (IT)
related phenomena. It presents the foundations of institutionalism and proposes a conceptual
framework describing institutional effects. It then synthesizes what has been learned from IT studies
that have adopted this perspective. Finally, it identifies conceptual and methodological issues that
researchers ought to address when adopting an institutional perspective.

Résumé
Un certain nombre d’auteurs ont utilisé la théorie institutionnelle pour analyser des phénomènes
relatifs aux systèmes d’information. Ce texte présente une recension de ces écrits de ce domaine. Il
synthétise les principaux concepts de l’institutionnalisme, présente les principaux résultats auxquels
sont arrivés les chercheurs en systèmes d’information ayant adopté cette perspective et identifie un
certain nombre d’éléments, conceptuels ou méthodologiques, que les chercheurs devraient prendre
en considération afin de respecter les préceptes de la théorie institutionnelle.

Mots-clés : Information Systems; Institutional Theory; Literature Review




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                                               Introduction
         The idea that managers are rational actors whose decisions are aimed at maximizing
efficiency and effectiveness is a commonly held assumption in IT research (Avgerou, 2000; Teo
et al., 2003). A number of researchers have argued that one cannot explain all that is happening in
organizations by considering only the ‘rational actions of managers’, one must rather find a
means of taking into account the ‘irrationalities’ stemming from the institutional context
surrounding organizational actors (Avgerou, 2000; Orlikowski and Barley, 2001; Teo et al.,
2003). Institutionalism, which examines how institutions influence and are influenced by
organizational actors, provides such a means of analysis (Scott, 2001). In an IT context,
institutional analysis has been said to have the potential of helping researchers to understand “how
institutions influence the design, use, and consequences of technologies, either within or across
organizations” (Orlikowski and Barley, 2001, p.153). In recent years, a number of studies have
adopted an institutionalist perspective to examine IT related phenomena such as IT innovation, IT
development and implementation, and IT adoption and use. The objective of this paper is to take
stock of this research, first by summarizing what we have learned from these studies and second
by assessing how closely IT researchers have followed the precepts of institutional theory.
       The paper first presents the foundations of institutionalism and proposes a conceptual
framework of institutional effects. It then synthesizes the contributions of IT research that
examined those effects. Finally, it identifies some conceptual and methodological issues that
researchers ought to address when using institutional theory.
                        A Conceptual Framework of Institutional Effects
         In the institutional perspective, “organizations are suspended in a web of values, norms,
beliefs, and taken-for-granted assumptions” (Barley and Tolbert, 1997, p.93) that guide and
constrain their actions over time. These values, norms, beliefs and assumptions arise from the
existence of institutions. An institution is a social structure that gives organizations or individuals
lines of action or orientations, while controlling and constraining them (Scott, 2001). Institutions
then “represent constraints on the options that individuals and collectives are likely to exercise,
albeit constraints that are open to modification over time” (Barley and Tolbert, 1997, p.94).
These constraints are also called institutional pressures (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Contracts,
the formal organization, insurance, and the corporation are commonly acknowledged as
institutions (Jepperson, 1991).
        Organizations and organizational actors aim at gaining legitimacy in their environment, in
order to be accepted and thus to ensure their long-term survival (Meyer and Rowan, 1977). From
an institutionalist perspective, this quest for survival through legitimacy helps explain why
organizations may choose to give in to institutional pressures. For DiMaggio and Powell, the
relevant environment, which becomes their unit of analysis, is the organizational field defined as
“those organizations that, in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life: key
suppliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory agencies, and other organizations that
produce similar services or products” (p.148). In order to maintain normative characteristics that
are endorsed by their organizational field, organizations tend toward institutional isomorphism,
that is, homogeneity of structures observed in several fields (for instance, hospitals and



