ترازنامه دانش در دانشگاه های اتریش : پیاده سازی، استفاده، و دوباره شکل دادن به سنجش و شیوه های مدیریت
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|20497||2013||19 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 24, Issues 4–5, June 2013, Pages 319–337
The aim of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of how a mandatory external (mostly) non-financial reporting process, labelled Knowledge Balance Sheets (KBS), is interpreted and used by different stakeholders in the Austrian university system. We are also interested in how the content and structure of the report transforms over time, how the possible link to the internal management control agenda is made, and how it reshapes organizational routines. The paper applies a critical approach where mostly non-financial, intellectual capital-related measurement, management, and reporting processes and structures are being questioned and discussed from different perspectives. This study is based on a qualitative case study approach where a number of semi-structured interviews have been conducted in various Austrian universities at different management levels over a period of approximately one year. In addition, interviews have been held with other stakeholders of universities (e.g., representatives from the ministry) and with members of the working group dealing with the KBS at the supra-university level. An inductively oriented methodology was chosen to obtain a deeper understanding of the current (management) interpretation and use of the KBS, both externally and internally. This paper aims to investigate the practice of KBS in order to build new knowledge relating to both externally oriented reporting and internally oriented management control. The findings indicate that as a reporting-tool, the KBS is embedded in a broader framework of governance and accountability regarding public universities, and interlinks the following different reporting-formats: (1) the KBS itself, (2) the performance report, and (3) the financial statement of accounts. Rectors, deans, and management accountants have highlighted different parts of the framework as important and problematic. However, it is obvious that governing via externally oriented reports and rules of accountability also has relevance to internal management decision and control agendas. Furthermore, there is an on-going debate about measuring, benchmarking, and standardizing qualities within and between universities. Scientific professionals generally question the viability of only one standardized reporting format for scientific outcomes, while the administrative staff usually promotes the necessity of such a report – for example, with respect to benchmarking routines. By analysing the practices triggered by KBS reporting, we contribute to the discussion of how performance (measures and targets) can be represented, interpreted, and acted upon within public organizations in general and within public universities in particular.
Austrian public universities are an example par excellence of Anthony Hopwood's insight: ‘Accounting continually has had a tendency to become what it was not’ (Hopwood, 1987: 297). With the Universities Act 2002 (Universitätsgesetz, 2002), Knowledge Balance Sheets (KBS) became mandatory for public universities in Austria. Assuming that the KBS – a new (public management) instrument for the individual university as well as for the Ministry in charge at that time – may influence managerial processes of decision-making and control, we are interested in developing a critical view of the practices around KBS. Although Austrian public universities were the first in Europe forced by law to implement a KBS and detailed intellectual capital reporting, these organizations are relatively under-researched concerning new reporting practices and their consequences. Researchers are confronted with the impression that the organizational setting after the implementation of the KBS is somehow different from before. This is hardly surprising given the context for higher education institutions (HEIs) in general, that is, the tendency towards greater competition and benchmarking between universities because of the Bologna Process and the radical changes in public governance rationales and processes since the mid 1980s ( Bovaird, 2005, Haque, 2000 and Parker, 2011), which fostered the implementation of new public management (NPM) tools and enhanced accounting and accountability ( Christopher, in press). However, reconstruction of the specificity of somehow in this context ( Bovaird and Löffler, 2003 and Hopwood, 1983) is still to be done – at least in the Austrian context. The literature on intellectual capital (IC) in HEIs focuses primarily on the identification and measurement of IC (Secundo et al., 2010). Accountability follows the ‘perspective of making public a set of organization-specific information’ (Secundo et al., 2010: 153). The main intention of initiatives like the project of the Observatory of European Universities, where 15 European research institutions developed a catalogue of performance measures for the outcomes of research activities, is to ‘understand better the importance of managing intangibles in public universities in order to improve their level of quality and competitiveness’ (Sánchez and Elena, 2006: 538) and to provide a benchmarking framework for comparisons. ‘IC approaches seem to be essential in order to improve governance and to