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The investment turn

Rodney J. Dormer (Victoria Business School, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 4 March 2019

Issue publication date: 4 March 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore the recently increased use of the word “investment” in the public management discourse. In particular, it examines the implications of this for accounting and public governance. It asks, is that discourse simply concerned to account for “investment” in the efficient provision of public goods and services? Or does it also seek to hold governments, and government agencies, to account for the results they achieve and, more broadly, for their investment in, and stewardship of, the capacity to do so in the future?


The paper draws on a range of literature as well as speeches made by both New Zealand politicians and officials to track the emergence and evolution of a discourse in respect of “an investment approach”. As such, the analysis represents a diachronic approach for, as Jäger and Meyer (2009) note: “To identify the knowledge of a society on a topic, the analyst has to reconstruct the genesis of this topic” (p. 46).


The initial adoption of “an investment approach” occurred in the context of attempts to gain a clearer focus on, and accountability for, the results of government interventions. Subsequently, a broader, and arguably more classic, conception of public investment has involved a developing focus on changes to the nation’s economic, social and environmental capitals. Both approaches provide significant practical challenges for accounting and the continued relevance of the accounting profession.

Research limitations/implications

The paper points to an urgent need to engage the accounting profession in debates that extend beyond the adoption of accrual accounting for the control of inputs and the provision of outputs. It is suggested that a future research agenda should focus on how models of well-being, and the public capitals that enable well-being, might be better accounted for and monitored.


This paper provides an insight into the emergence, spread and ultimate fading of the use of the word “investment” in the public policy discourse in New Zealand. However, it also places that process in a wider development that is focusing on citizens’ well-being. In so doing, it also highlights the challenges for the accounting profession created by the investment turn – whether relating to investment in operational activities or in public capitals.



Dormer, R.J. (2019), "The investment turn", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 85-102.



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