The Experimental Role of Accounting in Shaping Project: Program Dynamics in Military Outsourcing Trials of Strength

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Our study draws upon Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and takes inspiration from Callon’s (2007) more recent call to consider projects as sites for economic experiments with programs. The paper contributes to the literature on the roles of accounting (Burchell et al., 1980; Mouritsen, Hansen and Hansen, 2009) and the literature on accounting as programs (Miller, 1991, Miller and Power, 2013) by showing how accounting plays an experimental role in shaping the dynamics between a New Public Management programme of outsourcing and its projects. The study illuminates decisionmaking about programs and strategic options as a trial of strength involving accounting in an experimental role, in our case, over how to source the facilities management in the Danish Defence Forces. Our contribution is to show how accounting plays an experimental role in generating new and unexpected program options and in negotiating these during a protracted trial of strength involving goal translation and detours of the sourcing programs. The paper also makes a contribution in considering what it is that makes a calculation stronger or weaker during the economic experiments. Our case shows how actors organized a series of economic experiments with (out-)sourcing options using various accounting data such as; location specific cost data in vivo (real life data like those from the accounting system) for individual barracks, and aggregated cost data and cost projections in vitro ( in a controlled experimental project setting). During the first two trials calculations with a basis in in vivo data proved stronger than those calculations with a basis in vitro data. However, during the third and fourth trials, the strength of the calculations is unexpectedly reversed. What made the difference was the redefinition of the cost object, from outsourcing of individual barracks towards two regions, encompassing an outsourcing of east and west Denmark in two large contracts. This change was performed by the mobilization of a transaction cost calculation that projected these costs to be too high unless the object of outsourcing could be enlarged. In effect, protagonists used cost accounting to negotiate the boundary and size of the cost object. Previous strong in vivo calculations are problematized and alternative and stronger in vitro calculations are made showing how the relative strength between them are unexpectedly reversed. Our proposition is that what makes the calculation stronger is its ability to mobilize new calculative devices (such as transaction costs theory) that changes the boundary of the object of calculation and what is considered as relevant to take into account. Finally, the study contributes to the literature on accounting as programmes by showing that programme stability is an ongoing accomplishment that cannot be taken for granted. It is a fragile construction that requires substantive investment in calculative equipment as it gives rise to projects that submit the programme to economic experiments, calculations and trials of strength. Our findings regarding the experimental role of accounting in projects experimenting with programs complements and link extant accounting research on the roles of accounting and on accounting as programs.
Titel10th Conference on New Directions in Management Accounting : Innovations in Practice and Research
RedaktørerKari Lukka, Michael Shields
Antal sider45
ForlagEuropean Institute for Advanced Studies in Management
StatusUdgivet - 2016
BegivenhedThe 10th Conference on New Directions in Management Accounting - Bruxelles, Belgien
Varighed: 14 dec. 201616 dec. 2016
Konferencens nummer: 10


KonferenceThe 10th Conference on New Directions in Management Accounting
NavnEIASM Conference Proceedings Series