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universities are organizations that have very similar structures). In turn, DiMaggio and Powell
argue that institutional isomorphism legitimates.
        Within its organizational field, the focal organization can be seen as connected or similar
to other organizations: these are two very distinct concepts (Scott, 2001). Connectedness refers to
the existence of exchange relations or communication between organizations (DiMaggio and
Powell, 1983). The similarity is called structural equivalence and refers to organizations that have
the same position in the field structure and thus “are proximate to the extent that they have the
same pattern of relations with occupants of other positions” (Burt, 1987, p.1291). Depending on
the context, the focal organization may then be more influenced by the behaviour of organizations
that are similar, or by those with which it has contacts (Scott, 2001).
         Two kinds of processes are under study in institution theory: institutional effects and
institutional change (Jepperson, 1991). Institutional effects pertain to processes wherein
institutions affect other institutions, organizations or organizational entities (Jepperson, 1991). In
such processes, an institution is portrayed as the independent variable. Institutional change
processes include the formation of institutions, institutional development, deinstitutionalization,
and reinstitutionalization (Jepperson, 1991). In such processes, an institution is often the
dependent variable. This paper focuses on institutional effects, which are encapsulated in the
framework presented in Figure 1.


                                        Institutions
                Cultural-cognitive
                Mimetism




                                          Normative pillar
                                          Norms




                                                              Coercive pillar
                                                              Coercion
                pillar




                                                                                      Acquiescence

                                                                                       Compromise


                                                                                        Avoidance         Legitimacy
                      Groups                    Individuals
                                                                                        Defiance

                                                                                       Manipulation



              Organization & sub-organizations                                  Legitimation strategies

                                     Figure 1: A conceptual framework of institutional effects



       As shown in Figure 1, there exist three kinds of institutional pressures: coercive,
normative and mimetic pressures (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Coercive pressures arise through
the legal environment of the organization and with the existence of standards, which can be
imposed by structures on which the focal organization is dependent (DiMaggio and Powell,
1983). Normative pressures are brought about by professionalization: inter-organizational
networks, same educational backgrounds, mimetic behaviours in a profession (DiMaggio and

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Powell, 1983). Mimetic pressures often appear in a context of uncertainty, where firms model
themselves on other organizations in their fields that are perceived as more legitimate or
successful (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Organizational models can be diffused through
employee migration or by consulting firms.
         Jennings and Greenwood (2003) suggest that the notion of institutional pressures is akin to
that of institutional pillars proposed by Scott (1995, 2001). According to Scott, there exist three
institutional pillars, regulative, normative, and cultural/cognitive, which are the analytical
elements that compose institutions. These pillars operate in combination, yet through distinct
mechanisms. In the regulative pillar, the use of coercion (tests of strength and fear of sanctions)
explains how institutions constrain and regularize actors’ behaviour. The normative pillar is based
on agents’ social obligations, which are observable through values and norms. The cultural-
cognitive pillar is characterized by imitation: in a context of uncertainty, organizations will tend
to copy others they consider to be leaders or models. In summary, coercive, mimetic and
normative pressures are control mechanisms exerted by regulative, cognitive and normative
structures on organizations in order to constrain their behaviour (Haggerty and Golden, 2002).
        Institutional pressures can be exerted upon organizations or sub-organizations (see Figure
1). Fligstein (1985) studied how institutional pressures, mostly mimetic, exerted upon
organizations since the beginning of the 20th century, drove them to adopt what is called a
multidivisional structure (M-form). An example of sub-organization level of study is given by
Shepsle and Weinsgast (1982) who considered political committees. They show that the majority
rule alone does not explain the constitution of political committees. Instead, a complex interplay
of institutional pressures, exerted on political committees, explain their formation and
composition. Finally, at the individual level, institutional pressures were shown to have an
influence on managers’ mental models of competition (Daniels et al., 2002).
        Under institutional pressures, organizations will implement strategies in order to gain,
maintain or repair their legitimacy (Suchman, 1995). As shown in Figure 1, acquiescence is one
of a number of strategies for managing legitimacy. It has been suggested that organizations may
adopt other strategies to respond to institutional pressures (Oliver, 1991; Suchman, 1995). Oliver
suggests that firms do not always comply and can engage in some kind of defensive action. She
formulates a typology of strategic responses that organizations enact as a result of institutional
pressures toward conformity. While Oliver states that acquiescence “is more likely to occur when
the degree of legitimacy attainable from conformity is high” (1991, p.159) it has been argued the
strategies she proposes “clearly fall along a continuum of strategies for gaining legitimacy”
(Suchman, 1995).
       The strategies proposed by Oliver are: acquiescence, compromise, avoidance, defiance
and manipulation. These strategies are exerted through tactics. The strategy of Acquiescence,
which is an organization's conscious intent to conform for self-serving reasons, is expressed
through the tactics of habit, imitation and compliance (Oliver, 1991). When organizations use
compromise strategies, they promote their own interests through tactics such as balancing,
pacifying and bargaining (Oliver, 1991). Avoidance is an attempt to prevent the need to conform
to an external pressure (Oliver, 1991). Avoidance tactics are concealing, buffering and escaping.
Defiance is the rejection of institutional norms (Oliver, 1991). Defiance tactics include
dismissing, challenging and attacking. Lastly, manipulation is the purposeful and opportunistic

