Calculating Outsourcing Strategies and Trials of Strength: Exploring the Dynamics Between the Program and Projects

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Public sector outsourcing is a program within a suite of contemporary reforms mobilizing private enterprises in the belief of a more efficient public sector. Danish Armed Forces outsourcing of its facility services and management emerged as an option in 1991. Two strategic options developed: one was termed ‘internal optimization’ to first increase efficiency and be followed by anticipated sequential tenders to test the free market against internal provision. This option implied a time perspective where outsourcing, if not economically feasible, would be postponed and subsequently tested. The alternative option was an immediate outsourcing strategy with facility services being the object of large cross-functional contracts for all Danish military establishments. By succeeding in presenting ‘internal optimization’ as an outsourcing option (as opposed to the usual ‘make’ option) this case demonstrates the power of projects and their use of accounting calculation. We study how the two options emerged and were valued differently by the supra-national outsourcing program and the local Defense projects over 22 years and how that valuation process involved accounting. Drawing on Actor-Network Theory we show how the two strategic options emerged and were pitted against each other in what Latour and Callon describe as ‘trials of strength’. The contribution of the paper is in four parts: 1. highlights how accounting inscriptions take part in formulating, evaluating and advancing different outsourcing strategies during a series of trials of strength, 2. develops the concept of ‘trial of strength’ for accounting and organization research by showing how ‘the rules of the game’ for the trials of strength can become challenged and controversial, 3. shows that, in addition to the pervasive role of programs, projects can play a strategic role by challenging the outsourcing program and developing a trial of strength, and finally, 4. conceptualizes the complex time-space dynamics between institutionalized trials and trials of strength.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Number of pages56
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event2014 Critical Perspectives on Accounting Conference - Schulich School of Business, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 7 Jul 20149 Jul 2014


Conference2014 Critical Perspectives on Accounting Conference
LocationSchulich School of Business
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