Cycles of Engagement: how public sector clients and their consultants engage on IT projects

Hartnett, Elizabeth Jean (2011). Cycles of Engagement: how public sector clients and their consultants engage on IT projects. PhD thesis The Open University.



The aim of this thesis is to investigate how public sector clients engage with external clients on information technology projects. It does so by gathering documentary and interview information from clients and consultants on five public sector IT projects. The data were analysed using thematic and template analysis, resulting in a potential model of how project participants build engaged relationships.

Little research has investigated the client-consultant relationship on IT projects and a literature review revealed little theoretical basis to model engagement between participants arriving new to a project with no pre-existing relationships. By drawing on related literature and qualitative research data, the thesis develops a conceptual model of engagement with components that explain engaged relationships in terms of interaction between conditions and behaviours. Emerging behaviours are identified as sharing, sense making and adapting and these behaviours arise from conditions of environment, participants and expertise. Sharing and sense making behaviours reinforce each other, and lead to adapting, and a consequence of adapting is the potential to change conditions. Adapting conditions alters behaviours, which in turn can alter conditions, thus implying that once started, engagement is a dynamic self-replicating phenomenon with cycles that a manager or consultant can identify and alter for the benefit of the project.

The research contributes to theory by offering an understanding of the phenomenon of engagement between participants on projects, demonstrating the self-reinforcing role of conditions and behaviours and adding to theories of client-consultant relationships. The research findings offer consultants and their clients a means to identify how they can deliberately alter engagement to improve a project’s process.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 29713
  • Item Type
  • PhD Thesis
  • Keywords
  • engagement, IT, information technology, public sector, consultants, clients, qualitative, case studies, social capital, client-consultant relationship
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Business and Law (FBL)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2011 E.J.Hartnett
  • Depositing User
  • Elizabeth Hartnett