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application of the tactics of co-opting, influencing, or controlling an institutional pressure (Oliver,
1991).
        The five general strategies proposed by Oliver help to understand how an organization
will, under institutional pressures, manage its legitimacy in its field. Likewise, sub-organizations,
under institutional pressures, may use the same strategies and tactics to manage their legitimacy
in the organization. Interestingly, the response to institutional pressures may sometimes come not
only from a single organization, but from multiple organizations which articulate a concerted
response that has “the potential to shape the nature of the demands and even to redefine the rules
and logics operating within the field” (Scott, 2001, p.176).
                         Institutional Effects in Information Technology
         IT studies having used the institutional perspective were selected from management and
IT journals with a JCR (Journal Citation Report) impact factor above 0.8. The impact factor was
taken as an indicator of journal significance. With a cut-off impact factor of 0.8, approximately
75% of the cumulative impact of all journals ranked in JCR is captured, which was deemed
appropriate. As suggested by Weber and Watson (2002) this set of top publications was then
completed by other publication outlets that were identified by ‘going backward’, i.e., by
reviewing the citations from the articles previously identified. Information Technology and
People (IT&P), the proceedings of ICIS, and the Journal of the AIS (JAIS) were then included. A
search of the 16 publication outlets, thus identified (full text when available, abstract otherwise),
resulted in 19 articles wherein institutional effects played a central role. A table in the Appendix
lists these articles.
        Each article was analyzed to determine which components of the framework illustrated in
Figure 1 were being taken into account: entity on which pressures are exerted, institutions that
exert pressures, type of institutional pressure, and legitimating strategy used by the entity under
study. The IT phenomenon under study was also identified. These IT phenomena fall under three
general themes: IT innovation, IT development and implementation, and IT adoption and use. The
results of this analysis are synthesized in Tables 1 to 3.
1) IT Innovation
        IT Innovation is considered here as a social phenomenon encompassing elements of
invention and diffusion: “An invention is a new idea or product which may or may not have
economic value. Innovation is the process whereby inventions move into usable form. Diffusion is
the spread of the capacity to produce and/or use an innovation, and its use in practice”(King et
al., 1994, p.140). For Swanson and Ramiller (2004), organizational innovation comprises four
component processes: comprehension, adoption, implementation and assimilation.




