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The research practice gap on accounting in the public services

PUBLIC SECTOR
FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

The Research-Practice
Gap on Accounting in
the Public Services
An International Analysis
Laurence Ferry
Iris Saliterer
Ileana Steccolini
Basil Tucker


Public Sector Financial Management
Series Editors
Sandra Cohen
Athens University of Economics and Business
Athens, Greece
Eugenio Caperchione
Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia
Modena, Italy

Isabel Brusca
University of Zaragoza
Zaragoza, Spain
Francesca Manes Rossi
Department of Management and Innovation Systems
University of Salerno
Fisciano, Italy


This series brings together cutting edge research in public administration
on the new budgeting and accounting methodologies and their impact
across the public sector, from central and local government to public
health care and education. It considers the need for better quality accounting information for decision-making, planning and control in the public
sector; the development of the IPSAS (International Public Sector
Accounting Standards) and the EPSAS (European Public Sector
Accounting Standards), including their merits and role in accounting harmonisation; accounting information’s role in governments’ financial sustainability and crisis confrontation; the contribution of sophisticated ICT
systems to public sector financial, cost and management accounting
deployment; and the relationship between robust accounting information
and performance measurement. New trends in public sector reporting and
auditing are covered as well. The series fills a significant gap in the market
in which works on public sector accounting and financial management are
sparse, while research in the area is experiencing unprecedented growth.
More information about this series at
http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15782


Laurence Ferry • Iris Saliterer
Ileana Steccolini • Basil Tucker

The Research-Practice
Gap on Accounting in
the Public Services
An International Analysis


Laurence Ferry
Durham University Business School
Durham University
Durham, UK
Ileana Steccolini


Newcastle University London
London, UK

Iris Saliterer
Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg
Freiburg, Germany
Basil Tucker
UniSA Business School
University of South Australia
Adelaide, SA, Australia

Public Sector Financial Management
ISBN 978-3-319-99431-4    ISBN 978-3-319-99432-1 (eBook)
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99432-1
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An International Analysis of the
Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in
the Public Services

Summary
Purpose—This book considers how the practical and public policy relevance of research might be increased, and academics and practitioners
can better engage to define research agendas and deliver findings relevant to accounting and accountability in the public services.
Design/Methodology/Approach—An international comparative analysis of the research-practice gap on accounting in the public services has
been undertaken. This involved academic perspectives from 21 countries and practitioner perspectives from the heads of the public services
at 3 leading international professional accounting bodies actively
involved in the public services arena.
Findings—Research can be useful to inform practice, but engaging at a
high level of policy engagement has been primarily by a small group of
experienced researchers. For other researchers, the impact accomplished
may not always be valued highly in the academic community relative to
other, more scholarly, activities.
Research Limitations/Implications—The book covers a broad range of
countries in an attempt to get a detailed comparative analysis of the
extent to which academic research is seen to resonate, engage, and
impact public sector practice. The main coverage is relatively advanced
western liberal democratic countries from Europe, alongside Australia,
and North America (Canada and the USA). However, importantly, as
part of a broader comparative analysis, it also includes contributions
v


vi 

AN INTERNATIONAL ANALYSIS OF THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP…

from Africa—Nigeria and Ghana, South America—Brazil, and Asia—
Malaysia and Thailand. Nevertheless, it does not cover other developing
economies, where findings could be different and are worthy of
investigation.
Originality/Value—The book is both ambitious and innovative in building on calls to address the research-practice gap through engaging a
broad cross-section of academics and practitioners at an international
level.


Acknowledgements

We would specifically like to thank Ron Hodges (Emeritus Professor of
Accounting, Birmingham University, UK), Aileen Murphie (Director at
National Audit Office (NAO), UK), Pete Murphy (Professor of Public
Management, Nottingham Trent University, UK), Lee Parker (Professor
of Accounting, RMIT, Australia, and University of Glasgow, Scotland,
UK), and all of the other colleagues who supported in the development
of this book.

vii


Contents

1Concerns About the Research-Practice Gap on Accounting
in Public Services   1
2Where There’s a Will… The Research-­Practice Gap
in Accounting   9
3A Global View of the Research-Practice Gap in a Public
Sector Context  33
4We Build Too Many Walls and Not Enough Bridges 115
5Closing Reflections 129
Index 135

ix


About the Authors

Laurence  Ferry is a Professor of Accounting at Durham University
Business School (UK) and a prestigious Parliamentary Academic Fellow in
public accountability 2018–2019. He is a well-recognized international
expert in public financial management.
Iris Saliterer  is a Professor of Public and Non-Profit Management at the
Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg (Germany) and was Schumpeter
Fellow at Harvard University (USA) in 2015–2016. Her main research
interests include performance management, public sector accounting and
financial management (reforms), financial and administrative resilience,
and innovative forms of public service delivery.
Ileana Steccolini  is a Professor of Accounting and Finance at Newcastle
University London (UK) and the chair and founder of IRSPM Accounting
and accountability special interest group. Her research develops at the
interface between accounting and public administration.
Basil Tucker  is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Commerce,
UniSA Business School (Australia). He has published extensively on the
relevance of academic research, and in particular, the research-practice
‘gap’ in management accounting.

