رفع موانع برای استفاده از تجزیه و تحلیل محتوا برای بررسی افشاگری های سرمایه فکری
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|35||2007||35 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting Forum, Volume 31, Issue 2, June 2007, Pages 129–163
This methods paper highlights specific issues that arise in using content analysis to investigate intellectual capital (IC) disclosures. The use of content analysis in the IC context is debated through an analysis of prior studies and the use of an illustrative example (Next plc's 2004 annual report). It is concluded that the depth and breadth of the IC concept and the lack of common definitive language make it difficult to establish the extent and nature of disclosure currently provided. The range of choices available to researchers in terms of analysing and measuring IC disclosures further hinders interpretation and comparability. Transparency in the choices made is required. Shared meanings could be developed and the IC concept better understood through increased transparency in the categorisation of IC information, which in turn could further assist in the interpretation and comparison of findings across studies.
Content analysis has become a widely used method of analysis in financial accounting research (Beattie, 2005). In recent years, several papers in accounting journals have identified and discussed significant issues regarding the use of content analysis to investigate accounting disclosures. One strand of this literature takes corporate social reporting (CSR) as its context (i.e. Hackston & Milne, 1996; Milne & Adler, 1999; Unerman, 2000). More recently, the topic area of intellectual capital (IC) disclosures has been explored (Abeysekera, 2006; Guthrie, Petty, Yongvanich, & Ricceri, 2004). The present paper contributes to the latter area of enquiry. IC is the term attributed to intangible assets which create company value (Mouritsen, Larsen, & Bukh, 2001). It is, at least in part,1 reflected in the difference between market and book values, as the value and impact of intangibles are inadequately reflected in the traditional accounting framework (Cordon, 1998). To highlight the potential significance of IC, studies have reported market-to-book multiples in excess of unity. For example, Gu and Lev (2004) report that the S&P 500's average market-to-book ratio was 4.5 in September 2003 indicating for every US$ 4.5 of market value, only US$ 1 appears on the balance sheet. Beattie and Thomson (2005) found the mean market-to-book value for the UK FTSE 100 companies to be 2.52 based on data for year-end 2002/2003. In light of this evidence, a method for reporting IC information to external stakeholders appears to be required. The term IC is now widely used among regulators, professional bodies and academics. Many attempts have been made at formal definition. However, according to Guthrie, Petty, & Johanson (2001), ‘intellectual capital frequently is poorly defined or is not defined at all’. Zambon (2005) has stated that a ‘generally agreed taxonomy’ is needed. Despite this apparent stumbling block, considerable efforts have been made to develop models for IC reporting (e.g. DATI, 2000 and DATI, 2002; DMSTI, 2003; Edvinsson & Malone, 1997; Lev, 2001; Sveiby, 1997). Suggestions have been made to extend the balance sheet to integrate IC, or to create complementary balance sheets (Rylander, Jacobsen, & Roos, 2000). Recently, a focused narrative-based approach to IC reporting has been proposed (DATI, 2000 and DATI, 2002). However, the opportunity to report IC in narrative format already exists within corporate annual reports. Corporate annual report narratives may provide the opportunity for IC reporting, but what about the incentive to do so? Voluntary disclosure of IC information can be explained in terms of theories such as positive accounting theory (PAT), legitimacy theory and stakeholder theory (Deegan, 2000; Deegan & Gordon, 1996). If company managers’ interests are aligned with shareholders, IC information will be disclosed if it brings benefits to the company (PAT). IC reporting provides companies with the opportunity to take advantage of increased transparency to capital markets, establishing trustworthiness with stakeholders and to employ a valuable marketing tool (Van der Meer-Kooistra and Zijlstra, 2001). Disclosure of IC information could be self perpetuating in terms of maintaining and enhancing IC value given that ‘intangible asset creation occurs through enhanced reputation and disclosure influences the external perception of reputation’ (Toms, 2002, p. 258). However, reluctance to report IC information may arise from fear of both loss of competitive advantage and litigation.2 Companies may disclose IC information to appear legitimate in the eyes of society and avoid the imposition of costs arising from non-legitimacy. The disclosure choices of comparable companies may shape legitimacy. IC disclosure may respond to the demands of the stakeholders most critical to the company's ongoing survival (managerial branch of the stakeholder theory). These theories are mutually consistent, IC