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    Source                  IT phenomenon under           Entity on which       Institutions from which       Type of           Legitimating
    (conceptual or          study                         pressures are         pressures arise               institutional     strategy
    empirical)                                            exerted                                             pressure
    King et al., 1994       IT innovation                 Not explicit -        Governments, authorities      Coercion          Acquiescence
    (conceptual)                                          organizations,        Cf. list below (a)            Norms             (compliance)
                                                          any sub group,        Governments, education        Mimetism
                                                          individuals…          institutions, commissions
    Swanson &                 Innovating behaviour        Organizations         Powerful parties, larger       Coercion,         Acquiescence
    Ramiller, 2004                                                              community, prior               norms and         (compliance)
    (conceptual)                                                                adopters                       mimetism
    Swanson and               IT innovation               Organization          Practitioners, Business,       Not defined       Acquiescence
    Ramiller, 1997                                                              community…                                       (compliance)
    (conceptual)
    (a) List: Governments, authorities; international agencies; professional, trade and industry associations; research-oriented higher
    education institutions; trend-setting and multi-national corporations; financial institutions; labor organizations; religious institutions.
                                                         Table 1: IT Innovation
        According to Swanson and Ramiller (2004), coercive, normative and mimetic pressures,
which they call institutional pre-emption, may be the cause of mindless innovation with IT.
Mindless innovation occurs when organizations do not pay much attention to identifying and
exploring new IT innovations, when they join the bandwagon of prior adopters just because
others are doing it and they want to catch up (Swanson and Ramiller, 2004). These organizations
will then probably implement the chosen innovation in a mindless way, for instance by choosing
the “plain vanilla” version of an ERP (Swanson and Ramiller, 2004). For Swanson and Ramiller
(2004), these institutional pressures operate because organizations may be constrained by more
powerful ones, because they are carried by influential norms, or because the just cannot imagine
another framing than the one imposed by the community. The adoption of an innovation in an
organization is then partly explained by its legitimacy. By grounding the IS innovation to aspects
of business that are of prominent interest to the organization, one can help legitimize it (Swanson
and Ramiller, 1997).
Coercive pressures. Governments implement regulations in order to direct the behaviour of those
under their influence (King et al., 1994), which will impact several IT phenomena. Coercive
pressures (see Table 1) are exerted by governments through activities of knowledge deployment
(e.g. required education and training), deployment of subsidies, establishment of standards and of
directives (King et al., 1994). Governments often intervene to accelerate IT innovation, especially
in developing countries (King et al., 1994). Innovations do not happen in a top-down fashion,
with organizations ordering people to innovate or use innovations (by mobilizing them). Thus,
according to King et al. (1994), although institutional intervention is essential to promote
knowledge deployment, there is no direct causal link between institutional intervention and the
adoption of an innovation.
Normative and mimetic pressures. Institutions influence organizations through normative and
mimetic pressures. Influence is a persuasive control exerted over practices, rules and belief
systems “of those under the institution’s sway” (King et al., 1994, p.149), via education and
socialization of individuals, articulation of particular points of view, and provision of resources to
“appropriate” social activities (vs. “inappropriate” ones). Influence is exerted through knowledge
building (research projects) and deployments (education services), provision of subsidies,
innovation directives, and programs of mobilization (King et al., 1994). According to King et al.


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                                            Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

(1994), influence will play a more important role than regulation and coercion, but all types of
influences do not have the same effects.
2) IT Development and Implementation
    Source                IT phenomenon             Entity on          Institutions from            Type of       Legitimating
    (conceptual or        under study               which              which pressures arise        institution   strategy
    empirical)                                      pressures are                                   al pressure
                                                    exerted
    Silva and             Power in the              Individuals        Organization                 Norms         Acquiescence
    Backhouse, 2003       institutionalization of                      Information system           essentially   (compliance)
    (empirical)           information systems
    Haggerty and          Technological             Organizations      Undefined generic            Coercion,     Acquiescence
    Golden , 2002         adaptation                                   institutions from            norms and     (compliance)
    (conceptual)                                                       several units of             mimetism
                                                                       analysis
    Avgerou, 2000         Organizational            Organization       Organization                 Norms         Acquiescence
    (empirical)           change                                       structures,                                (compliance)
                                                                       professional
                                                                       intervention
    Nicolaou, 1999        IS development            Organizations      Governments                  Coercion      Acquiescence
    (conceptual)                                                       (reporting)                                (compliance)
                                                                       Educational                  Norms
                                                                       institutions,
                                                                       professional
                                                                       associations
                                                                       Leaders                      Mimetism
    Damsgaard and         Diffusion drivers in      Organizations      Governments,                 Coercion      Acquiescence
    Scheepers, 1999       the implementation        and units (two     authorities                                (compliance)
    (empirical, based     of intranets              distinct levels)   List based on King et        Norms
    on King et al.,                                                    al., 1994 cf list table 1.
    1994)                                                              Governments,                 Mimetism
                                                                       education institutions,
                                                                       commissions
    Kaye and Little,      Standards for             Organization       Organizational and           Coercion,     Acquiescence
    1996 (conceptual)     technology and                               social levels                norms and     (compliance)
                          procedures                                                                mimetism
    Gosain, 2004          Enterprise                Organization       Regulatory agencies          Coercion      Acquiescence
    (conceptual)          Information Systems                          External technical           Norms         (compliance)
                          (EIS) implementation                         consultants
                                                                       Best practices, large        Mimetism
                                                                       successful
                                                                       organizations
    Purvis, et al.,       Assimilation of an        Organizations      Top management               Norms         Acquiescence
    2001 (empirical)      innovation                                                                              (compliance)
                          (knowledge platform)
    Chatterjee et al.,    Assimilation of an        Organization       Top management               Norms         Acquiescence
    2002 (empirical)      innovation                                                                              (compliance)
                                    Table 2: IT Development and Implementation
       The process of information systems design, development and implementation can be seen
as the conception and institutionalization of information systems (Silva and Backhouse, 2003).
The institutionalized system is then both the result and a source of power (Silva and Backhouse,
2003). Once a technology is institutionalized in an organization, it may be considered as
legitimate by people and organizations outside of the firm, thus leading organizations to “conform
to and retain certain technological designs to gain legitimacy rather than for purely rational

