Justifying Public Sector Accounting Change from the Inside: Ex-post Reflections from Three Countries

Noel Hyndman, Mariannunziata Liguori*, Renate E. Meyer, Tobias Polzer, Johann Seiwald, Ileana Steccolini

*Corresponding author for this work

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Looking at accounting reforms in central government, the paper investigates how key actors (senior managers responsible for developing and/or implementing change) account for the related change outcomes subsequent to implementation. Using aggregated data from three countries (the UK, Italy, and Austria), and a mixed‐methods approach, the study investigates which rhetorical strategies are used to construct ex‐post legitimation or delegitimation of the changes, and how these strategies are associated with different perceived outcomes of change. Building on previous literature, possible strategies for ex‐post (de‐)legitimation and outcomes of change are identified. The study finds that radical change (leading to new accounting systems bedding down with accompanying new interpretative schemes) is associated with ex‐post legitimation based on rationalization. In contrast, incremental change (introducing new accounting tools, but not resulting in changed interpretative schemes) is often connected with narratives criticizing (or delegitimating) the change. The study contributes to the scant body of literature focusing on ex‐post legitimation of accounting change. How managers justify change in relation to its outcomes provides useful insights for the current situation when, as a consequence of crisis and austerity, new roles and relevancies for accounting and control systems continue to emerge. It is argued that for change to be substantive, it is not only essential that the actual systems and structures of accounting are adjusted, but it is critical that the way people interpret and make sense of accounting information (and consequently take decisions) is also modified. The particular challenges of achieving this in a period of crisis are highlighted.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)582-609
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 15. August 2019


  • Public-sector accounting
  • Accounting change
  • Outcomes of change
  • Ex-post legitimation
  • Mixed methods
  • Central government

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