Making information systems useful for environmental management

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Source: European Commission, Environment DG

Computer-based information systems (IS) are tools for recording, storing, processing and disseminating information which have the potential to inform environmental management and policy. A recent study identifies factors that influence their use and usefulness.

IS within the environmental field include integrated assessment models, geographic information systems and decision support systems. This study, conducted under the EU DeSurvey project1, looks at which factors make IS useful, across all fields, and applies these findings to environmental management.

The study identifies three stages in the life-cycle of IS:

  1. Pre-implementation. This refers to the design of the IS
  2. Implementation, which refers to the diffusion, adoption, acceptance and use of the IS
  3. Post-implementation, which refers to the evaluation and continued use of the IS

The study identifies factors that influence the usefulness of IS at each stage. The factors are categorised as best, potential and worst predictors of a successfully applied IS.

The results reveal that user participation is the most important factor to successful pre-implementation processes, which suggests a need for communication between developers and users when designing IS. Top management support is needed for implementation at both the individual and the organisational level. The quality of the system is what makes IS most useful for individual users, as are support, training and computer experience. However, for organisations as a whole, the quality of the system was not as important as external pressure in influencing uptake. At the post-implementation stage, user satisfaction was the best predictor of assessment and continued use.

The authors suggest that the uptake of an environmental IS may be limited if it does not match existing governance structures. In some cases, it could be more worthwhile to consider environmental IS as tools to lobby for change in governance rather than tools to support organisations taking action.

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