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                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

efficiency reasons” (Haggerty and Golden, 2002, p.252). Organizations are expected to “conform
to social constraints to develop IS s consistent with expectations in order to demonstrate
legitimacy in operational and managerial decision making” (Nicolaou, 1999, p.133). This
statement is qualified by Gosain (2004), who proposes that organizations from highly regulated
domains will tend to have enterprise information systems (EIS) with similar mandated
configurations, as all the more so when they are dependent upon organizations that expect
compliance for resources and legitimacy.
        Coercive pressures coming from governments (see Table 2) have distinct roles and
impacts depending on the phase of the implementation (Damsgaard and Scheepers, 1999).
Damsgaard and Scheepers thus propose that knowledge deployment is a necessary driver through
the whole implementation process, whereas subsidization will be more justifiable during early
phases, and standard setting in the later stages. Kaye and Little (1996) draw on both mimetic and
normative pressures to study the diffusion of standards for technology and procedures. They
propose that de facto and official standards provide organizations with an alternative to
uncertainty. Their case studies suggest that organizations are influenced by IT development and
practices from comparable organizations in other countries.
       Regarding the implementation process, Gosain (2004) proposes that organizations will
tend to use EIS configurations that reflect the current vision held by the IS profession, all the
more so when they are embedded in mature networks that diffuse specialized practices.
Organizations will also tend to mimic EIS configurations used by large and supposedly successful
organizations, especially when they are confronted with uncertainty and goal ambiguity when
making decisions related to configurations (Gosain, 2004). This in turn could lead the
organization structure to isomorphism (Nicolaou, 1999), i.e., there is a risk that organizations
would share similarities in their organizational structure if configurable technologies were
configured the same way.
        One of the classical success factors for IT implementation was considered by several
authors as an institution. Top management championship provides managers from departments
and business units with institutional norms and values, by offering them visions and guidelines
which reassure them about the legitimacy of their assimilation action (Chatterjee et al., 2002;
Purvis et al., 2001). Top management championship (evaluated on executive beliefs and
participation) was found to have a significant and major impact on the effective assimilation of an
innovation in a firm (Chatterjee et al., 2002). More specifically, management championship was
shown to have a direct impact on the current methodology used - which will facilitate assimilation
since prospective users will be more likely to reconceptualize their work processes and use
functionalities of the new technology with a current methodology than with a prior methodology-
and on knowledge embeddedness – which represents the extent to which organizational
knowledge exists in the innovation under study, a knowledge platform (Purvis et al., 2001).
3) IT Adoption and Use
       Laudon (1985) suggests that while the adoption of a computerized criminal history (CCH)
system is mainly explained by environmental influences, the use of the system is primarily
explained by institutional influences. This early institutional analysis is challenged by other
scholars (see Table 3):


