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Journal ArticleDOI

Participatory budgeting as a form of dialogic accounting in Russia: Actors’ institutional work and reflexivity trap

21 May 2018-Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal (Emerald Publishing Limited)-Vol. 31, Iss: 4, pp 1098-1123
TL;DR: In this article, a qualitative case study of participatory budgeting (PB) development for the period 2013-2016 in one Russian municipality is presented, based on triangulation of interviews, documentary analysis, videotape data and netnographic observation.
Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to investigate how participatory budgeting (PB), as a form of dialogic accounting, is produced in practice.,This is a qualitative case study of PB development for the period 2013-2016 in one Russian municipality. Based on triangulation of in-depth semi-structured interviews, documentary analysis, videotape data and netnographic observation, the authors employ ideas of dialogic accounting and institutional work.,The study shows that the PB experiment, which began with dialogic rhetoric, in reality, had very limited dialogic effects. However, the authors also observed that the PB dynamics over time made the practice neither inherently monologic nor dialogic. The authors explained such transformations by the way in which the individual reflexivity of actors altered when carrying out institutional work. Curiosity reflexivity was the most essential, triggering different patterns of institutional work to set up the PB experiment. However, further, the authors demonstrated that, over the course of the experiment’s development, the institutional work was trapped by various actors’ individual reflexivity forms and in this way limited PB’s dialogic potential.,The study shows the importance of understanding and managing individuals’ reflexivity, as it shapes the institutional work performed by different actors and, therefore, influences the direction of both the design and materialization of dialogic accounting experiments such as PB. In a broader sense, this also influences the way in which democratic governance is developed, losing democratization potential.

Summary (1 min read)

Development of PB in Russia

  • The empirical section presents a summary of the PB story with several stages constructed by their interpretation of the main notes from the collected data.
  • In particular, analysis was framed by their three research subquestions regarding actors’ embeddedness, patterns of institutional work and especially their reflexivity during the PB experiment.
  • Based on deliberation and with the help of administrative officers, citizen-participants submitted ideas and proposals for the projects to be included in the budget distributed within PB.
  • One of the consultant-researchers played the role of moderator in PB meetings[4], providing general instructions on how the PB process would work.
  • Being more experienced in what PB is, how it works and what its possible effects are, the citizens started to build alliances during the PB process, with activist groups’ and NGOs’ members trying to participate and lobby their interests through PB.

Discussion and conclusions

  • The paper examined the case of PB as a possible form of dialogic accounting which can foster democratic governance.
  • Therefore, their study resonates with previous studies, confirming the disappointments of introducing dialogic accounting such as PB via mainstream institutions and corroborating the monological colonization of accounting in society (amongst others e.g.
  • Therefore, such dynamics make their observation of PB in practice neither inherently monologic nor dialogic but rather a set of practices, which can be interconnected (Brown and Dillard, 2015a).
  • Therefore, their case reveals the fact that actors’ individual reflexivity and their patterns of institutional work are interconnected, with reflexivity being a coordination mechanism.
  • The case shows that curiosity reflexivity was crucial for triggering and sustaining institutional work at the initial stage of the PB development.

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1
Participatory budgeting as a form of dialogic accounting in Russia: actors’
institutional work and reflexivity trap
Abstract
Purpose The paper investigates how participatory budgeting (PB), as a form of dialogic
accounting, is produced in practice.
Design/methodology/approach This is a qualitative case study of PB development for the
period 2013-2016 in one Russian municipality. Based on triangulation of in-depth semi-
structured interviews, documentary analysis, videotape data and netnographic observation, we
employ ideas of dialogic accounting and institutional work.
Findings Our study shows that the PB experiment, which began with dialogic rhetoric, in reality,
had very limited dialogic effects. However, we also observed that the PB dynamics over time
made the practice neither inherently monologic nor dialogic. We explained such transformations
by the way in which the individual reflexivity of actors altered when carrying out institutional
work. Curiosity reflexivity was the most essential, triggering different patterns of institutional
work to set up the PB experiment. However, further, we demonstrated that, over the course of
the experiment’s development, the institutional work was trapped by various actors' individual
reflexivity forms and in this way limited PB’s dialogic potential.
Originality/value Our study shows the importance of understanding and managing individuals
reflexivity, as it shapes the institutional work performed by different actors and, therefore,
influences the direction of both the design and materialization of dialogic accounting
experiments such as PB. In a broader sense, this also influences the way in which democratic
governance is developed, losing democratization potential.
Keywords participatory budgeting, democratic governance, institutional work, consultant-
researchers, dialogic accounting, reflexivity trap, curiosity, Russia
Paper type Research paper