disclosure being explained in terms of a cost-benefit trade-off. The ethical branch of the stakeholder theory appears to offer an alternative explanation. Companies recognise that different stakeholders have a right to IC information and so disclosure is responsibility-driven. However, executing responsibilities in terms of disclosure is not necessarily incongruent with increasing firm value. Another proposition (suggested by Miller, 1977, in the context of capital structure decisions) is neutral mutation. Companies fall into disclosure patterns or habits which have no material effect on firm value. Given these theoretical explanations for disclosing (not disclosing) IC information, what is corporate practice? The disclosure of IC information in annual reports is beginning to be investigated using content analysis (e.g. Bozzolan, Favotto, & Ricceri, 2003; Brennan, 2001; Guthrie & Petty, 2000). (Other accounting-related documents that have been studied are IPO prospectuses, e.g. Bukh et al., 2003, presentations to analysts, e.g. García-Meca, Parra, Larrán, & Martínez, 2005, and analyst reports, e.g. Arvidsson, 2003.) This type of investigation could potentially serve two purposes. First, to measure the extent to which different categories of IC information are disclosed. Second, IC reporting in practice provides valuable examples of attempts to understand and capture the IC concept (Van der Meer-Kooistra and Zijlstra, 2001). Practical experiences would assist in the development of a ‘generally agreed taxonomy’ of IC terms, as called for by Zambon (2005). To date, content analysis appears to have been mainly used with the aim of quantifying the number of IC disclosures, typically in relation to 22-25 categories of IC information. The observed level of IC disclosure has consistently been described as ‘low’, and this has been attributed to the lack of an established IC reporting framework and the general lack of a proactive stance by companies in attempting to measure and externally report IC information (Guthrie & Petty, 2000). However, the lack of an established IC reporting framework hinders not only the companies disclosing information. The depth and breadth of the IC concept evident in the academic literature, and the subjectivity involved in constructing an operational IC definition, could also be said to hinder researchers aiming to quantify IC disclosures. In this context, it is essential that the precise details of the content analysis method used are transparent, to allow findings to be interpreted and to make comparisons (or not) across studies. Transparency is important because the content analysis method used to investigate disclosures is reflective of the researcher's conception of reality (Gray, Kouhy, & Lavers, 1995) – what the researchers perceive constitutes IC – rather than any potential objective reality which exists in relation to the IC concept. Despite this importance, a general lack of transparency in the content analysis methods used in the IC disclosure studies to date is apparent. Increased transparency in relation to the IC information found and how it is categorised would also clarify researchers’ understanding of the IC concept and assist in the development of shared meanings. This need for transparency and the development of shared meanings has already been recognised by researchers in the CSR context. As noted in Gray et al. (1995, p. 85), ‘the use of content analysis either demands, or at a minimum implies strongly, that the categories of analysis are derived by reference to shared meanings and that the data collection and analysis must be replicable’. In their construction of a research database of social and environmental reporting, categories of disclosures and examples of types of information relating to the categories is provided. In doing so, the ‘result is at least transparent and replicable, even if it fails to meet an ideal of a fixed and perfect definition’ (p. 82). The aim of the present paper is to highlight specific issues that arise in using content analysis to investigate the extent of IC disclosures. The use of content analysis in this context is debated through an analysis of prior studies and the use of an illustrative example (Next plc's 2004 annual report). The present study responds to Abeysekera's (2006) suggestions that coding frameworks used to analyse annual reports need to be critically analysed, and the real problems of comparability between IC disclosure studies need to be addressed. He calls for the operational issues arising from the use of content analysis research methods to investigate IC disclosures to be resolved. The present paper highlights and illustrates these issues. In doing so, it aims to contribute to the debate and help build a more secure foundation for future work. The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. Section 2 considers the problems associated with defining the IC concept. Section 3 offers a review of extant content-analytic studies of IC disclosure in corporate annual reports. Section 4 documents the use of Next plc's 2004 annual report to illustrate the use of content analysis to investigate IC disclosures. Summary and conclusions are offered in Section 5.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
