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|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|383||2011||19 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 36, Issue 6, August 2011, Pages 344–362
Drawing on a field study in a management consulting firm, we analyze a detailed process of inscription building (through the mobilization of both people and objects) where diverse actors in a consulting firm and in the client organization attempt to edit local specifics to make a management accounting technology acceptable. Extending Robson (1992), we demonstrate how the characteristics of inscriptions are implicated in the process of trying to create and promote a balanced scorecard for a medical client. Our study sheds light on the exercise of power in the development of BSC indicators and how management consultants and clients seek to influence the project in pursuit of their own aims. The resistance of the client to the proposed BSC allows us to not only examine how the characteristics of inscriptions are materialized through different media, but also highlights the variable ability of different media to produce, capture, secure and refute knowledge claims.
This paper examines consultant–client interaction in promoting a management accounting innovation, focusing in particular on processes of inscription building. Inscriptions devices, such as PowerPoint and 2 by 2 matrices, are important in organizational communication and in consulting work more specifically (Alvesson, 1995, Bloomfield and Best, 1992 and Orlikowski and Yates, 1994). Similarly, studies have consistently demonstrated the importance of ‘format’ and presentation in the effects of management accounting technologies (e.g. Cardinaels, 2008 and Cardinaels and van Veen-Dirks, 2010). Yet there is little empirical work on the construction of inscriptions and their role in stabilizing (or not) managerial discourses and practices. Although inscriptions “such as budgets, performance measures, periodic reports, and memos are widely deployed in the enactment of what is accounted for in organizations, their power effects remain to be researched adequately” (Ezzamel, Lilley, & Willmott, 2004, pp. 783–784). Inscriptions are important because they convert local events into textual forms that are mobile and can stay immutable through their displacements (Latour, 1986). We are not suggesting that the development of accounting technologies is only about inscriptions, but we argue that they play a significant role in selling technologies such as the balanced scorecard (Norreklit, 2003). Robson (1992) calls for further studies to examine processes of choice and production of inscriptions because of their role in the development of knowledge. Processes of turning events and practices into more mobile and durable traces on paper are central to long distance control (Law, 1986 and Rose, 1991). Textual and graphical inscriptions are influential in articulating and constructing new forms of power knowledge (Ezzamel et al., 2004) when they are used to “represent reality in order to act on it, control or dominate it, as well as to secure the compliance of others in that domination” (Bloomfield & Vurdubakis, 1994, p. 456). Yet, for all the focus on how inscriptions are productive and enable forms of power–knowledge, from the perspective of specific actors they can fail to stabilize or convert events as intended (although such “failures” of course produce their own power–knowledge effects). We provide a detailed empirical study of how inscriptions are mobilized through consultants’ work in a particular project designed to produce a balanced scorecard (BSC). In our case, the intended BSC was not accepted. Popularized in Kaplan and Norton, 1992, Kaplan and Norton, 1996 and Kaplan and Norton, 2001, the BSC presents a practical challenge for consultants and managers to populate a generic framework with elements (such as measures and goals) relevant and specific to a client’s local situation. We document a detailed process of inscription building where diverse actors sought to define and edit the details of the BSC. Drawing on Robson’s (1992) discussion on the enabling effects of inscriptions (via mobility, stability and combinability) in making accounting ideas powerful in affecting action (see also Preston, 2006), we also show the fragility of inscriptions and their uncertain effects in convincing clients. Inscriptions can take many forms (Robson, 1992) with variable ability to produce, capture, secure and refute claims about other places and times (Preston, 2006). We focus on how the characteristics of inscriptions, materialized through different media with differing qualities, are deployed in fulfilling their missions, whether to justify consulting outputs, or to repair relations when things go wrong. The emphasis is on the ways these inscriptions are gathered, transmitted and assimilated. Because not all inscriptions are equally convincing, we focus on those that serve as mobilization devices and help us understand “how the mustering of new resources is achieved” (Latour, 1986, pp. 5–6). Our study sheds light on the exercise of power in the development of BSC indicators and how consultants and clients seek to influence the project in pursuit of their own aims. For example, actors in the client organization felt that introducing a BSC would yield resources such as