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Journal ArticleDOI

Accounting change in the Scottish and Westminster central governments: A study of voice and legitimation

01 Nov 2019-Financial Accountability and Management (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd)-Vol. 35, Iss: 4, pp 390-412

AbstractOrganisational voice processes are crucial during change. These will affect actors’ individual understanding of change and the way in which change is perceived and legitimated generally. Looking at accounting changes at two government levels (Westminster and Scotland), this paper explores relationships between organisational voice processes during change (exploring these in terms of horizontal/vertical and promotive/prohibitive dimensions) and legitimation strategies subsequently used by the actors involved. In Westminster, where promotive vertical voicing was particularly identifiable, interviewees predominantly legitimated change through rationalisation strategies. In Scotland, where prohibitive, horizontal voice processes were more evident, authorisation strategies tended to prevail. However, regardless of the content and direction of voice, ultimately, the vast majority of key accounting changes in both Westminster and Scotland were supported (legitimated) by actors.

Topics: Legitimation (50%)

Summary (5 min read)

1. INTRODUCTION

  • The authors claim that language and organisational dialogues have an important function in shaping the process of change at both the organisational and individual levels.
  • Actors’ participation and voice, in particular, can capture crucial aspects of information transmission and exchange between the organisational members involved in and affected by change (Lines, 2005).
  • Using a comparative approach, the study focuses on the arguments, voices and legitimation strategies that may be used by the organisational members to support or criticise these changes.
  • Drawing on management literature seldom used in accounting studies, this paper brings together perceptions of how voice is exerted during processes of accounting change and individual legitimations and accounts of such changes.

2. VOICE PROCESSES AND LEGITIMATION STRATEGIES

  • Change generates uncertainty, which is often responded to by organisational actors through discussions and possibly justification (or expressions of concern) for any proposed new course of action or structure.
  • The relationship between the channels and processes through which organisational actors voice their opinions during change and the arguments they subsequently use to give sense to it has been little investigated in the past, especially in relation to accounting.
  • This paper aims to contribute to fill this gap.
  • The following subsections review the main literature and findings in relation to organisational voice processes and legitimation strategies during change.

2.1 Voice and Accounting Change

  • During change, voicing processes have been shown to be crucial, for better or worse, within organisations (Detert et al., 2013).
  • Many scholars have argued that expressing voice can have positive effects, in particular with respect to engagement in activities, focusing on the reduction of errors, improving organisational routines and producing innovations (Shapiro, 1993; Edmondson, 2003).
  • On the basis of previous literature, two main dimensions of the voice process can be identified: its direction and its content.
  • The classifications proposed in this paper are only a simplification of reality and aim to be a first step to reconcile and investigate the two dimensions together.
  • Actors can contribute to the process of change not only by expressly voicing their concerns in the ways here reviewed, but also through the implicit legitimation or delegitimation of the change itself, which eventually is likely to affect the way changes are implemented and embed.

2.2 Legitimation and Delegitimation of Change

  • In order to explain why the introduction of a new practice succeeds or fails in a certain institutional field, it is essential to understand how actors legitimate or delegitimate the change and the arguments they mobilise for it.
  • How rhetoric and language shape the introduction and reproduction of change within organisations and at an individual level has been little investigated in the past and, especially, how legitimation (or delegitimation) strategies are used to achieve change is still unclear (Vaara et al., 2006; Green et al., 2008).
  • Authorisation refers to (de)legitimation through authority of tradition, custom, law and persons upon whom institutional authority of some kind has been bestowed.
  • Rationalisation is related to (de)legitimation by institutionalised social action and knowledge that society has constructed, giving the proposed change(s) cognitive validity.
  • Legitimation and delegitimation strategies are not always intentional or conscious (Green, 2004), but they always play a role in creating organisational conditions that can help to restore or justify social status quos, or can even destroy them.

3. METHODS

  • This paper explores possible patterns and relationships between organisational voice processes (as recalled by the interviewees with respect to themselves and others, at the time changes were announced, discussed and implemented), and individual legitimation strategies subsequently employed by the actors (the interviewees) to understand and legitimate (or delegitimate) these changes.
  • The UK, and especially the comparison of the cases of Westminster central government and the devolved administration of Scotland, as an example of a high-intensity adopter of new managerial ideas and tools, provides an interesting context to investigate how similar accounting changes can be implemented and legitimated differently at different organisational and jurisdictional levels.
  • Interviewees were therefore aware of the pre- and post-change positions.
  • Different processes were identified and classified through the accounts given in relation to how change happened and how the organisation reacted/voiced views relating to the proposals and any concerns/criticisms.
  • As far as the legitimation and delegitimation strategies are concerned, these were elicited from the interviewees’ responses so as to identify the way they themselves thought about the changes and how they individually made sense of them subsequently (regardless of their recollections of the voice processes followed when the changes were initially announced, discussed and implemented).

