Communications of the Association for Information Systems


Despite significant research into why IT projects fail, the frequency and impact of failure remains high. Attention has shifted to understanding and guiding de-escalation (i.e., reversing failure). This major turnaround process initially benefits from negative feedback on the status quo and requires an organization to break its established frames and re-establish its legitimacy with stakeholders (Pan & Pan, 2011). We consider the role of satire as a lens to challenge dominant frames and better understand stakeholders during the shift towards de-escalation based on analyzing political cartoons about high-profile troubled public sector projects in New Zealand and Denmark. Drawing on the theories of technological frames of reference, legitimacy, and stakeholder salience, we show how cartoonists expose and critique the normative framing of dysfunctionality to act as field-level evaluators of legitimacy. Through counter-framing, exaggeration, and metaphor, they emphasize the urgency of citizen users’ claims while undermining the legitimacy of powerful stakeholders. We extract lessons for stakeholder management and communication during project turnaround and suggest that satire could be a valuable addition to diagnostic and planning tools during de-escalation. We identify that sensitivity to framing of IT projects exists in the public realm, which reinforces calls for organizations to consider institutional framing.