Achieving radical change: a comparative study of public-sector accounting in Westminster and Scotland

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Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to focus on strategies and “spoken discourses” used to construct legitimation around change at the individual level. Comparing changes in financial accounting, budgeting and performance management at two government levels (Westminster and Scotland), it explores the use of legitimation strategies in the implementation of accounting change and its perceived outcomes. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on semi-structured interviews, six legitimation/delegitimation strategies are used to code the transcribed data. Patterns with the perceived outcomes of change are explored. Findings: Changes introduced to enhance “rational” decision making are often received as pushed by some source of authority. Regardless of the interviewees’ background and level, the results suggest that for radical accounting change to embed, it is necessary for it to be perceived as rational, rather than merely driven by authorisation-based pressures. Conversely, incremental change is associated with modest legitimation via rationalisation and delegitimation based on pathos and rationalisation. Research limitations/implications: The study deals with actors’ legitimation strategies and perceptions of change. These may not correspond to actual substantial change. Taken-for-granted ideas often remain “under the radar”, therefore care must be taken in interpreting the results. The focus of the empirical study is on the UK, therefore conclusions are restricted to this context. Originality/value: Existing studies struggle to explain organisations’ heterogeneity and practice variation; this study sheds light on how individual legitimation, which may lead to different organisational results, occurs. Differences in how actors interpret changes may be based on their position (central vs devolved administration) and on their ownership of the changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-455
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Volume31
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018

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Keywords

  • accounting change, public sector, legitimation strategies.

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