4. DEVOLUTION WITHIN THE UK: THE SCOTTISH ARRANGEMENT

  • Up until the late 1990s the UK operated as a very centralised state, with substantial powers exercised by the Westminster parliament in London.
  • Latterly, these ideas have been challenged by the process of devolution, with, during the 1980s and 1990s, a significant increase in support for greater devolution in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  • In Scotland, the idea of an elected parliament emerged, and when a referendum on devolution was called in 1997, Scotland voted in favour with 74.3% of those voting being supportive.
  • In the area of accounting, a Consultative Steering Group and a Financial Issues Advisory Group (FIAG)viii developed proposals for the practical operations of the new institution.
  • The Scottish parliament has full legislative competence (that is to say it holds primary legislative powers) across a wide range of domestic policy areas.

4.1 Change in the UK and Scotland

  • Over a period spanning approximately three decades, accounting systems in all parts of UK central government changed considerably.
  • Since then, and on a UK-wide basis, it has progressively moved significantly along a continuum of modernisation with, subsequent to devolution in Scotland, particularly Scottish ‘nuances’ (largely relating to budgeting and performance management) on this path being developed .
  • The move from cash budgeting to resource budgeting was announced in the mid-1990s and was ‘live’ by 2003.
  • At this time, and with respect to budgeting and performance management in particular, modifications to systems and processes were made .
  • Perhaps the most notable outworking of this was seen in the Scottish Spending Review of 2007 which introduced a National Performance Framework (NPF).

5. THE CASE OF WESTMINSTER

  • One of the main sources of accounting change in Westminster was HMT, one of 24 ministerial departments within the UK central government.
  • There was scepticism about the way it was actually happening; a bit of scepticism in parliament which would say “No, the authors don’t want to change the system”.

5.3 Legitimation and Delegitimation of Change by the Operationally-focussed

  • At the operational level, the interviewees referenced financial accounting and budgeting changes almost equally.
  • These were, therefore, more likely, when thinking of accounting issues, to have greater awareness of aspects traditionally related to the public sector that were beyond a business-like financial accounting focus.
  • You weren’t ever thinking about any non-cash elements.’.
  • The second most used strategy was authorisation (AUT, Table 3), where about 26.6% of the arguments were legitimated using AUT1 (often by reference to the role played by HMT and government, much less so to the EU), a higher level than in HMT.

I think. Parliament pushed CLOS through. They were fed up with getting three different reports... and every one of those is correct; and parliament, I think, just got fed up with all the smoke and mirrors and the

  • Constant trying to reconcile between the three to get facts.’.
  • Narrativisation to legitimate change was also widely used in WD, being the third most frequent strategy (Table 3).
  • It is also interesting to note that NOR1 and RAT2 arguments were often used together (data not shown in tables), suggesting that even professionally-based and allegedly appropriate changes can be seen as irrational and criticised when their implementation appears imposed, unstructured and problematic.
  • Differently from what was seen in HMT, finally, pathos arguments were almost totally absent in WD.
  • This suggests that the further the actors implementing the changes were from the centre (where changes had been decided), the less committed and personally involved they appeared to be.

6. THE CASE OF SCOTLAND

  • At the time of the interviews, the finance functions of the Scottish government (in this analysis referred to as SF) fell under the auspices of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth and the Scottish Government Finance Directorate.
  • Rural development activities were the responsibility of the Agriculture, Food and Rural Communities Directorate; with higher education being dealt with by the Employability, Skills and Lifelong Learning Directorate.

6.1 Voicing Processes in Scotland

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their perceived greater distance from the centre of decision making with respect to accounting changes, the Scottish interviewees perceived the process of change in Scotland was less shared and agreed upon when compared to the views from Westminster.
  • It’s like people did completely separate jobs, it wasn’t part of the same thing.’.
  • While the process of change in budgeting was perceived as displaying similar voice processes and characteristics as performance management, in Scotland changes in financial accounting were either voiced in prohibitive terms through horizontal channels, or through vertical channels and promotive voice.
  • And it goes out to all sorts of people who don’t understand what they’re doing.