2
Introduction
During recent decades, scientific publications have demonstrated an increasing interest in how
accounting and accountability can promote pluralistic democracy (Brown et al., 2015). This
literature particularly suggests that accounting should not only represent one dominant voice,
i.e. monologic accounting[1], but rather foster the multiplicity of divergent voices to be heard
through the accounting dialogue (Brown, 2009). This potentially may foster social emancipation
and democratic transformative change (Brown et al., 2015). It is especially suggested in a number
of studies in the social and environmental accounting literature (amongst others e.g. O’Dwyer,
2005; Gray, 2002; Bebbington et al., 2007). However, this literature, together with some recent
studies, shows quite ambivalent results in this regard through both certain possibilities for social
change in non-institutional arrangements (amongst others e.g. Apostol, 2015; Atkins et al., 2015)
and the domination of monologism via mainstream institutions (e.g. Archel et al., 2011).
As Brown et al. (2015) note, quite paradoxically the greatest interest in democratic governance
improvements has arisen in developing countries, where democracy has often been weak. The
most famous example is Brazil’s experience in participatory budgeting (PB), which began to
spread across the continents[2] with enviable speed (Sintomer et al., 2008), through a rhetoric
of 'success' and consensual endorsement (Célérier & Botey, 2015). However, it seems that, in line
with the literature presented above, PB is more problematic than its rhetoric. It can become the
practice not only of revitalizing democracy but also a vehicle for the power and domination of
political elites (Célérier & Botey, 2015; Kuruppu et al., 2016), pseudo-participation for legitimacy
purposes (Uddin et al., 2011) and maintaining existing powers, known as the “tyranny of
participation” (Christens and Speer, 2006). Some studies have revealed that the underpinning
logics of PB implementation can influence its democratization potential in different countries
(e.g. He, 2011). As He (2011) revealed, administrative logic prevailed in the introduction of PB
experiments in China, limiting real citizens’ empowerment. This study is consistent with some
dialogic accounting literature, which stresses that new accounting tools can be implemented in
a rather monologic way, despite the dialogic intent (Harun et al., 2015). In such conditions PB
becomes shopped by practitioners as an important component of Public Governance (Baiocchi
& Ganuza, 2014; Almqvist et al., 2013), disseminated all over the world through its simplification
to a set of procedures for the democratization of demand-making and “good governance” (Heller
& Rao, 2015).
Nevertheless, alongside extensive criticism, a few (and even the same) studies have revealed
some potential for emancipation and democratic change along with the ‘dark’ side of PB (Célérier
& Botey, 2015; Kuruppu et al., 2016). Analysing third-sector organizations, Bryer (2014) claimed
that PB “may curb individualized, unsustainable goals in a way that widens individuals’
opportunities for influencing their social lives (p. 527). Some studies even revealed that
unintended results can appear when even monologically underpinned PB fostered democratic
change through “bricolage” development (Rodgers, 2005).
Summing up the discussion in the current literature, it seems that more intellectual work should
be invested in understanding the ways to jump over monologism and make dialogic accounting
possible in practice. So far, while a proposal for dialogic accounting was introduced as a theory
with an agonist view on democracy (Brown, 2009; Brown and Dillard, 2015a,b), it seems that it
is more like “seeds of hope” (Byrch et al., 2015) being planted in the ground with only a few
empirical instructions on how to make the “seeds” grow.