additional funding and enhanced status and recognition, as well as improved ways of thinking about health care management. We show how actors in a network make claims on the BSC and how they mobilize and condition others, largely through inscriptions. In doing so, we integrate and extend the literature that examines the role of inscriptions in the making of general accounting technologies (Ezzamel et al., 2004, Preston, 2006 and Robson, 1992). Specifically, our analysis makes three contributions. First, it helps us understand the mobilization of inscriptions in building in the specifics during consulting projects concerned with the implementation of management accounting technologies. While Robson (1992) focuses on numerical inscriptions in explaining the dominance of quantification in accounting, we extend the analysis to consider non quantified inscriptions, a characteristic of both the BSC and consultant–client interaction. Second, it contributes to the literature on the co-production of expert systems (Christensen and Skaerbaek, 2010). Few studies explicitly incorporate the co-production process in the construction and negotiation of inscriptions. Our study addresses this limitation by focusing on the dynamics and micro-politics involved in the co-production process of inscription building during consultant–client interaction where expert systems (typically contributed by consultants) are populated with the local specifics (the client input). In examining the integration of both elements in producing a client tailored system, we offer an understanding of the role of various actors as ‘inscriptors’ during the process of inscription building. These actors act upon the inscriptions in a dynamic process in which they participate in accepting, refuting, revising the old and producing new inscriptions. Finally, the paper sheds light on the uncertain outcomes of inscription building in project delivery, in this case where the recommended BSC was not deemed practical and relevant to the client group. Although inscriptions have the potential to engage users and make ideas and actions happen (Quattrone, 2009), their effects remain uncertain because they are subject to constant challenge, negotiation and reinterpretation. In examining the process of producing a specific, tailored BSC for a client, we stress the way different types of inscriptions, notably client surveys, a “knowledge café”, flipcharts, graphics, and various reports, are put into circulation, their modes of production and distribution, and their persuasiveness. Most studies of implementation examine how a readymade object enters into an organization, or how an accounting technology is translated into the specifics of an organization (e.g. Briers and Chua, 2001 and Malina and Selto, 2004. Our study involves a different form of implementation or translation in that we focus on the attempt by management consultants to produce a specific, tailored BSC for a client. We stress a continuous inscription building process in which older, temporary and fragile inscriptions are replaced by newer, more permanent, elaborate, but nevertheless still fragile, forms. The paper is organized as follows. The next section discusses the significance of inscriptions in translating abstract management technologies into action. Research method and the field study outlines the research method, and The BSC project introduces the BSC project and participants. The role of inscriptions in producing a BSC offers an analysis of the inscription building process for a medical BSC. The paper concludes by highlighting the role of inscription building in a dynamic process of constructing an accounting technology through consulting projects and by reflecting on our understanding of power and management consulting.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Our case study illustrates how inscription building served as a locus for negotiation during a consulting process of delivering a tailored BSC for a healthcare client. Inscriptions have a crucial role in defining what is seen and explaining “how expert systems foster action at a distance” (Quattrone & Hopper, 2006, p. 248). We show not only how they enable action at a distance (e.g., Latour, 1986 and Robson, 1992) but also their uncertain effects in persuading audiences. Further, our study not only reinforces the importance of three attributes that are stressed by Robson (1992) but also analyses other features such as superimposability and diagrammability. By examining non quantified dimensions of the project and the difficulty of imagining non quantified features of a BSC (such as objectives, consensus, access and awareness), we stress the multiplicity of effects, the indeterminacy of inscriptions, and their lack of persuasive power. We found that it was difficult for consultants, despite devices like surveys and the knowledge café, to produce sufficient reproducibility in the BSC inscriptions without sufficient enrolling of the ‘inscriptors’. Specifically, we observe the following features. First, the BSC project became possible and realizable through the specification, circulation, accumulation and negotiation of multiple inscriptions. As the case demonstrated, various inscriptions with differing qualities were deployed with many attempts to argue about specific BSC elements (i.e., goals and measures) which were further acted on at