7. DISCUSSION AND COMPARISON OF THE CASES

  • When comparing the two cases, both the Westminster and Scottish interviewees identified the existence of voice processes during the changes.
  • As changes (such as RAB and EYF) were seen largely viewed as adjustments that were enforced by Westminster and could not be halted or prevented in Scotland, the dialogue took place mainly among peers or similar departments, in a ‘venting-like fashion’.
  • While perceptions of the voice process during change appear connected to the type of strategy (rationalisation versus authorisation) used to legitimate it afterwards, this does not seem to affect strongly the way changes are criticised and, ultimately, delegitimated (delegitimation strategies being much less present).
  • An explanation for this finding can also be found in the strong ‘compliance’ culture that characterises all groups of interviewees (and the UK as a country in general) (Hyndman et al., 2014).

8. CONCLUSIONS

  • The research and case studies comparison presented in this paper makes a threefold contribution.
  • The findings highlight that there is no right way to express one’s voice, as both vertical and horizontal processes of voice, as well as promotive and prohibitive voice, can be interwoven with a number of different interpretations and perceptions of change.
  • The research presented in this paper is novel in terms of its investigation of accounting change, as it reflects an initial attempt to explore voice processes (i.e., their direction and content) and legitimation strategies used by actors involved in the change process.
  • While this was acknowledged in this research, actors’ limited autonomy in relation to certain changes, and their ex-post rationalisation of changes that had taken place in the past (before 1999) may have influenced some of the results.
  • Such categorisation is clearly not exhaustive and more nuanced studies might deepen understanding.

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Accounting change in the Scottish and Westminster central
governments: a study of voice and legitimation
Hyndman, N., & Liguori, M. (2019). Accounting change in the Scottish and Westminster central governments: a
study of voice and legitimation.
Financial Accountability & Management
,
35
(4), 390-412.
https://doi.org/10.1111/faam.12219
Published in:
Financial Accountability & Management
Document Version:
Peer reviewed version
Queen's University Belfast - Research Portal:
Link to publication record in Queen's University Belfast Research Portal
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Download date:10. Aug. 2022

1
Accepted Paper
Financial Accountability & Management
(Accepted September 2019)
Accounting change in the Scottish and Westminster central governments: a study of
voice and legitimation
Authors’ Details:
Noel Hyndman and Mariannuziata Liguori
Queen’s Management School
Queen’s University Belfast
Riddel Hall
185 Stranmillis Road
Belfast BT9 5EE
Northern Ireland, UK
Tel: +44 (0)28 90974933 / +44 (0)28 9097 4491
E-mail: n.hyndman@qub.ac.uk/m.liguori@qub.ac.uk

2
ACCOUNTING CHANGE IN THE SCOTTISH AND WESTMINSTER CENTRAL
GOVERNMENTS: A STUDY OF VOICE AND LEGITIMATION
Abstract
Organisational voice processes are crucial during change. These will affect actors’ individual
understanding of change and the way in which change is perceived and legitimated generally.
Looking at accounting changes at two government levels (Westminster and Scotland), this paper
explores relationships between organisational voice processes during change (exploring these in
terms of horizontal/vertical and promotive/prohibitive dimensions) and legitimation strategies
subsequently used by the actors involved. In Westminster, where promotive vertical voicing was
particularly identifiable, interviewees predominantly legitimated change through rationalisation
strategies. In Scotland, where prohibitive, horizontal voice processes were more evident,
authorisation strategies tended to prevail. However, regardless of the content and direction of
voice, ultimately, the vast majority of key accounting changes in both Westminster and Scotland
were supported (legitimated) by actors.
Keywords: accounting change, voice, legitimation, central government, managerialism
1. INTRODUCTION
Previous studies on the public sector in general, and on accounting in particular, have investigated
the implementation of change at the organisational level, while much less attention has been paid
to understanding the role individuals have in shaping it (Contrafatto and Burns, 2013; Hyndman
and Liguori, 2017). We claim that language and organisational dialogues have an important
function in shaping the process of change at both the organisational and individual levels. Actors’
participation and voice, in particular, can capture crucial aspects of information transmission and
exchange between the organisational members involved in and affected by change (Lines, 2005).
This will, in turn, affect the actors’ understanding of change and the way they talk about and
legitimate it. This study brings together two dimensions of the voice process (direction and
content), in order to highlight possible links in the way organisational actors understand and
legitimate change. In particular, looking at the introduction of new financial accounting, budgeting
and performance-management techniques (collectively referred to as ‘accounting’ for convenience)
in two cases, representing different government levels (Westminster and the devolved
administration of Scotland
i
), this paper aims to explore whether a relationship exists between
organisational voice processes (as perceived by the main organisational actors) that take place
during change and legitimation strategies used by the actors involved in the change itself. Using a
comparative approach, the study focuses on the arguments, voices and legitimation strategies that
may be used by the organisational members to support or criticise these changes. Rather than
investigate a change implementation gap (as many studies have done in the past), the paper
considers the talk and decision stages during change, as suggested by Brunsson (1989a, 1989b, see
also Brunsson and Olsen, 1993).
Drawing on management literature seldom used in accounting studies, this paper brings
together perceptions of how voice is exerted during processes of accounting change and individual
legitimations and accounts of such changes. The research thus contributes by shedding more light
on the individual processes of legitimation that may lead to different organisational results.
Moreover, while previous studies have focused on either the content of voice or its direction
separately (Liang et al., 2012), this paper looks at these dimensions together, investigating a case
of change in a calculative practice (accounting change). The paper is organised as follows: the next

