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The risk of failure of controls and levers of change: an examination of two Italian public sectors

Eliana Minelli (University Carlo Cattaneo – LIUC, Italy)
Gianfranco Rebora (University Carlo Cattaneo – LIUC, Italy)
Matteo Turri (Department of Economics, Business and Statistics, University of Milan, Italy)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 21 March 2008




The aims of the paper are to: present a theoretical framework for analysing the functioning and consequences of control systems; understand and compare the structure and impact of control systems on two Italian public administrations also in relation to possible situations of crisis and failure; and examine the possible link between the organisational impact of control systems (and their failure if this is the case) and the characteristics of the sectors involved.


The proposed theoretical framework (analysis of the concept, methods, bodies, uses, coherence and impact of control) is applied through a parallel examination of two cases: control systems in Italian universities and ministries over the past 15 years. The objective is to understand why similar rules concerning control systems bring about different consequences and results.


Analysis over a 15 years period shows the effects of two very different strategic approaches and organisational choices in the face of very similar rules. Acceptance or otherwise of control, professional ability and competence, coherence between methods and the object of control and transparency all appear as discriminating factors in the failure or success of control systems. In universities, taking advantage of existing knowledge and professional skills, combining new internationally recognised assessment techniques with academic tradition and culture, focusing methods on specific activities such as teaching and research and arousing attention through transparency of evaluation outputs are the main factors which keep the risk of failure at bay. Evaluation has to cope with the allocation of resource and power issues, but is beginning to take on importance in change management. On the other hand, the case of the ministries shows how the new public management‐type of control exist in a closed cultural context where methods and instruments are taken up without adapting to core processes and where there is secrecy regarding control outputs.

Research limitations/implications

This is an exploratory study that will have to be confirmed by further verification in the future that could include new cases to make the analysis even more exhaustive. The subject of the paper does not lend itself to quantitative studies.

Practical implications

Not to concentrate only on the methodological aspects of control activities, but also focus on all those features of control systems that permit the actual use of output and bring about concrete results in public administrations.


In the past few years, control systems have very often been introduced into the public sector without paying enough attention to how they really work and their true outcome. This paper faces the problem by putting forward a theoretical framework and empirical evidence that may be used by the academic world and public administration.



Minelli, E., Rebora, G. and Turri, M. (2008), "The risk of failure of controls and levers of change: an examination of two Italian public sectors", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 5-26.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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