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Framing and overflowing of public sector accountability innovations: A comparative study of reporting practices

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Purpose ‐ This paper aims to explain why public sector performance reporting that emphasises external accountability may turn out differently from the official stated aims. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Using a comparative case method, two different accountability innovations are examined using framing and overflowing ideas. Findings ‐ The accountability reports became bureaucratic communications between the reporting and central agencies. The reports were transformed because the performance reporting produced a number of overflows and reduced the importance of broad audiences (e.g. citizens). These overflows resulted from the central agency reformers' preoccupation with cost cutting opportunities and the reporting agencies' presumption of the reformers' real purpose. In the resulting interactions, the accountability purpose ended up being mostly reduced to disclosure of traditional input and output measures and some insignificant stories designed to avoid public criticism of the accountability reform but also to hinder others in identifying objects for cost cutting. Research?limitations/implications ‐ To conduct international comparative research is logistically challenging, but provides the best chances of understanding the systemic aspects of accountability reforms that contribute to the reforms' observable and perplexing outcomes. Ideally, it would be interesting to study such reforms over their full lives; however, they may be longer than the researchers' careers. Practical implications ‐ Accountability purposes are disturbed by classical cost cutting thinking. Thus, despite many ostensibly good ideas of creating transparency for the public, other stronger forces may severely hinder such accountability developments. Concepts of framing and overflowing may be used to better understand the outcomes of accountability innovations; this can be extended beyond the public sector. Originality/value ‐ Provides useful information on why public sector performance reporting that emphasises external accountability may turn out differently from the official stated aims.

Keywords: Annual reports; Auditing; External auditing; Innovations; Performance measures; Public sector organizations

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-03-06

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