3
section presents the literature on organisational voice processes and legitimation strategies;
subsequently, the methods are discussed, followed by the empirical context of the research and
the results in Westminster and Scotland. Finally, a discussion of the main findings of the research
is presented, followed by conclusions. Included with the conclusions, is a discussion of further
research avenues which outlines possible aspects of a research agenda for those interested in
adding to knowledge in the much under-researched area of voice processes and public-sector
accounting change.
2. VOICE PROCESSES AND LEGITIMATION STRATEGIES
Change generates uncertainty, which is often responded to by organisational actors through
discussions and possibly justification (or expressions of concern) for any proposed new course of
action or structure. The relationship between the channels and processes through which
organisational actors voice their opinions during change and the arguments they subsequently use
to give sense to it has been little investigated in the past, especially in relation to accounting. This
paper aims to contribute to fill this gap. The following subsections review the main literature and
findings in relation to organisational voice processes and legitimation strategies during
(accounting) change.
2.1 Voice and Accounting Change
During change, voicing processes have been shown to be crucial, for better or worse, within
organisations (Detert et al., 2013). Many scholars have argued that expressing voice can have
positive effects, in particular with respect to engagement in activities, focusing on the reduction of
errors, improving organisational routines and producing innovations (Shapiro, 1993; Edmondson,
2003). Voice
ii
represents a transmission of information between two parties, from a speaker to a
target, perhaps with the intention of making things better via proactive behaviour (although other,
more negative, motives are also possible). This contrasts with the extreme reaction of responding
to current situations, or proposed changes, with silent loyalty or exit (Hirschman, 1970). This study
specifically focuses on how voice can be exerted during change, rather than on the reasons and
effects of those who chose to exit. Voice is hard to punish for its absence and it is difficult to
evaluate (Van Dyne et al., 1995). As such, it can be a risky behaviour and have negative
consequences for the speaker
iii
. However, voice has great potential value to those who receive it,
thanks to the opportunity it provides to: spot possible problems before they occur; benefit from
the collective knowledge of others; and pursue suggested improvements. Voice often involves
challenging the status quo by suggesting changes to current practice, or adjusting proposed future
changes that have been announced but have yet to be implemented. In addition, it can, and often
does, emanate from individuals with limited formal decision-making and resource-allocation
power to effect change (Detert et al., 2013).
On the basis of previous literature, two main dimensions of the voice process can be identified:
its direction and its content. Detert et al. (2013) have emphasised the importance of understanding
the structure of voice, and from whom and to whom it flows. However, current theory has not
specified the potential differences between voice directed laterally to peers, and upward to one’s
own boss (or to leaders elsewhere in the organisation) (Liu et al., 2010). Voice directed laterally to
co-workers to evaluate consensus on an issue, to vent, or to receive social support can have a
different, even harmful, effect on unit performance when compared to speaking up to a direct
boss. Previous research, indeed, has suggested that voice to individuals up the organisational
hierarchy (either direct bosses or managers at a higher level) may potentially generate more visible
change for the unit and the whole organisation (Brinsfield et al., 2009). Previous findings indicate
a reduced level of filtering or concern about the quality of a given idea prior to speaking to co-
workers; which contrasts with how employees reflect on what they say when speaking with people