facilitate benchmarking analysis’ (Sánchez and Elena, 2006: 543), as the IC approach to higher education generally supports a more nuanced stakeholder view of organizational value creation in comparison to, for example, the traditional NPM approach (Almqvist and Skoog, 2007). While there are clear signs of changing internal governance in universities around Europe, for example, in the UK (Middlehurst, 2004), there is almost no fundamental critique expressed in the field of IC measurement and management in HEIs. Instead, there are several ‘challenges’ mentioned (Sánchez et al., 2009), such as how to deal with the specific trade-offs between internal management information and external reporting, between possible comparisons and sound representation (European Commission, 2006), and between adjustments and comparability over time (Sánchez et al., 2009). The latter shows the difficulty in representing the dynamics of IC while simultaneously providing a true and fair view. The discourse on IC generally has more critical voices, although not overly many (Dumay, 2009, Fincham and Roslender, 2003 and Mouritsen, 2009). A fundamental critique is offered by Fincham and Roslender (2003), who interpret IC accounting as a ‘management fashion’ that reveals a ‘hidden agenda’ of professional group interests within accountancy and the economic sphere of society. Their focus is complemented by a more immanent form of critique presented by Dumay (2009). He takes the process of the ‘accountingization’ of IC as given and identifies the counterproductive effects of this tendency. His critique opens up a discussion on understanding value creation, extending the accounting-oriented agenda (e.g., towards narratives and visualizations, Mouritsen et al., 2001), or a focus on ‘connectivity’ instead of separation (Bjurström and Roberts, 2007, Habersam and Piber, 2003, Skoog, 2003 and Skoog, 2010). In the Austrian context, the question of what IC is or should be has already been decided by law, defined by decree, and encompassed more or less explicitly by the MERITUM1-project's IC taxonomy (2002). Our paper intends to enhance the understanding of how a mandatory, external, (mostly) non-financial reporting process and format, labelled KBS, is interpreted and used by different stakeholders in the Austrian university system. We are interested in how the possible link to the internal management control agenda is made, how it shapes organizational (accountability) routines, and how the content and structure of the KBS transforms over time. The paper therefore is linked to functional as well as dysfunctional aspects that occur when the KBS as a report inspired by the IC discourse transforms from an externally required reporting structure to a relevant internal management control perspective (compare: Saliterer and Korac, 2013). Benchmarking activities and budget games are vivid examples of both aspects because the Ministry in charge (‘the Ministry’ in the following) benchmarks the universities via KBS-figures and distributes at least 20% of the budget according to some key figures of the KBS as a performance report.2 From a theoretical perspective, the link between external reporting requirements and internal management practices can be analyzed in the framework of New Institutional Theory. In their seminal paper, Meyer and Rowan (1977) state that the formal structures of organizations serve to fulfil the institutionalized rules and rationalized myths of their relevant environments. Hence, these structures are not only implemented for managerial purposes but to a great extent as organizational ceremonies for symbolic reasons. Herewith, the organizations gain legitimacy, resources, and stability. Institutionalized rules are taken for granted and therefore their usefulness is hardly reflected in terms of organizational usefulness. Symbolic structures often differ from real organizational life, and can even serve as a legitimate shield for actual practices. This divergence of formal and practical behaviour is referred to as ‘decoupling’. Consequently, the similarities of societal structures across different sectors can be ascribed to the isomorphistic behaviour of organizational representatives (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Thus far, there have been a number of contributions stressing the legitimizing function of performance measurement systems (see, for example, Meyer, 1994 or Carruthers, 1995). For the Austrian KBS implementation in particular, Piber and Pietsch (2006) undertook a profound analysis. They conclude that the framework of the new law and the use of the KBS particularly offer a societal legitimation for universities. Therefore, this article goes beyond these considerations and fills the gap of how public reporting of performance in general and the KBS in particular influences management control issues and managerial decisions in universities. However, whether changed processes serve primarily legitimate reasons and hence are decoupled from organizational life or serve ‘practical managerial purposes’ has to be investigated. The method chosen in this study is a qualitative case study approach, similar to the approaches used in two other studies in this special issue (Mutiganda, 2013 and Roussy, 2013). Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted in different organizations of the Austrian university system at different management levels over a period of one year. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. They lasted around one hour each and were guided by key questions such as, ‘How did the universities react to the mandatory implementation of the KBS?’ ‘Which (management control) practices emerged after its implementation over time?’ ‘For what is the instrument used, and by whom?’ ‘What kind of consequences resulted from the new regulation?’ ‘Who are the perceived addressees of the KBS and what are they doing with it?’ In addition, a number of internal and external documents have also been collected as sources of contextual information. The analysis of the interview data is based on two intertwined perspectives. First, the analysis is approached heuristically using critical conceptualizations in the literature; this is described more precisely in the next section. Second, the empirical data has contributed to the structure of the paper in an inductive way. The interpretation of the data from the interviews and documents lead to classifications and reclassifications of content. The process of investigator triangulation and data triangulation (Almqvist et al., 2011, Johanson et al., 2001, Patton, 1987 and Yin, 1994) was conducted until newly acquired data could no longer significantly expand the degree of ‘saturation’. The results of this process of interpretation are presented in section 4 after an excursus describing the Austrian context when implementing a mandatory KBS in Section 3. In Section 5 the critical arguments are revisited according to the insights developed, and Section 6 concludes the paper by reviewing the main results of the study.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
The reflection and discussion performed above enables us to draw at least four main conclusions from this study. Firstly, the main addressees of the reports perceive the mandatory KBS differently. After the introduction of KBS in Austrian universities, there was considerable scepticism towards the tool at the university level, especially from the traditional social sciences and humanities. Rectors, deans, and researchers expressed their reservations about figures representing outcomes, qualities, and adequate triggers for internal governance activities. The reluctance towards the KBS was smaller in the field of technical and natural sciences, where the tradition of measuring and accounting is more widespread in research and more accepted for administrative purposes. On the other side, the administrative staff and professionals with administrative positions tried to take advantage of it; however, some managers still do not use it for their decisions, as the level of aggregation is too high for their purposes. Overall, the implementation of the KBS has resulted in refined and slightly altered governance systems within the universities. However, there was a significant change concerning relations between the universities and the Ministry. From a public governance perspective of the Ministry, the KBS data contains crucial information for it to fulfil its public governance and accountability agenda and to obtain data for the development of the national HEI sector. As the outcome of universities is directed towards different stakeholder groups like students, R&D departments of companies, employers, local governments, and society as a whole, the KBS is an attempt to account for the fulfilment of the expectations stemming from these directions. However, there is no evidence that the KBS is a major issue outside the universities and the Ministry. Some statements indicate that the universities use it to communicate to the general public. Concerning these main users, we find the strongest impact to be on political decisions in the Ministry and on administrative agendas in the universities. Secondly, we can conclude that the use of benchmarks – even in the highly intangible environment of universities – serves universities as well as the Ministry with valuable governance-oriented information. In the Ministry, developments over time are monitored by comparisons with former performance figures, by benchmarking similar universities, accompanying talks to performance agreements and all negotiations concerning budgets. There are as well examples of benchmarking practices used within universities in order to contextualize and validate the figures for the own institution. Although there was a substantial critique of the ability of the system to represent quality and peculiarities, even the necessarily imperfect system produced incentives for learning and strategy. The discussion process was triggered at different levels in the Austrian university system, and the universities themselves cknowledged better arguments on number of topics. Hence, the soundness and relevance of political discussions improved and a qualitative debate about budgets was enabled. It therefore appears that the accountingization of non-financial data through the KBS made previously available data more relevant and therefore the budget setters were able to bring it more formally into the budget process. However, this also allowed for budget games where different rationales are applied to influence the distribution of financial resources. This is evidently done by different negotiation and bargaining processes where both formal and informal relations are put into play. Therefore, ratios from the KBS report are sometimes used in both benchmarking and budgeting games to try to allocate resources, although