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    Source                IT phenomenon under       Entity on which    Institutions from which     Type of         Legitimating
    (conceptual or        study                     pressures are      pressures arise             institutional   strategy
    empirical)                                      exerted                                        pressure
    Laudon, 1985          System development        Individuals        Organization                Not defined     Acquiescence
    (empirical)                                                                                                    (compliance)
    Ang and               IS outsourcing            Organization (US   State                       Coercion        Acquiescence
    Cummings, 1997                                  commercial         Peer banks, professional    Norms and       (compliance)
    (empirical)                                     banks)             associations                Mimetism
    Teo et al., 2003      Intention to adopt        Organization       Parent corporation,         Coercion        Acquiescence
    (empirical)           financial EDI                                trading partners                            (compliance)
                                                                       Trading partners;           Norms
                                                                       Professional, trade,
                                                                       business bodies
                                                                       Competitors                 Mimetism
    Swan et al., 1999     Diffusion and design of   Organization       Technology suppliers,       Norms and       Acquiescence
    (empirical)           technology                                   professional associations   Mimetism        (compliance)
    Swan et al., 2000     Diffusion, design and     Organizations      Society, government,        Norms           Acquiescence
    (empirical)           social shaping of IT                         industry                                    (compliance)
    Silva and Figueroa    Adoption of IT in         Organizations      Government                  Norms           Acquiescence
    2002 (empirical)      developing countries                                                                     (compliance)
    Tan and Fichman,      Adoption of web-based     Organization       Organizations of similar    Mimetism        Acquiescence
    2002 (empirical)      transactional banking                        size, type, or location                     (compliance)
                                               Table 3: IT Adoption and Use
Coercive pressures. In some industries, the State may exert strong coercive pressures which will
have an impact on IT adoption. It is the case in the banking industry in the US, where federal
regulators set countless rules and regulations that they regularly audit in order to make sure that
the assets of banks’ customers are secured (Ang and Cummings, 1997). While all banks (large or
small) were found to comply to the State influence, technological uncertainty reinforced
conformity in large banks (Ang and Cummings, 1997). IT adoption is also influenced by coercive
pressures from both trading partners and parent corporations, but with distinct impacts. In their
study of financial EDI intention to adopt, Teo et al. (2003) consider coercive pressures as a
construct formed by three sub-constructs: perceived dominance of supplier adopters, perceived
dominance of customer adopters, and conformity with parent corporation’s practices. The last
sub-construct, compliance with the policies and practices of the parent corporation, was found to
have a stronger impact on the intention to adopt than pressures from supplier and customer
adopters, “probably because their [organizational decision makers] performance and tenure are
subject to evaluation by the parent corporation’s executives” (Teo et al., 2003, p40).
Normative pressures. Trading partners exert normative pressures on each other. In their study,
Teo et al. (2003) consider normative pressures as a construct formed by the extent of existing
financial EDI adoption by an organization’s suppliers and customers, and participation in
professional, trade and business bodies that promote and share information on financial EDI
adoption. Normative pressures exhibited the strongest impact of all three types, and in particular
business and professional circles were found to have a major influence on organizational decision
makers (Teo et al., 2003). Less important, but significant, customers pressures were found to have
a stronger impact than suppliers, thus suggesting that decision makers were customer-oriented
(Teo et al., 2003). Ang and Cummings (1997) also studied the influence of business and
professional circles by wondering how peer organizations (banks) influence IT outsourcing
decisions. They explain that these influences operate through associations, which diffuse IT
guidelines. These guidelines may be compared to norms. Large banks and small ones with enough
financial capacity to resist were found to be able to temper those pressures (Ang and Cummings,


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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

1997). Swan et al. (1999; 2000) clearly describe the role of these professional circles, which they
call “central agencies”, that promote best practices. Normative pressures also arise from
governments, as happened in Chile, where several policies and regulations led to the adoption of
several information and communication technologies (Silva and Figueroa, 2002).
Mimetic pressures come from professional associations, competitors, and peers. According to
Swan et al. (2000) many practitioners join professional associations to benefit from the latest
“best practices” in their domain. By copying best practices, organizations mimic others.
Interestingly, professional associations’ influence regarding IT adoption was found to differ in the
UK and in Sweden, where they dominated less heavily (Swan et al., 1999). Mimetic pressures,
arising from a same type of institution, may then differ significantly for a same technology in
distinct countries (Swan et al., 1999). In the banking sector, Ang and Cummings (1997) found
that professional networks operate at several levels (regional and national associations for
instance). Large banks and small ones with enough financial capacity to resist were found to be
able to temper those pressures (Ang and Cummings, 1997). IT adoption is also influenced by
competitors. In their study of financial EDI intention to adopt, Teo et al. (2003) consider mimetic
pressures as a construct formed by the extent of adoption by competitors and their perceived
success of adoption. Mimetic pressures were found to be significant only when the innovation
was perceived as highly complex (Teo et al., 2003). Tan and Fichman (2002) found that the
decision for banks to adopt an IT innovation (web-based transactional banking) was influenced by
prior adopters of similar size, and geographical proximity.
                                      Discussion and Conclusion
        The institutional perspective is one of the prevailing theories currently used in
organizational analysis (Weick, 2003). While it has been used on a number of occasions by IS
scholars, no rigorous effort has yet been made to assess the extent to which the basic assumptions
and precepts of the theory have been taken into consideration. Some areas of concern are
identified and suggestions for potential improvement are made.
Concern 1 – Which units of analysis would help IT institutionalists make new
contributions? The literature review establishes that, in their studies, IT institutionalists
acknowledged the several levels of analysis existing in institution theory: field, organization, sub-
organization, and individual. However, while studies at the organizational level of analysis
constitute the majority of the studies surveyed, the field level remains practically unexplored. Yet,
the organizational field is a central element in institutional theory (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983).
By concentrating on higher levels of analysis when using institutional theory, IT researchers
would be able to better understand and explain “how regulative processes, normative systems,
and cultural frameworks shape the design and use of technical systems” (Orlikowski and Barley,
2001, p.153). There also seems to be room for IT contributions at intermediate levels of analysis
(organizational sub-systems) such as groups, departments, processes. These were practically non-
existent in the studies surveyed. For instance, it was shown that professional associations and
technology suppliers are institutions that do exert pressures on organizations. Therefore,
institutional studies of the role of groups, such as consultants, in IT implementation projects
would probably contribute to both research and practice.



