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Role attribution in public sector accountability processes: Dynamic and situation-specific accountor and constituent roles

Eva Hagbjer (Department of Accounting, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Kalle Kraus (Department of Accounting, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Johnny Lind (Department of Accounting, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Ebba Sjögren (Department of Accounting, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden and Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 9 October 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore how actors take on and ascribe the role of accountor and constituent in the process of giving and demanding of reasons for organisational conduct.

Design/methodology/approach

The on-going interactions in supervision meetings between the supplier of outsourced elderly care in Sweden and a local government administration were examined through a longitudinal study.

Findings

The paper proposes the concept of role attribution to characterise a strategy for handling complexity in public sector accountability processes. This complements previous research, which has described three main strategies for handling competing accountability demands: decoupling, structural differentiation and compromising. Role attribution was found to involve the supplier and purchaser of public services pursuing a specific resolution to an accountability demand by positioning themselves as jointly aligned with certain prospective constituents in the environment. Thus, while inter-organisational relationships can be a source of complexity for accountors, as already documented in prior research, the findings of this paper show ways in which the dynamic and situation-specific accountor and constituent roles can serve as a resource. The two organisations moved back and forth between cooperating to handle accountability demands from actors in the environment and assuming different accountor and constituent roles within their relationship.

Research limitations/implications

The paper discusses the need to move beyond the taken-for-granted roles of accountor and constituent in analysing outsourced public service relationships. Specifically, the findings suggest that researchers interested in public sector accountability processes would benefit from designing their studies in ways that makes it possible to observe and theorise dynamic and situation-specific accountor and constituent roles.

Practical implications

The studied supervision meetings served as an arena where on-going accountability issues played out and were mediated through role attribution. Seemingly, there are possibilities to complement formal role descriptions and contracts with systematic processes for addressing on-going operational accountability issues within and beyond individual, formalised accountor–constituent relationships. From a societal perspective, it might be relevant to mandate more systematic procedural structures to support on-going accountability processes, for example, the creation and maintenance of interactive inter-organisational forums which can serve as a mechanism for systematic, yet situation-specific, handling of operational and strategic issues. At an organisational level, this paper shows a need that such forums merit on-going managerial attention and conscious staffing to secure both competence and stability.

Originality/value

The authors find a dynamic and situation-specific attribution of accountor and constituent roles, in contrast to prior research’s routine consideration of these roles as being predetermined by existing relationships of hierarchy and influence.

Keywords

Citation

Hagbjer, E., Kraus, K., Lind, J. and Sjögren, E. (2017), "Role attribution in public sector accountability processes: Dynamic and situation-specific accountor and constituent roles", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 367-389. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRAM-04-2017-0025

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited