Identifying policy entrepreneurs of public sector accounting agenda setting in Australia

Sabine Schührer (School of Accounting and Finance, Faculty of the Professions, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 21 May 2018



The purpose of this paper is to improve Kingdon’s (1984, 2011) concept of policy entrepreneurs (PE) with regard to the theoretical development of the definition and identification and level of agency by supplementing it with elements of Schmidt’s (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012) sentient agents. The improved concept of discursive policy entrepreneurs (DPEs) is then applied in an in-depth case study about the agenda setting process of micro and macro whole-of-government accounting in Australia in the late 1990s and early 2000s.


Based on the concept of DPEs, a series of operationalised characteristics and proxies are developed to identify them and describe their behaviour. These are then applied in the case study. The two main data sources are semi-structured in-depth interviews and archival documents.


The findings show that the focus on DPEs’ discursive and coordination activities is critical for identifying and investigating the key actors of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)/Government Finance Statistics (GFS) harmonisation agenda setting process. The study also finds that the two relevant decision-making bodies, the Financial Reporting Council and the Australian Accounting Standards Board, lost control over their agendas due to the actions of DPEs.

Research limitations/implications

The improved concepts of DPEs will allow researchers to better identify the main agents of policy change and differentiate them from other supporters of policy ideas. Due to the qualitative nature of the study, the findings are not necessarily generalisable.

Practical implications

The findings from this study can help participants of agenda setting processes to gain a better understanding of the actions and behaviours of DPEs. This might allow standard setting bodies to mitigate against undue influences by DPEs.


This study is the first study that uses Schmidt’s concept of the sentient agent to address the limitations of Kingdon’s concept of PE and develops and applies characteristics to identify PEs and their actions. It is also the only study to date that investigates the GAAP/GFS harmonisation agenda setting process.



This paper forms part of a special section “Doings of practitioners: public sector accountants in the 21st Century”.

This paper is based on the PhD Thesis of the author. The author would like to express sincere gratitude to the supervisors Professor Emeritus Scott Henderson and Associate Professor Bryan Howieson. The author would also like to thank Professors Mark Christensen, Johan Christiaens, Dorothea Greiling, Kanishka Jayasuriya, Sue Newberry, attendants and faculty of the AFAANZ 2015 and CIGAR 2015 conferences and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and feedback and the interviewees for their participation and time.


Schührer, S. (2018), "Identifying policy entrepreneurs of public sector accounting agenda setting in Australia", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 1067-1097.

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