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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

Concern 2 – There is a need for broader and clearer definitions of institutions in IT.
Institutions are not only organizations, as sometimes suggested in IT. For instance, King and his
colleagues (King et al., 1994) provide a list of institutions that have a role in the innovation
process; all the institutions comprised in the list are organizations. As stated earlier, an institution
is a social structure that gives organizations or individuals lines of action or orientations, while
controlling and constraining them (Scott, 2001). Thus, all institutions are not organizations, and
IT studies could benefit from the study of institutions other than organizations. For instance,
Avgerou considered IT innovation as an institution, and proposed that “Within a period of 30
years IT acquired the legitimacy of an "enabler" for almost anything organizational actors could
think as an improvement in their context, and became one of the most significant factors justifying
and enacting organizational change” (Avgerou, 2000, p.240).
         However, it is not always clear if the institutions under study really are institutions in the
terms of institutional theory. In order to be considered as such, an institution should have gone
through a process of institutionalization that has three components: habitualization,
objectification and sedimentation (Tolbert and Zucker, 1996). When sedimentation is reached, the
new structure is virtually completely spread among the actors involved and full
institutionalization is reached (Tolbert and Zucker, 1996). Thus, one cannot simply state that a
given organization or phenomenon is an institution. History matters (Zucker, 1989). In the IT
literature, it is not always clear why some elements should be thought of as institutions. For
instance top management and top management championship are presented as institutions
exerting normative pressures on individuals in the organization (Chatterjee et al., 2002; Purvis et
al., 2001). This conceptualization is interesting but no actual demonstration was made that top
management or top management championship are indeed institutions. Such a study would make
a contribution to the IT literature.
Concern 3 – All pressures are not institutional pressures. DiMaggio and Powell clearly stated
“we maintain that there are two types of isomorphism: competitive and institutional” (DiMaggio
and Powell, 1983, p.149). While institutional isomorphism is the result of coercive, mimetic and
normative pressures, competitive isomorphism assumes “a system rationality that emphasizes
market competition, niche change, and fitness measures” (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983, p.149).
Some competitive pressures could be easily confused with institutional pressures: for instance,
institutional pressures coming from competitors (Teo et al., 2003) or other corporations (King et
al., 1994) ought to be explicitly differentiated from competitive ones, which was not clearly done
in the studies mentioned. Some IT researchers even explicitly consider competitive pressures as
institutional pressures (see Tan and Fichman, 2002, p.145). The distinction between institutional
and non-institutional pressures is even more subtle: “Many motives conduce toward conformity:
fads, fashion, status enhancement, vicarious learning. All mimetic behaviour does not involve
institutional processes” (Scott, 2001, p.162). Again, IT institutionalists have to be very careful
with the concepts they are importing.
Concern 4 – “No legitimacy, no history” as Zucker provocatively claimed (1989, p.542). For
Zucker, legitimacy is a core variable of institutional analysis, which should be measured. No
actual measure of legitimacy has yet been proposed by IT institutionalists in the papers reviewed,
which again, could be a contribution to the literature. Besides, the notion of legitimacy may have
been misapprehended in some cases. For instance, two papers explicitly present Scott’s normative