3
This motivates the paper’s interest in joining the “seeds grow” discussion by examining the case
of PB as a possible form of dialogic accounting which can foster democratic governance. The aim
is to explore the underlying processes of PB development in practice, its effects and, therefore,
to develop a more nuanced view of PB as a form of dialogic accounting in general. To achieve this
aim, the paper investigates how PB, as a form of dialogic accounting, is produced in practice. As
previous studies noted, the challenges for dialogic accounting are connected with
institutionalized ‘one-way’ oriented framings and technocratic approaches to accounting,
together with an unwillingness of the elite to share power with others (Brown et al., 2015). While
the latter has already been discussed in the dialogic accounting literature (e.g. Brown and Dillard,
2015a,b; Archel et al., 2011; O’Dwyer, 2005), the former opens up a space for institutional theory
to be employed more thoroughly. In this regard, in order to answer our research question, we
draw on ideas of dialogic accounting theory (Brown, 2009; Brown and Dillard, 2015a,b) combined
with institutional work (Lawrence et al., 2011). This combination is complementary in two ways.
Firstly, institutional work helps to look at the above presented challenges of institutionalized
framings as products of human actions and interactions, therefore tracing how such framings
may be distributed, sustained or changed by a multiplicity of actors through messy institutional
work, which has a cumulative nature (Perkmann & Spicer, 2008; Zilber, 2013). Secondly, dialogic
accounting theory helps to overcome the criticism of institutional theory regarding neglect of
power and politics, therefore balancing the debate to make institutional theory more critical
(Modell, 2015; Willmott, 2014).
The point of departure in our study is that PB can be understood as the process of
institutionalization by drawing on the institutional work theory. We examine the role of key
actors during the experiment, the forms of reflexivity those actors displayed and how those forms
of reflexivity formed patterns of institutional work. The empirical analysis is based on examining
the development of PB practices in Russian settings, drawing on in-depth semi-structured
interviews, documentary analysis, videotape data and netnographic observation. It is mainly the
case of an institutional innovation called iBudget, which, due to its dialogic rhetoric, looks
untypical for the Russian centralized and rigid public sector (see e.g. Antipova and Bourmistrov,
2013). It was initiated in one municipality in the northwest of Russia in 2013 on a voluntary basis
when consultant-researchers intervened in the PB experimentation.
Our study shows that the PB experiment, which started with dialogic rhetoric, in reality ended up
with limited dialogic effects. Instead of being a place for dialogue, PB has turned out mostly to
be a space where capital investment projects on a small scale can compete for limited municipal
funding (a kind of quasi-market for capital investment). In explaining those effects, we
demonstrate that, over the course of the development of the experiment, the institutional work
was trapped from the very beginning by actors’ various reflexivity forms. However, we also
observed that the PB dynamics over time made the practice neither inherently monologic nor
dialogic. We explained such transformations by the way in which actors’ individual reflexivity
altered when performing institutional work. Curiosity reflexivity was the most essential,
triggering different patterns of institutional work to set up the PB experiment. As the experiment
advanced, citizen-participants developed critical reflexivity (so essential for dialogic accounting)
towards what has appeared to be the ‘banking’ approach to PB: an approach which, although
ostensibly using dialogic means to ‘deposit’ citizens’ beliefs, still aims to guide people to a pre-
identified ‘right answer’ (Brown, 2009). Although this allowed the voice of the marginalized to be
heard to some degree, it was later overwhelmed by the actors’ ‘gaming passion’ form of
reflexivity, where citizen-participants’ actions were driven by the concern to win the competition

4
for limited funds. When NGOs and independent activists entered the PB arena, the true critical
reflexivity for promoting dialogue was displayed, making the original actors uncomfortable.
While the latter opened up some possibilities for fostering the dialogic means of PB even further,
the institutional work towards this end was trapped by other actorsreflexivity, which was limited
by the actors’ view of democracy.
The remainder of this article is organized as follows: the next section introduces the theoretical
approaches for our study, mainly the discussion of dialogic accounting and institutional work.
The third section gives some research settings and methodological considerations. Further,
empirical findings are presented in a narrative form, illustrating and discussing the main stages
of PB development. The final section offers a discussion, conclusions and some proposals for
further research.
Dialogic accounting from an institutional work perspective
Democratic governance, PB and the move to dialogic accounting theory
According to some recent studies, there is a strong need to move from government to Public
Governance (Baiocchi & Ganuza, 2014; Almqvist et al., 2013), where democratic governance
becomes one of the key agendas (amongst others e.g. Fung, 2015; Bingham et al., 2005).
Democratic governance moves beyond the mere procedures of representative aggregative
democracy and fosters a deliberative model of the empowerment and participation of citizens
(Warren, 2009). PB, hereby, becomes one of the central tools which can foster healthy
democracy with deliberation and consensus building (Bingham et al., 2005). PB can be a solution
for democratic legitimacy challenges when the bond between citizens and political institutions
has weakened (Fung, 2015). Some similar concerns have been witnessed in social accounting
studies (ODwyer, 2005). As Bebbington et al. (2007) noted, there is a wide recognition of the
need for “new accountings”, such as PB, that foster democracy and facilitate more participatory
forms of organization. However, these forms of accounting might be highly problematic as
democratic governance tends to be governed by elites, despite deliberative rhetoric (emongst
others e.g. Brown et al., 2015; Archel et al., 2011; Kuruppu et al., 2016). Therefore, PB is
professed to be a deliberative tool for democratic governance, while, in actuality, it is not.
In this regard, Brown (2009) proposed moving to a new vision on democracy, which can influence
how we approach democratic governance and participatory accounting. More precisely, a move
from a deliberative model of democracy to the agonistic one was suggested. According to Brown
and Dillard (2015b, p. 964), democratic participatory governance requires that affected
stakeholders and publics be able to scrutinize and debate the values and interests at stake from
diverse perspectives”. Based on the ideas of agonist democrats, Brown (2009, pp. 319-320)
criticizes the depoliticization of politics and the “difficulty dealing with the conflictual side of
pluralist relationships” in deliberative democracy. The central benefit of the agonistic approach
to the democratization of accounting is the acknowledgement of pluralism, difference, conflict
and power struggles (Brown, 2009; Brown and Dillard, 2015a,b). From this perspective,
accounting “becomes viewed as a vehicle with potential to foster democratic interaction rather
than a set of techniques to maximise shareholders wealth and construct governable others”
(Brown, 2009, p. 317). Therefore, dialogic accounting seeks to create spaces for marginalized
stakeholders, who are ignored in traditional accounting, attending to a diverse range of
conflicting/contested goals and values, along with taking the plurality of society seriously.

