Officers Never Type: Examining the Persistence of Paper in e-Governance


The Global South has seen a proliferation of e-governance initiatives aimed at digitizing governmental service delivery. However, paper continues to remain the primary medium of bureaucracy. During ethnographic fieldwork at the CM Helpline, a state-wide e-governance initiative in central India, we observed that even tech-savvy bureaucrats who fully supported both the initiative and its paper-to-electronic transition ensured that paper continues to persist in abundance. Drawing upon scholarship from HCI, anthropology, and science & technology studies, we theorize this contradiction to uncover the circulations of power between people, paper, and electronic systems. We suggest that designers should recognize that new systems often disempower existing actors. The process of transition should integrate new systems into the existing ecosystem and plan for the graceful retirement of older technologies. In addition to machine errors, systems should be resilient to human errors. Finally, new systems should attend to sociocultural and historical specificities.

Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems