The intellectual capital (IC) literature argues that introducing the IC concept into a company focusing on measuring can be detrimental and lead to IC “accountingisation”. Using Chaminade and Roberts’ (2003, p. 747) concept of IC accounting “lock-in”, the paper asks “is it possible for an organisation initially to implement and “lock-in” IC accounting practices and subsequently “un-lock” IC through a more strategic managerial approach?” The authors also investigate if and how, after IC has been “un-locked”, can a new IC “locking-in” process occur? The paper aims to discuss these issues.
The authors present an interpretive case study of implementing a system for measuring and reporting IC in an Italian public sector utility company. The analysis uses Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to analyse data and discuss findings which is an appropriate theory for case studies using an interpretive approach.
The findings are contrary to Chaminade and Roberts (2003, p. 733) because the authors challenge the notion “that a dominant accounting perspective can lead to an excessive focus on measurement issues and little attention to management processes”. The evidence from the case study shows how at times a dominant focus on accounting for IC is necessary, especially to allow newcomers to take stock, and make sense, of IC. The analogy is much like comparing accounting vs managing IC to the concept of the chicken and the egg: what comes first?
Because the study looks at IC over time, it allows the authors to develop different insights into IC “because IC is not an event, but a journey” (Dumay et al., 2015). Thus, the critique of Chaminade and Roberts (2003) and other IC research based on a short time period is that it does not allow researchers to fully follow the IC’s impact on an organisation. Additionally, the authors also highlight the role academic researchers can play in understanding how IC works inside organisations, especially when the authors examine how deeply (or not) a researcher intervenes in implementing solutions (see Dumay, 2010).
The research exemplifies how IC can make a difference for public sector organisations because there is a need for studies such as the authors which exemplify how to introduce the IC concept into public sector organisations and at what point should the IC concept “enter” the organisation (see also Secundo et al., 2015). Doing so re-emphasises that IC is not an ostensive concept. Rather, “IC is part of a configuration of knowledge management and actively mobilised to condition effects” (Mouritsen, 2006) and to make a difference (Tull and Dumay, 2007).
This paper is a must read for academics and practitioners seeking to understand how to introduce the IC concept into an organisation.
First, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments. Second, we are also grateful to Dr Couch (a pseudonym) for his contribution to the research and feedback on our results. Finally, we thank Fiona Crawford of the Editorial Collective and Jenny Hatton for their editorial assistance.
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