the ratios are sometimes non-comparable because of size and location. Thirdly, it becomes evident that the performance measures are enriched by, questioned by, and confronted with context information on all levels of decision making. That is, connectivity between different indicators and their relation to formal narratives appear to play an important role in how the KBS is interpreted and used. An interesting result is that the connectivity aspects appear both internally and externally and between these two management and measurement agendas. Within the universities, the interviewees particularly note the frequent use of narratives. There are indications that this can counterbalance dysfunctional effects triggered by budget gaming and the restricted validity of the measurement framework. Somehow, the interviewees understand this as a quality assurance system for the results in the KBS. The representatives of the Ministry focus on both: On the one hand, they use the performance figures of the KBS. On the other hand, narratives and accompanying talks are seen as indispensable to giving ‘value’ to mere data. Fourthly, for the Ministry, the idea of public governance and accountability changed remarkably. Confronted with the necessities of transparency at a political level (Parliament), and with the growing autonomy of universities, the Ministry interprets its role as indirectly governing the sector. The Ministry’s supervision function is visible when KBS data is checked, filtered and benchmarked by the Ministry, budgets are allocated, and legitimizing information on activities on a strategic and operative level can be stipulated. However, what looks like the old bureaucratic power base, is currently more of a counterbalanced power relation – and this makes a difference when negotiating performance agreements with the individual university. In case ‘both sides feel weak’ is considered as a valid description of the new setting, both sides have to establish and adjust their roles anew. This means learning takes place and the second KBS decree is one of the consequences of this kind of mutual adjustment. KBS figures are increasingly accepted as a common basis for budget talks, therefore issues of content are negotiated between the ministry and the decision-making authorities of the single university. Performance agreements have to be achieved and accompanying talks twice a year become even more relevant for disclosure because the aggregated level of the KBS data does not allow for a closer look at the organizational processes of transforming knowledge represented by human, structural, and relational capital into the performance of research, teaching, and administrative tasks. If this is the case, the context of the KBS matters, which includes not only the bundle of management tools referred to in Section 3, but also the style of communication when interpreting data. Having in mind the conclusions drawn so far the cases show a specific dynamic following the ‘hard’ intervention by law with its increase in autonomy on the one hand and standardized reporting duties on the other. Within this setting dysfunctional effects of public reporting of performance occur. Accountingization’ in itself provokes and results in a support of tendencies to corporatize public universities in a global competitive environment and to reduce knowledge to an asset managed and exploited. The implementation of the KBS in Austria has caused direct and indirect effects. The direct effects influenced internal governance and managerial control practices, resulting in an initial change of research cultures, increasing use of benchmarking practices, and communicative activities between similar universities. However, the direct impact on managerial decisions at the university level was moderate. As the KBS figures are too aggregated, other systems complement governance issues. More importantly, there is an indirect effect of the KBS, namely a seminal change in the selfunderstanding of Austrian public universities. The KBS has turned out to be one crucial element in intentionally transforming the public university towards a more enterprise-like institution with increased accountability. This includes rectors taking a managerial role. Public authorities are not able to change universities quickly. Such change requires long-term changes in attitudes, routines, and culture. The KBS supports this NPM-driven development of public institutions from administrations to performance-oriented organizations. Furthermore, the IC-rooted, multi-target-oriented structure of the KBS proliferates the intention to rebalance the stakeholder structure of universities. From a more collegial model with the domination of chairs and individual professors, the university transforms into a more society-oriented institution, serving students, the knowledge economy, and the public, in case social issues have to be represented. In turn, the performance figures of the KBS combine governance with accountability, which sharpens the consciousness and self-understanding of public organizations acting for various stakeholders. It is, however, important to state that from a historical university lifecycle perspective, the implementation and use of the KBS has only begun. In order to investigate any long-term effects of the possible re-shaping of measurement and management practises within universities, the process must be followed and analyzed in a longitudinal way.