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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

pillar as ‘the’ legitimization pillar: “2. Structures of legitimization, whereby the prevailing
institutional structures validate specific behaviors as being appropriate in the organization and
consistent with the goals and values of the organization. Individuals draw upon these structures
as normative templates to reassure themselves about the organizational legitimacy of their
actions” (Chatterjee et al., 2002, p.68; Purvis et al., 2001, p.120). This is a very different
interpretation than that given by Scott himself: “Each of the three pillars provides a basis for
legitimacy, albeit a different one” and “the three pillars elicit three related but distinguishable
bases of legitimacy” (Scott, 2001, p.59 and p.60).
         Zucker (1989) also raises the importance of the time dimension in institutional analyses.
Institutional theory exhibits a logic of opposition between institutions, which pressure
organizations, and organizations, which respond to these pressures with legitimating strategies.
When they study phenomena that have a logic of opposition (vs. determination), researchers
should choose a longitudinal design if they want to be able to study the interplay of opposing
forces (Robey and Boudreau, 1999). However, most of the studies reviewed looked at IT
phenomena, with an institutional lens, using cross-sectional methodologies. This is counter-
intuitive and inappropriate to institutional analysis, where process research should be the most
appropriate approach (Robey and Boudreau, 1999). IT research would benefit from more
longitudinal designs.
Concern 5 – What is the legitimating strategy at stake? Tables 1, 2 and 3 suggest that IT
institutionalists mainly want to know whether organizations acquiesce with institutional
pressures. The only tactic searched for was compliance. Oliver (1991) proposed a whole set of
legitimating strategies and tactics associated with them. IT institutionalists have a whole range of
legitimating strategies at hand that have not yet been taken into account. IT implementation and
adoption are research areas where such strategies as compromise, manipulation and avoidance are
very likely to exist. For instance, a system may be ostensibly designed to promote a given value
(efficiency) when really it promotes the embedded bureaucratic and hierarchical structure (Robey
and Boudreau, 1999).
        Institutional approaches can help IS researchers understand “how technologies are
embedded in complex interdependent social, economic, and political networks, and how they are
consequently shaped by broader institutional influences” (Orlikowski and Barley, 2001, p.154).
By using institutional insights, IS scholars will enrich their vision of IS phenomena and include
social, cultural and political aspects they could be missing otherwise (Orlikowski and Barley,
2001). However, in so doing, they should remain faithful to the definitions of the concepts they
borrow from institutional theory, as well as take into account the methodological considerations
implied by adopting an institutional perspective.




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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

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                 Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                      Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

Tan, S.S.L., and Fichman, M. "Adoption of Web-Based Transactional Banking: Efficiency-
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                  Positioning the Institutional Perspective in Information Technology Research
                                       Muriel Mignerat and Suzanne Rivard

                            Appendix - Journals and References Selected


   JOURNAL (impact factor JCR 2003)                                REFERENCE
  Academy of Management Review (4.415)         -
  Academy of Management Journal (3.343)        -
         MIS Quarterly (2.811)                 Chatterjee et al, 2002; Teo et al., 2003; Swanson &
                                               Ramiller, 2004
  Administrative Science Quarterly (2.721)     -
      Organization Science (2.372)             Ang & Cummins 1997; Swanson & Ramiller, 1997;
                                               Purvis et al., 2001
    Information Systems Review (1.917)         King et al., 1994
    Information and Management (1.768)         -
        Organization Studies (1.634)           Swan, Newell & Robertson, 1999
    Communications of the ACM (1.546)          Laudon, 1985
        Management Science (1.468)             -
      Harvard Business Review (1.371)          -
          Journal of MIS (1.225)               -
   European Journal of Information Studies     -
                  (0.897)
   Information Technology and People (-)       Nicolaou, 1999; Damsgaard & Scheepers, 1999; Avgerou,
                                               2000; Silva & Figueroa., 2002; Swan, Newell &
                                               Robertson, 2000; Kaye &Little, 1996
           Proceedings of ICIS (-)             Haggerty & Golden, 2002; Tan & Fichman, 2002
            Journal of the AIS (-)             Gosain, 2004; Silva & Backhouse, 2003




Copyright HEC Montréal, 2005                                                                           19

				
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