IC is now acknowledged as the major contributor to the market value of many companies operating in service and knowledge industries, yet it is generally not reflected on the balance sheet. The opportunity exists, however, to report IC in the narrative sections of corporate annual reports. Prior content-analytic studies have generally concluded that these sections contain low levels of IC disclosure (e.g. Bozzolan et al., 2003; Brennan, 2001; Guthrie & Petty, 2000). This is somewhat surprising given the theoretical motivations that companies have for disclosing IC information. However, specific issues arising in the use of content analysis to identify IC disclosures hinder the interpretation and comparison of findings across studies. These issues include: concept boundary problems and coding reliability; annual report material analysed; volume of disclosure; type of disclosure; the unit of analysis and unit of measurement; and manual versus electronic searching. This paper highlights and illustrates the problems associated with these specific issues through an analysis of prior studies and the use of an illustrative example (Next plc's 2004 annual report). Next plc's 2004 annual report was manually analysed for IC information using a detailed list of IC sub-categories (Beattie & Thomson, 2004). An electronic keyword search was also conducted to facilitate comparisons between manual and electronic methods. The depth and breadth of the IC concept is evident in the academic literature. The concept has developed over time, yet the requirement of a ‘generally agreed taxonomy’ of IC terms (as called for by Zambon, 2005) has still to be met. Consequently, the identification and categorisation of IC information using content analysis to identify IC disclosures is, at present, highly subjective. The subjectivity in the categorisation of information found in Next plc's annual report is illustrated in the present paper. In this context, transparency is essential for meaningful interpretations and comparisons of findings across studies. To date there is a lack of explanation of the nature of IC information allocated to IC categories and sub-categories in studies conducting manual content analysis. Future studies would benefit from increased transparency in relation to the IC information found and how it is categorised. Not only would this action help to address the problems of comparability across IC disclosure studies (as called for by Abeysekera, 2006), but it would also provide real practical examples of the IC concept. Through the communication of practical examples and awareness of researchers perceptions, the IC concept would be given the opportunity to evolve, and shared meanings the opportunity to develop—a necessary requirement for content analysis to be effective (Gray et al., 1995). It would assist in the development of reliable coding instruments, which in conjunction with the demonstration of consistent coding decisions would further address comparability issues. In the analysis of Next plc, IC disclosures were found across the various sections of the annual report, including sections that are subjected to mandated requirements. It is essential that future studies clearly define the boundaries of the material being analysed to permit valid comparisons. It is important to recognise that the boundaries have a direct impact on the volume of IC found. Multiple disclosures of IC information were evident for 45 out of the 59 IC sub-categories identified in the analysis of Next plc, however only 3% of all disclosures were found to be duplicates. The maximum number of disclosures for a single item was 137 in relation to ‘remuneration procedures’ followed by 106 for ‘distribution channels’. If multiple disclosures are ignored, neither the absolute nor the relative volume of information provided about ‘remuneration procedures’ and ‘distribution channels’ would be captured. Thus, ignoring multiple disclosures provides a very partial analysis of the quantum of IC information found in corporate annual reports. The consideration of multiple disclosures requires a decision in respect of the unit of analysis and the unit of measurement. This choice has a direct impact on the volume and nature of IC disclosures identified and needs to be transparent for valid comparisons to be made. In the analysis of Next plc, 260 IC disclosures were found using sentences as the unit of analysis and measurement, whereas 906 IC disclosures were found using text units. The choice of sentences or text units as the unit of analysis has implications for measuring the reliability of coding decisions. With sentences, the number of coding decisions to be made is straight forward, equating to the number of sentences contained in the document being analysed. However, coding rules are required not only to identify the sub-category of IC information concerned but also to determine which sub-category dominates if different sub-categories are