Administration in mental health

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 99–111 | Cite as

Information systems in human services: Misconceptions, deceptions, and ethics

  • James C. Noah


The primary purpose of this report is to expand the arena of concern for administrators employing management information systems to meet the current demands for accountability and evaluative research. Three major areas regarding information systems are discussed: accountability, assumed and functional characteristics, and ethical considerations. The following major points for each area are described. Accountability: Specifying accountability has become more difficult, since service organizations have become more complex and, consequently, defining accountability as a synonym for responsibility is no longer adequate. Who is accountable requires a clear specification of any number of service recipients (e.g., funding sources, clients, society). In addition, services must be demonstrated rigorously, cost-beneficial, open to independent review, and publicly reported. Characteristics of Information Systems: Agencies required to furnish documentation of services (“accountability”) have applied information systems designed for use in profit-oriented enterprises to nonprofit systems. However, the translation is not isomorphic. Little if any evaluation of information systems per se, or their application to nonprofit enterprises, has occurred. The behavior of individuals using MISs is controlled by contingencies that may have relatively good short-term effects, but that may produce more negative long-term consequences. MISs used solely to document process and not outcome may help to shape beneficial evaluation efforts, although the transition from process to outcome evaluation must be considered. An information system is more than an information-processing device. It is one component of a complex environment that comes to control the behavior of individuals operating in a system. It should be analyzed accordingly, in terms of three-term contingency arrangements. Ethical Considerations: Designers and users of information systems should be aware of the following ethical concerns. 1. Responsibility for understanding the objectives of the system, the objectives of the systems purchaser, the validity and reliability of data with respect to objectives, the limitations of the system and the relationship of organizational goals to personal goals. 2. Confidentiality with regard to disclosure requirements, and the use of personal data to document accountability requirements. 3. Client welfare relationships between management, staff, and the systems designer. 4. Information systems are designed to create change. Users must be aware of consequences to those the system will impact, whether the impact is intentional or not.


Information System Ethical Consideration Management Information System Personal Goal Organizational Goal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • James C. Noah

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