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Rethinking impact and redefining responsibility: The parameters and coordinates of accounting and public management reforms

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Purpose: The starting point for the paper is an assessment of the impact of a 1993 special issue of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, which provided an interdisciplinary analysis of the pursuit of accountable management reforms in the UK public sector. From this assessment, the paper offers a set of reflections on the development over the last two decades of "new" public management practice and research, and also indicates some of the obligations and responsibilities of academic researchers and managers alike in the context of a continuing appetite for such reforms. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is written in a reflective fashion, including assessments of: our role as guest editors of the special issue; the continuing pertinence of key messages emanating from the special issue; and broader considerations drawn from our own working experience in managerial roles in universities and personal reflections on the state of the public management literature. Findings: The paper highlights the long-standing litany of failure attached to such public management reform movements, as well as the limited degree of cross-disciplinary learning within the field. The paper emphasises that we need to rethink the parameters of "public sector" (accounting) research, and avoid the partitioning of (accounting) research into ever smaller and self-referential sub-areas. We need more cross-national studies. We need to know more about which management practices travel readily, and which travel less easily, and what happens when implementation is problematic. We need also to reinforce the importance of historical analyses, if we are to derive the most benefit from studies of the interrelations among accounting and public management reforms and wider transformations in ways of governing economic and social life. Finally, we need to retain or reinstate curiosity at the heart of our concerns, in order to dispel the self-evidence or taken-for-grantedness of so much of our present. Research limitations/implications: Personal reflections, while being beneficially close to the subject under consideration, inevitably suffer from claims of bias and a lack of independence. We have sought to control for such risks by drawing on a variety of sources of information with respect to impact, including (albeit ironically) citation counts and an analysis of the writings of individual authors contributing to the special issue. Originality/value: The paper is novel in that it seeks to combine an analysis of the literature on public sector accounting and management reforms over several decades with our own, multi-faceted, engagement with public management research and practice.

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