mentioned in the same sentence. The use of text units avoids the requirement to identify dominant IC sub-categories in coding decisions. However, in doing so it involves a multi-stage process of identifying which sentences contain IC information, how many pieces of IC information are provided in each sentence, and to which sub-category does each piece of IC information relate. Thus, while the use of text units as the unit of analysis and measurement does add complexity and does involve subjective judgement, coding of the dominant themes in sentences is also subjective. It is just a different subjectivity. In both cases, the subjectivity can be addressed by developing comprehensive coding rules and tested by calculating measures of reliability. Clearly there is a trade-off to be made here. Richer insights into the absolute and relative amounts of different categories of IC information are obtained at the expense of increased complexity and potentially reduced reliability.6 The choice made must depend upon the nature of the research question being addressed. Certainly further research that explores the impact of such choices on the measures obtained is desirable. Future studies should consider the alternative communication formats found in corporate annual reports. In the present paper, IC information was found in standard text, headline text, tabular and list format. Visual images were not present. The unit of analysis and unit of measurement need to accommodate these alternative formats. In the present paper, each cell in a table and each entry in a list were taken to provide one piece of information. Counting a list of 20 competitor names, for example, as one piece of information would not appear to capture the extent of information in relation to competitors provided. Considering the type of disclosure in terms of, for example, headline/prominent information, quantified/non-quantified information, factual/non-factual information, and the location of information could provide additional insight into the significance and quality of IC disclosures. Electronic searches have previously been used to investigate IC disclosures (Bontis, 2003). The present study highlights the inferiority of electronic word searches in generating IC hits. An electronic search of 105 IC terms generated 264 hits compared to 906 pieces of information obtained from the manual search, and 107 of these (i.e. 40%) were found to contain no IC content. The use of a keyword in context (KWIC) search procedure, perhaps using a thesaurus of IC terms, would be likely to improve the reliability of this approach. The inferiority of electronic word searches is further highlighted on the basis that one IC hit can relate to multiple pieces of IC information. Electronic hits for particular IC sub-categories can relate to different IC sub-categories within the same category of human, structural and relation capital, or to different categories. This evidence suggests that words in isolation, either electronically or manually, do not provide a sound unit of analysis. It is concluded that the depth and breadth of the IC concept and the lack of common definitive language make it difficult to establish the extent and nature of disclosure currently provided in corporate annual reports. The range of choices available to researchers in terms of analysing and measuring IC disclosures further hinders interpretation and comparability. Transparency in the choices made would be a first step. Through transparency in relation to the IC information found and how it is categorised by different researchers, shared meanings could be developed and the IC concept better understood. This in turn could further assist in the interpretation and comparability of findings across studies. It is recognised that the limitations put on journal article length require researchers to be concise in the method details they provide. Perhaps it is now time to change direction temporarily and make the methods themselves the focus of the academic journal articles. In the few IC articles of this type published to date, issues have mainly been discussed in the abstract. In addition, practical experiences need to be shared. Researchers in the CSR context have already reached this conclusion. For example, Gray et al. (1995) report on their experience of building a database of social and environmental disclosures in an attempt to refine and develop earlier attempts to capture and interpret such disclosures. The explicit aim was to develop shared meanings and facilitate comparisons. Perhaps it is time for researchers in the IC context to take notice and follow suit? Researchers need to lift the lid on their use of content analysis to investigate IC disclosures if the problems of interpretation and comparability are to have any chance of resolution. The issues discussed in the present paper apply not only to the analysis of corporate annual reports, but also to other formal documents issued by an organisation, information intermediaries or stakeholders, as well as to informal dialogues between company representatives and interested parties.