xi


List of Figures

Fig. 1.1
Fig. 4.1

Mapping current engagement—bridging the academic-practice
gap (Dudau et al. 2015)
Making sense of the research-practice gap

4
120

xiii


CHAPTER 1

Concerns About the Research-Practice Gap
on Accounting in Public Services

Abstract  What does the impact of research on practice look like? Why is
it important? How might it be achieved? What are the benefits to researchers in ‘speaking’ to practice? These are all questions that have been debated
not only in accounting research forums, journals, conferences, and seminars, but also in the wider academic landscape. In this chapter, we outline
the journey that we as researchers with a particular interest in bridging the
research-practice gap have travelled in our consideration of these questions. For us, this book represents another important step in this journey
by bringing an international perspective to this vexing issue, and in this
chapter, we outline our intent in unpacking some of these questions, and
how this book contributes to this end.
Keywords  Research-practice gap • Accounting • Accountability •
Public sector • Academics • Practitioners
Laurence Ferry
Durham University Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK
Iris Saliterer
Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
Ileana Steccolini
Newcastle University London, London, UK
Basil Tucker
UniSA Business School, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia
© The Author(s) 2019
L. Ferry et al., The Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in the
Public Services, Public Sector Financial Management,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99432-1_1

1


2 

L. FERRY ET AL.

A significant challenge for academia is to be, and be seen to be, relevant to
practice, and for practice to have, and be seen to have, the legitimation of
being theoretically robust. As Paarlberg (1968) highlighted, ‘Practice is
brick; theory is mortar. Both are essential and both must be good if we are to
erect a worthy structure’. However, all too often, the worlds exist separately, undermining the potential contributions that can be made from a
closer relationship between theory and practice. The situation has become
particularly evident in accounting research, where academics and their
research are often seen as cut off from what is happening in the so-called
real world outside of the ivory towers of universities, and the practical as
well as societal relevance of research has been questioned (Laughlin 2011;
Parker et al. 2011; Tucker and Parker 2014; Chapman and Kern 2012).
Concerns about a (widening) research-practice gap have been raised in
much of the recent accounting literature (Evans et al. 2011; Modell 2014;
Tucker and Lowe 2014; Tucker and Parker 2014; Tucker and Schaltegger
2016). It has been argued that current international trends in journals’
rating and benchmarking are amplifying this situation, additionally risking
the relevance and quality of accounting research (Parker and Guthrie
2010), and contribute to an increasing narrowness and fragmentation in
terms of methods and perspectives (Guthrie and Parker 2016; Humphrey
and Miller 2012).
Aside from a sustained interest in public services accounting research,
recent reviews of the literature have also raised similar concerns for this
field (Broadbent and Guthrie 2008; Goddard 2010; Jacobs 2016; Jacobs
and Cuganesan 2014). Indeed, the engagement of academic research with
practitioners, although central to the production of knowledge in public
administration, has nevertheless been described as challenging (Buick
et al. 2015), having been recognized as a ‘perennial problem’ (Reed 2009,
p. 685). Pointing to the challenges and ‘wicked’ problems both practitioners and academics have to face, an increasing number of scholars call to
action for (interdisciplinary) accounting researchers ‘to reflect on what
these turbulent times means for society and to ensure that their academic
endeavours make a contribution to practice, policy and a wider societal
good’ (Guthrie and Parker 2016) and to ask if and how accounting
accounts for, but also impacts on, issues of wider social relevance (Steccolini
2016). Guthrie and Parker (2014), reflecting on what constitutes a global
accounting academic, highlight how engaging with the profession and
society can give impact to academic’s teaching and research both in their
own countries and internationally.


