Electric cooperatives may be seen as an alternative form of organizing in the shadow of investor-owned utilities. They are presumed able to meet financial challenges while simultaneously honoring cooperative principles of member-owners. This paper aims to investigate such a balancing act and conceptualize “key performance indicators” (KPIs) as a dramatic accounting discourse.
This paper uses a dramaturgical approach to cooperative performance accounting, and claims that KPIs are a simplification of a complex and shifting reality which they also socially construct. Data were gathered from annual financial reports and websites of rural electric cooperatives along with semi-structured interviews conducted with senior cooperative officials.
The cooperatives in this case study reported a huge number of KPIs. However, this paper reveals that the performance indicators serve impression management goals and operational demands rather than reporting on fulfillment of the “Seven Cooperative Principles” that are fundamental to the cooperative movement.
Extant inquiry regarding electric cooperatives tends toward a positivist research approach and a realist worldview. This overlooks dramatic and critical possibilities of KPIs as a management construction project. Expanding beyond mainstream research, this paper calls attention to artistic production of knowledge and applies a qualitative framework to problematize accounting disclosures.
Prior KPI research has often been instrumental, looking for predictive evidence that KPIs have strategic value as a “tool” for organizations to attain competitive advantage. This paper introduces the notion that performance measures are theatrical, and applies this to rural electric cooperatives, an industry mostly ignored in the academic literature.
Corrigan, L.T. and Rixon, D. (2017), "A dramaturgical accounting of cooperative performance indicators", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 60-80. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRAM-08-2016-0060
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