4
with a higher position (and more power) within an organisation (Mesmer-Magnus and DeChurch,
2009).
The second dimension of voice is its content. Voice about improvements or existing failures in
the change process has been associated with positive organisational outcomes, such as team
learning, improved work processes, innovation and crisis prevention (Edmondson, 1999; Schwartz
and Wald, 2003). To include the expression of both constructive suggestions and concerns relating
to changes (proposed or enacted), some researchers have distinguished between promotive (to
improve existing work practices and procedures Van Dyne and LePine, 1998) and prohibitive
(expressions of individuals’ dissent and concern about existing or impending practices Rusbult
et al., 1988) aspects of voice, with less attention paid to the latter. Voice, indeed, can be critical and
signal an actor’s disengagement with an organisation and its practices. The effects of both types of
voice contents may not necessarily lead to improvements or positive outcomes for the
organisation. In accounting, voice processes have been investigated mostly in relation to budgeting.
Participative budgeting research has assumed a subordinate can influence their budget target and
provide input to the process (Otley et al., 1994). Byrne and Damon (2008), analysing multiple time
periods, found that, generally, subordinates who are given a voice in the budgeting process, but
for whom suggestions contained in the voicing are not reflected in final budget allocations,
perform better going forward if they receive an explanation of such a decision.
Of course, the categories proposed to identify the direction (vertical versus horizontal) and
content (promotive versus prohibitive) of voice represent the extremes of a spectrum along which
different behaviours and combinations can intertwine. The classifications proposed in this paper
are only a simplification of reality and aim to be a first step to reconcile and investigate the two
dimensions together. These categories are not exhaustive and more studies are needed in this
respect. In simplifying such reality, this paper argues that actors’ accounts expressed through
potentially different voice processes can, however, capture crucial aspects of information
transmission between the organisational members involved in, and affected by, change (Lines,
2005). Any type of change, indeed, entails a dialogue between participating actors, bringing
together arguments from differing views, and individuals with different goals and backgrounds
(Chattopadhyaty et al., 1999). Such dialogues and accounts, however, can be given regardless of
the actual level of participation in reaching a certain decision. The construction of individual
legitimation or delegitimation around a change (where change may be seen as either justifiable or
unjustifiable) is also reflected in the use of semantics and structures expressing positive or negative
connotations. Actors can contribute to the process of change not only by expressly voicing their
concerns in the ways here reviewed, but also through the implicit legitimation or delegitimation of
the change itself, which eventually is likely to affect the way changes are implemented and embed.
While these aspects pertain to the level of talk and decision making (Brunsson, 1989a, 1989b), it is
important to stress that the final results of a process of change will strongly mirror the actual
actions, and not only the talk, that were taken subsequently or as a result of a decision
iv
.
2.2 Legitimation and Delegitimation of Change
A preliminary condition for the implementation of change is that it has to be considered ‘legitimate’
within the very context in which it is to be applied, with delegitimation more likely to hamper any
change process. In order to explain why the introduction of a new practice succeeds or fails in a
certain institutional field, it is essential to understand how actors legitimate (justify) or delegitimate
(criticise) the change and the arguments they mobilise for it. In the field research reported in this
paper, six specific legitimation (or delegitimation) strategies are used to analyse the captured data
(see Table 1).
Table 1 here

Citations
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Abstract: PurposeThe purpose of this study is to evaluate the implementation of accrual accounting among two layers of government in Sri Lanka. This study examines the process of diffusion and application among and between provincial governments and local governments to assess the barriers and enablers on the implementation of accrual accounting.Design/methodology/approachThe study relies on data collected through interviews with 30 accounting and finance personnel from all levels of government active in the diffusion process. Interviews were conducted to gather and assess their insights and perceptions on the diffusion of accrual accounting. The data are examined initially using Rogers (1995) “diffusion of innovation” theory to explain the factors influencing the diffusion and adoption of accrual accounting at two levels of government but the analysed primarily by comparing the perspectives of respondents between the different layers of government.FindingsThe findings show that the adoption of accrual accounting was more effective among local governments compared with provincial governments. The lack of effective communication and engagement from the leaders of the innovation failed to persuade provincial government adopters of the true value of the accounting reform. This is contrasted with local governments who openly adopted accrual accounting but not in response to pressure from provincial government, who have oversight responsibility for local governments, but in response to funding protocols initiated by the central government to account for grant funding.Research limitations/implicationsThe findings of the study should be interpreted with caution as the data are obtained from the narrow cohort of accounting and finance professionals and may not reflect the views or experience of all stakeholders involved in the diffusion of accrual accounting.Originality/valueThe paper contributes to the diffusion of accounting innovation literature by examining the role of key players in different layers of government, particularly visible among provincial governments where the lack of engagement delayed its commitment to the implementation of accrual accounting.

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