Rational and symbolic uses of performance measurement

Dorota Dobija (Department of Accounting, Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland)
Anna Maria Górska (Department of Marketing, Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland)
Giuseppe Grossi (School of Health and Society, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Wojciech Strzelczyk (Department of Accounting, Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 10 June 2019



The purpose of this paper is to facilitate a deeper understanding of the uses and users of performance measurement (PM) in the university context.


Empirical data were gathered from four universities. This approach allows for a multilevel and comparative analysis based on the neo-institutional theory. The results are discussed alongside interdisciplinary literature on the use of PM in the public sector.


PM practices at universities have become increasingly popular on institutional, organisational and individual levels. The results indicate that different types of PM are used in universities and that the extent, and scope of PM used by various actors differ. Universities often use PM in a ceremonial and symbolic manner, with the aim of legitimising themselves externally as research-oriented institutions. The use of PM depends on both, exogenous factors (such as isomorphic pressures) and endogenous factors related to the different responses of organisations and individual actors (university managers, and academics). However, the analysis at the internal level reveals different attitudes and some resistance to the use of such kinds of PM. In universities with a local focus, the use of PM for rational decision-making is generally loosely coupled with the reporting performance for external accountability purposes. Moreover, the internal use of PM can be also symbolic.

Research limitations/implications

This paper focusses on four case studies that are currently undergoing changes. The comparative analysis is supported by the use of different data collection methods and several in-depth interviews with key university actors.


The authors assume that the use of PM depends on a number of exogenous and endogenous factors. PM uses and users are discussed in the specific context of the higher education system in Poland. The four business school cases facilitate a comparative analysis of the similarities and differences in terms of the uses and users of PM in the context of internationally and locally oriented universities.



Dorota Dobija, Anna Maria Górska, Giuseppe Grossi and Wojciech Strzelczyk (2019) "Rational and symbolic uses of performance measurement", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 750-781

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: https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-08-2017-3106



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