  CONCERNS ABOUT THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP ON ACCOUNTING… 

3

It is within this motivation of interdisciplinary accounting research in
the public services that embraces the public interest and engagement
through bringing together academics and practitioners that this book is
situated, as a comparative analysis to highlight the potential of constructing an enabling accounting for the wider societal good. This book therefore addresses potentials for and barriers to bridging a research-practice
gap in (public service) accounting research that is a long debated issue
with uncertain and no definitive solutions (ter Bogt and Van Helden
2012). In so doing, the book does not have the ambition to definitively
bridge the practice-academia gap, but represents a further effort to try to
narrow it by presenting and contrasting the views from 21 different countries and representatives of 3 international professional accounting
bodies.
While the different contributions provide evidence of engagement
between academics and practitioners, they also reveal that the engagement
remains at the margins and that more can be done in accounting research
in general and in a public service context in particular.
The origins for this book that considers a comparative analysis of
research and practice on accounting in the public services is found in the
International Research Society of Public Management (IRSPM) Special
Interest Group on Accounting and Accountability. This was established in
2011 with the aim of contributing to and influencing the ‘international’
debate on accounting, accountability, and performance measurement systems in the public sector. Part of this role involved developing a distinctive, interdisciplinary research approach which embraced theoretical,
methodological, and geographical diversity as well as engagement with
public policy and practice communities.
Over the past seven years, the group has organized an annual workshop
with the objectives to build a network of researchers in the area of accounting and accountability in the public services and to lay the foundations for
developing future research strategies and projects that are useful for practitioners and researchers. In the third workshop at the Nottingham
Business School, Nottingham Trent University, in 2015, the overarching
theme ‘Engaging Academia with Practice and Policy: A Step Forward’ was
addressed within two parallel discussion sessions: (i) ‘What topics could
we focus on to increase the practical relevance of our research?’ and (ii)
‘How can we (academics) better engage with practitioners to define
research agendas and deliver/communicate research findings?’


4 

L. FERRY ET AL.

In a proactive effort to address how to narrow the research-practice
gap, the group consequently spent a stimulating two days debating the
aforementioned themes. It identified current topics that could increase
the practical relevance of our research as being related to financial sustainability, financial conformance and operational performance, accountability and transparency, role of the accounting profession (and other
professions) in public finance and administration, effects of New Public
Management, and International Public Sector Accounting Standards
(IPSAS)/Accrual accounting adoption. A host of ideas on how academics
and practitioners could better engage were also discussed. This included
identifying bridging activities (e.g. research, consultancy, teaching) and
groups of boundary spanners (e.g. professional associations, think thanks,
informal communities) as well as highlighting criteria for interaction (e.g.
proactive personal contact, co-definition of emerging themes and projects/co-production/co-authorship) and rethinking dissemination (e.g.
common language, straightforward pieces, use of non-academic outlets
like blogs, tweets, professional journals, briefings, contributions to public
consultations). Figure  1.1 provides a summary of mapping current
engagement for bridging the academic-practitioner gap.
As part of making sense of the debate and emerging themes, it was suggested in a discussion between Laurence Ferry and Ileana Steccolini that
members of the network may want to consider these issues in a ‘­ polyphonic

Research

Bridging

Practice

Provider-initiated engagement

Practitioners
(Senior Executives)

Research

Academics

Consultancy
Teaching (executive, students)
Outlets

CONTINGENCIES

− Discipline (level of
application-orientation)
− Incentive schemes

− Importance and influence
of buffer organisations

− Gap between academia
and practice

− Accessibility of
publications

Research providers / producers

Policy-makers
User-initiated engagement

Professional
associations
Media
Think tanks
Informal
communities
(meetings)

Boundary spanners

Society

Research users / addressees

Fig. 1.1  Mapping current engagement—bridging the academic-practice gap
(Dudau et al. 2015)


  CONCERNS ABOUT THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP ON ACCOUNTING… 

5

debate’ as part of ‘a collective desire to leave a trace of the discussion’
regarding the research-practice gap between academics and practitioners
in public services accounting across comparative countries (Ahrens et al.
2008). Subsequently, practitioners were defined as those who are directly
involved in policy development and in the management of the public sector. This extends across all tiers of government, to other public bodies, the
accounting profession (insomuch as its activities relate to public services),
and to the business sector that works with the public sector. Academics
were defined as those employed in universities who were engaged in
research across accounting, public management, public administration,
and other disciplines interested in accounting in the public services.
Initiating the process, an email was sent out with an invitation to people
who had been at those first meetings, including the scientific committee,
workshop hosts, guest speakers, and practitioners. A traditional academic
journal paper would not work with an unusually large number of co-­
authors who are dispersed primarily (although not exclusively) across
Western Europe. So, a different form of collective writing was decided
upon that reflected the original discussions, which would ultimately form
this book. It involved a simultaneous process in which academics worked
collegiately in country-focused teams to contribute a target of around
600–800 words within a three-week deadline. The contribution was to be
based on their experiences and asked them to describe for their country:
‘(i) the type and extent of impact of academia on practice, policy, and the
professions and (ii) the types and extent of relationships of academics with
practitioners, policy makers, and the professions? Are there (desirable or
current) evolutions in this?’ The responses were then made available to all
academic participants so that any additional points could be made and
responses clarified. After this group exercise, invited practitioners from
international professional accounting bodies leading on the public sector
provided their independent reflections.
Later, responses from invited academic groups and practitioners went
through a further round of revision whereby contributions from countries
and professional bodies increased to around 1000 words and covered four
areas for consistency being (i) Specific features of the country context
which in their view affect the research-practice gap issue in the country;
(ii) The role of institutions in widening/narrowing the gap; (iii) The roles
of academics in widening/narrowing the gap; and (iv) Examples of good
practice.


