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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Automated information systems as social resources in policy making


Automated information systems have been suggested by a number of theorists to aid public policy makers in acquiring more accurate, timely, and relevant information. This paper reports a study of the uses and impacts of automated systems for policy analysis in 42 municipal governments. Automated analyses are commonly used in municipal governments and are used to support policy suggestions which are often implemented. Automated systems in these settings serve in both educational and political roles. The utility of automated data systems for both rational and political uses increases with the extent that automated data is available in a given municipal government.

In addition, we investigate the influence of computer-based policy analyses on the distribution of power in municipal governments. We find that computer-based systems reinforce the existing distribution of power in American municipalities. They provide differential support to mayors and city managers in smaller cities and to departments in the larger cities.

More generally, this analysis indicates that the political arrangements of the social setting in which a computer-based system is utilized must be well understood, in addition to the technical features of the system, to predict its likely uses and impacts. This principle undermines the sufficiency of the formulations of rational and organizational process theorists who emphasize the technical characteristics of systems and neglect the political dynamics of the settings in which automated data systems are utilized.

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