different times and places. Second, our analysis of the Q-Care BSC project emphasizes an active process of continuous inscription building. Inscription building took place alongside inscription use. In this case where inscriptions failed to convince can be partly attributed to the unsuccessful enrolling of existing BSC users and the absent users (non participants) who were deemed important by the steering committee. Thus our analysis not only reiterates the role of inscriptions, and the process of inscribing, but also highlights the role of ‘inscriptors’, actors who participate in writing the project. Third, we stress the value for projects to enrol key inscriptors to support actions due to the fragility and instability of inscriptions. While inscriptions with divergent qualities have potential powers to convince, as the case illustrated in Acting on a local setting and Flip charts in the re-inscribing of the BSC, even standard consulting templates and widely accepted BSC diagrams have limited usefulness in the absence of ‘human support’. This is because the effects of inscriptions are indeterminate without the support of powerful allies. Thus management consulting practices cannot be reduced to textual practice only. Analysis of a project where inscriptions failed to convince helps us to reflect on the role of inscriptions in the making of management accounting technologies. We have observed not only inscriptions’ productive effects (via mobilizing, stabilizing and recombining) but also their potential to impact relations between people from distant locales with problems that are constructed as local. In our case, there were many attempts to build facts and specifics concerning the workshop, the measures, and the report, all of which revolved around inscriptions. We have also observed inscriptions’ inability in this case to maintain a strong network of support. Although the consultants were responsible for the final deliverable, the inclusion of participant input was seen as crucial in developing a BSC that had relevance to, and was supported by, local conditions. We have noted how at various stages, the desire for consensus made it difficult to produce an outcome that was defined as successful. The BSC project was co-produced through client–consultant interaction where client input served to articulate local specifics that were fed into the consultants’ template. The inscriptions have failed to accumulate facts that represent the multitude of localities within Q-Care. Without enrolling of ‘the local’, a customized BSC cannot be materialized. Thus we expand previous studies stressing not only the importance of the process of inscription building to “customize the global conceptual design in order to make it fit within the local organizational structure and culture in the user organization” (Doorewaard & van Bijsterveld, 2001, pp. 60–65), but also the need to enrol the local in assembling inscriptions. Quattrone and Hopper (2006) also suggest that implementation is translated through rewriting (customization) and user involvement. The acceptance of management accounting techniques depends on the extent to which both elements of the existing practices and the insights of the newly introduced vision become co-mingled into temporarily stabilized practices. Central to this co-production is the way in which inscriptions can be mobilized to help secure local support (however temporarily) and the role of consultants as mediators. The significance of inscriptions is their (variable) ability to stabilize temporary understandings and relations. Organizational specifics are inscribed into temporary written forms, and are subsequently produced as deliverables through the creation and negotiation of new forms of inscriptions. The incorporation of ‘the local’ is important not only for consultants to achieve user acceptance and client approval, but also for the client to develop what they regard as a usable management technique. As our case illustrated, the BSC was, in part, not made real or practical at the end of the project because it failed to enrol current practices and absent users. Thus our analysis not only reiterates the conclusions of Ezzamel et al. (2004) regarding inscriptions’ effectiveness in producing new organizational realities, but also illustrates how inscriptions, constructed without adequate local support (human or non-human), can also fail. Thus it is possible that inscriptions “contribute to their own downfall in circumstances when disappointment and disillusionment follow exaggerated expectations of their transformative power” (Ezzamel et al., 2004, p.811). Through the process of inscription building, ambiguous managerial accounting technologies such as the BSC acquire their perceived “objective” quality. Underlying this inscribing practice is the deployment of ready-made vocabularies of managerial discourse on organizations and an understanding of them, such as the notions of strategy, performance, consensus, and accountability. The perceived usefulness of the BSC is largely based on the ready reception of these managerial vocabularies that have a self-evident status in management. The BSC can the realized partially through inscribing practices, which attempt to stabilize it as thing-like and usable to access more resources. Through the process of inscription building, discussions of the BSC through training