Digital innovation in social cash organizations – the effects of the institutional interactions for transforming organizational practices

Atika Ahmad Kemal*, Mahmood Hussain Shah

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: While the potential for digital innovation (DI) to transform organizational practices is widely acknowledged in the information systems (IS) literature, there is very limited understanding on the socio-political nature of institutional interactions that determine DI and affect organizational practices in social cash organizations. Drawing on the neo-institutionalist vision, the purpose of the study is to examine the unique set of institutional exchanges that influence the transition to digital social cash payments that give rise to new institutional arrangements in social cash organizations. Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on an in-depth case study of a government social cash organization in Pakistan. Qualitative data were collected using 30 semi-structured interviews from key organizational members and stakeholders. Findings: The results suggest that DI is determined by the novel intersections between the coercive (techno-economic, regulatory), normative (socio-organizational), mimetic (international) and covert power (political) forces. Hence, DI is not a technologically deterministic output, but rather a complex socio-political process enacted through dialogue, negotiation and conflict between institutional actors. Technology is socially embedded through the process of institutionalization that is coupled by the deinstitutionalization of established organizational practices for progressive transformation. Research limitations/implications: The research has implications for government social cash organizations especially in the Global South. Empirically, the authors gained rare access to, and support from a government-backed social cash organization in Pakistan (an understudied country in the Global South), which made the data and the consequent analyses even invaluable. This made the empirical contribution within this geographical setting even more worthy, since this case study has received little attention from indigenous scholars in the past. The empirical findings showcased a unique set of contextual factors that were subject to BISP and interpreted through an account of socio-cultural sensitivities. Practical implications: The paper provides practical implications for policymakers and practitioners, emphasizing the need to address institutional challenges, including covert power, during the implementation of digitalization projects in the public sector. The paper has certain potential for inspiring future e-government related (or public sector focused) studies. The paper may guide both private and government policy-makers and practitioners in presenting how to overcome certain institutional challenges while planning and implementing large scale multi-stakeholder digitization projects in similar country contexts. So while there is scope of linking the digitization of public sector organizations to anti-corruption measures in other Global South countries, the paper may not be that straightforward with the private sector involvement. Social implications: The paper offers rich social insights on the institutional interchanges that occur between the social actors for the innovation of technology. Especially, the paper highlights the social-embeddedness nature of technology that underpins the institutionalization of new organizational practices. These have implications on how DI is viewed as a socio-political process of change. Originality/value: This study contributes to neo-institutional theory by theorizing covert power as a political force that complements the neo-institutional framework. This force is subtle but also resistive for some political actors as the force shifts the equilibrium of power between different institutional actors. Furthermore, the paper presents the social and practical implications that guide policymakers and practitioners by taking into consideration the unique institutional challenges, such as covert power, while implementing large scale digital projects in the social cash sector.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages35
JournalInformation Technology and People
Early online date2 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2023

Cite this