5
Based on an agonistic view of democracy, Brown (2009) proposed eight principles underpinning
dialogic accounting that can also be applied to PB. We summarize these principles as reflected in
PB as a form of dialogic accounting (Table 1).
Table 1. Principles to underpin dialogic accounting and application for PB (based on Brown,
2009; Brown and Dillard, 2015a,b)
[insert Table 1 here]
However, it is challenging to set this framework in practice because of an existing context of
exclusion, unequal power relationships and material interests associated with different
ideological perspectives (Brown, 2009). Therefore, the question of how to practically extend the
dialogic part in existing institutionalized monocentric systems remains relevant. The next section
gives some new imaginings in this regard, by introducing some insights from institutional work
theory (Lawrence et al., 2011) as a response to cross-disciplinary initiative calls (Brown and
Dillard, 2015a) and to the note that “technologies [such as accounting] are socially shaped and
while path-dependent and power-laden, they are not inevitably locked-in over space and time”
(Brown and Dillard, 2015b, p. 975).
Institutional work: embedded agency, reflexivity and interactions
The materialization of accounting practices have been studied as institutionalization processes
(e.g. Dillard et al., 2004; Ezzamel et al., 2007; Burns and Scapens, 2000). However, institutional
theory has reached a critical edge in the structure-agency debate and the consideration of power
roles (Willmott, 2014; Modell, 2015; Dillard et al., 2004). In this regard, some recent discourses
attempt to overcome these issues. Classic understanding of the institution as being “monolithic”
and framed with three pillars (Scott, 2014) has been increasingly replaced by an emphasis that
institutions are products of human actions (Lawrence et al., 2011; Modell, 2015), i.e. that actors
affect the institutional arrangements through institutional work. It is concerned with the practical
actions, through which institutions are created, maintained, and disrupted (Lawrence et al.,
2011). From this perspective, institutionalization is seen as inherently fluid in nature (Modell,
2015) where institutional work can be valuable for investigating how the actual practices of PB
happen in institutionalized settings (Mouritsen, 2014). From this perspective, PB is not just a
budgeting technique but has a constitutive role, forming ‘spaces’/frames that can shape actors’
cognition and their actions, as well as being a mediator between different actors, knowledge
bases and discourses, rather than being a passive device (Gerdin et al., 2014). This means that PB
can be both a practice to be materialized and a space where accounting becomes “a mediator in
the game for visibility [and contestability for accounts] with multiple potential dimensions and
many types of users” (Mouritsen, 2014, p. 99). In the case of PB, a new accounting and
accountability space may form and link up different actors and their different worlds, knowledge
bases and discourses. Such a view on PB is in line with the dialogic accounting discussion
regarding linking divergent actors voices through accounting (Brown et al., 2015).
Nevertheless, it seems that, while current ‘promoters’ of institutional work are actively
encouraging the study of micro-practices, it is not clear how to approach it and what to focus on

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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Participatory budgeting as a form of dialogic accounting in russia: actors’ institutional work and reflexivity trap abstract" ?

The paper investigates how participatory budgeting ( PB ), as a form of dialogic accounting, is produced in practice. This is a qualitative case study of PB development for the period 2013-2016 in one Russian municipality. The authors explained such transformations by the way in which the individual reflexivity of actors altered when carrying out institutional work. However, further, the authors demonstrated that, over the course of the experiment ’ s development, the institutional work was trapped by various actors ' individual reflexivity forms and in this way limited PB ’ s dialogic potential. In a broader sense, this also influences the way in which democratic governance is developed, losing democratization potential. 

In this regard, the authors give new explanations below through institutional work theory ( Lawrence et al., 2011 ), looking at the above presented dynamics as a process of institutionalization with its messy fluid actions and interactions of a multiplicity of actors ( Zilber, 2013 ; Modell, 2015 ). While the latter opened up some possibilities for fostering a dialogic means of PB, it was also somehow trapped by other actors ’ reflexivity, which was ultimately limited by the particular view of democracy. In this regard, the authors propose several further research directions. Therefore, the authors would like to encourage future research to pay more attention to the role of curiosity in accounting and institutional work, bringing psychology theory into investigation ( Hall, 2015 ), e. g. how is curiosity reflexivity related to accounting experiments ?