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Enabling global accounting change: Epistemic communities and the creation of a ‘more business-like’ public sector

Mark Christensen, Susan Newberry and Bradley N. Potter

CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, 2019, vol. 58, issue C, 53-76

Abstract: This article provides an historical assessment of the workings of an epistemic community closely associated with the implementation of accrual accounting in the Australian public sector in order for it to become ‘more business-like’. Our story begins in the 1940s, a period characterized by seemingly disconnected debates emerging from the USA about how best to manage government operations. We show that over the ensuing six decades, a small but influential epistemic community was able to problematize public sector management and accounting practices and cultivate the perception that the public sector needed to be more ‘business-like’ and that in order to do so, the adoption of ‘better’, in this case ‘accrual’, accounting was crucial. In doing so, we inform existing understanding of the early development of accrual accounting in government – the international dimensions of which are not widely acknowledged. Further, we show that in our setting, an epistemic community with transnational dimensions was crucial in enabling the reforms to occur, by disrupting the status quo in government accounting, and diffusing an accrual solution in several settings globally incubated in a discourse of business terminology that characterized governments as businesses. The epistemic community was able to diminish debate and invoke arguments to support the implementation of accrual accounting based on asserted enhancements to accountability, even though such reforms were largely untested in the public sector. Thus, we supplement existing research, by enhancing our understanding of how epistemic communities can make significant accounting change appear seemingly inevitable when it could have been otherwise.

Keywords: Epistemic communities; Problematization; Public sector accounting; Reform (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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DOI: 10.1016/

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Handle: RePEc:eee:crpeac:v:58:y:2019:i:c:p:53-76