and facilitation sessions are lifted out of their ‘lived’ context, and transformed into ‘documentary reality’ that may be suitable for various purposes of administration and control. Thus an abstract BSC was reduced into indicators, inscribed into reports, and circulated further to influence those who had not participated in the development. While our case involved a consulting project concerned with the BSC in a healthcare context where consensus was valued, the re-embedding processes of other management technologies and consulting projects may be different depending on the specific circumstances, and thus other features of the inscription building processes may be necessary to enroll, convince and argue. Further analysis is needed to shed light on this. Two final observations are warranted. First we have adopted a view of power that seeks to combine a concern with power effects and a concern with the exercise of power in the inscribing processes we have analyzed. As Lukes (2005) argues in his revised analysis of seminal study of power, too often the emphasis has been solely on the exercise of power. Power can also be an effect, for example a result of the sort of struggles we have identified. This is what links our analysis to a notion of mediations (Latour, 1999, p. 309) and the concept of mediating instruments (Miller & O’Leary, 2007). These concepts suggest that human and non human actors are entangled in complex processes in trying to produce the world, in our case a world of consultants and health care managers struggling to produce a BSC that is understandable and deemed useable. While our analysis can be interpreted as a narrative of micro- politics, we have tried to eschew inferring the intentions of our actors and concentrated on the inscriptions that have been used and developed. We have combined a concern with mediations, with a concern with domination, perhaps unintentional. What is at stake is “power over the classification schemes and systems which are the basis of the representations of the groups and therefore of their mobilization and demobilization” (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 479). These inscriptions often revolve around questions of classification, for example, what are the objectives of the project, what are its deliverables, what local measures and experiences fit into what ‘perspective’ of the BSC, and so on. Power may be associated with domination, but it is a domination of often unconscious effects, involving struggles about imagining what will be successful in securing resources. While we have utilized a theoretical framing sympathetic to constructivist accounts of science and technology in the making, we have identified the power effects of such technologies in making applicable ideas about performance indicators and management to health care. Finally, our case highlights the importance of consultants’ work in the implementation of accounting technologies. Management consultants are a key actor in the rise of soft capitalism (Thrift, 2005). Soft capitalism is based on evolving discourses and practices of management, including those of accounting. The management accounting literature has recognized the centrality of management consultants in the spread and implementation of accounting technologies (e.g., Christensen, 2010 and Jones and Dugdale, 2002) and studies of professional service firms highlight the prominence of large accounting firms in the consulting industry. However, little is known about what management consultants actually do, despite the burgeoning literature on consultants, such as Sturdy, Handley, Clark and Fincham’s (2009) ethnography of consulting projects and client interaction and the (often alarming) insider accounts of consultants (e.g., Stewart, 2009). What our study suggests, however, is the potential value of extending the study of consultant’s work. Recent studies have started to examine their role in legitimating management accounting technologies. Christensen and Skaerbaek (2010) found that consultants’ outputs, such as reports, seminars and briefings, contribute to the process during which controversial accounting technologies are turned into acceptable and unchallenged principles of good organization. Cooper, Ezzamel, and Qu (2011) examine the strategies of management consultants in promoting their services and trying to make themselves central to the development of specific management ideas. What is still needed are studies of what it is specifically about nature and ethos of consultants work, their social and cultural capital and so on, as opposed to other actors such as professional bodies, academics, textbook writers, or other experts, that makes them so important in accounting developments. Further, what seems to be called for are studies that address knowledge creation and dissemination strategies within consulting firms and the extent to which issues of inter-professional competition and norms impact the construction of specific accounting technologies. ABConsulting is a firm which describes itself as focusing on “Executive Decision Support, Performance Improvement, and Performance Management”. Would the outcome have been different if this were a strategy consulting firm, a part of a multinational accounting firm or specialists in human resource or health services management? Future work might consider such possibilities.