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Accounting and accountability in an Italian social care provider: Contrasting people-changing with people-processing approaches

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Purpose ‐ This article aims to focus on one of the most intriguing issues related to the public sector reforms: the accountability systems. In particular the paper aims to deal with the relationships between accounting-based reforms, forms of accountability, and people-changing or people-processing approaches to service provision within Italian social work. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper draws on the accountability and people changing/processing literature to interpret and discuss the evidence gathered in an in-depth longitudinal case study conducted in a social service public organization between 2007 and 2009. Findings ‐ The article reveals that the case study site had developed two distinct groups of services: "Territoriali" and "Residenziali". "Territoriali" engage in a traditional mode of social care, they provide professional support to clients with, sometimes, quite intractable problems, and aim to modify clients' characteristics, behaviour and attitudes. In contrast, "Residenziali" deal with, and often outsource, more standardized care packages in the form of residential care, day care and some home-based services. The accounting reforms were received very differently in these two areas. "Territoriali" was resistant to the changes but, in large part, "Residenziali" embraced them. The article then argues that this reflected the extent to which each service area was willing and able to implement a people-processing rather than a people-changing approach. The adoption of the people-processing method had profound implications for the ways that accountability was both experienced and delivered in the services. Originality/value ‐ This article deals with the under-researched area of social care. It integrates two literatures not previously articulated together: accountability and people changing/processing. A three-year longitudinal study is presented, enabling an in-depth appreciation of the changes affecting social services and the differential responses to accounting and consequent shifts in accountability in two contrasting service areas.

Keywords: Accountability; Accounting; Italy; NPM reform; People-changing; People-processing; Public sector reform; Social services

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-06-15

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