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L. FERRY ET AL.

From this coherent overview, and based on a broader review of the literature examining the problems and issues identified in the ‘research-­
practice gap’, we offer an evaluative framework for analysing the national
similarities and differences (and the contexts that produce them), with the
intent of helping to make sense of the research-practice gap on a global
scale. This framework builds upon the categorization of factors identified
by our contributors by level of influence to theorize a broader conceptualization of the obstacles as well as facilitators to achieving a closer relationship between research and practice.
The book will now set out the literature review, the detailed responses
from each country and professional accounting bodies that the comparative analysis is based upon, and the comparative analysis and findings, followed by some concluding thoughts. In this book, we do not purport to
‘solve’ the question of how academic research might become a closer companion to practice. Rather, the narratives contained and the analysis we
offer provide ‘food for thought’ and an invitation to researchers, who,
through their research, are seeking to make a contribution to the practice
of accounting for public services.

References
Ahrens, T., Becker, A., Burns, J., Chapman, C. S., Granlund, M., Habersam, M.,
Hansen, A., Khalifa, R., Malmi, T., Mennicken, A., Mikes, A., Panozzo, F.,
Piber, M., Quattrone, P., & Scheytt, T. (2008). The future of interpretive
accounting research-a polyphonic debate. Critical Perspectives on Accounting,
19(6), 840–866. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2006.07.005.
Broadbent, J., & Guthrie, J. (2008). Public sector to public services: 20 years of
“contextual” accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability
Journal, 21(2), 129–169.
Buick, F., Blackman, D., O’Flynn, J., O’Donnell, M., & West, D. (2016). Effective
practitioner–scholar relationships: Lessons from a coproduction partnership.
Public Administration Review, 76(1), 35–47.
Chapman, C. S., & Kern, A. (2012). What do academics do? Understanding the
practical relevance of research. Qualitative Research in Accounting and
Management, 9(3), 279–281.
Dudau, A., Korac, S., & Saliterer, I. (2015). Mapping current engagement  –
Bridging the academic-practice gap, IRSPM SIG Accounting and Accountability.
Nottingham Trent University.
Evans, E., Burritt, R., & Guthrie, J. (Eds.). (2011). Bridging the gap between academic accounting research and professional practice, Academic leadership series


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(Vol. 2). Sydney: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and the
Centre for Accounting, Governance and Sustainability.
Goddard, A. (2010). Contemporary public sector accounting research – An international comparison of journal papers. The British Accounting Review, 42(2),
75–87.
Guthrie, J., & Parker, L.  D. (2014). The global accounting academic: What
counts! Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 27(1), 2–14.
Guthrie, J., & Parker, L. D. (2016). Whither the accounting profession, accountants and accounting researchers? Commentary and projections. Accounting,
Auditing and Accountability Journal, 29(1), 2–10.
Humphrey, C., & Miller, P. (2012). Rethinking impact and redefining responsibility: The parameters and coordinates of accounting and public management
reforms. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25(2), 295–327.
Jacobs, K. (2016). Theorising interdisciplinary public sector accounting research.
Financial Accountability & Management, 32(4), 469–488.
Jacobs, K., & Cuganesan, S. (2014). Interdisciplinary accounting research in the
public sector: Dissolving boundaries to tackle wicked problems. Accounting,
Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(8), 1250–1256.
Laughlin, R. C. (2011). Accounting research, policy and practice: Worlds together
or worlds apart? In E. Evans, R. Burritt, & J. Guthrie (Eds.), Bridging the gap
between academic accounting research and professional practice (pp.  23–30).
Sydney: Centre for Accounting, Governance and Sustainability, University of
South Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia.
Modell, S. (2014). The societal relevance of management accounting: An introduction to the special issue. Accounting and Business Research, 44(2), 83–103.
Paarlberg, D. (1968). Great Myths of Economics. New York: The New American
Library Inc.
Parker, L.  D. (2011). University corporatisation: Driving redefinition. Critical
Perspectives on Accounting, 22(4), 434–450.
Parker, L. D., & Guthrie, J. (2010). Editorial: Business schools in an age of globalization. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 23(1), 5–13.
Parker, L. D., Guthrie, J., and Linacre, S., 2011. Editorial: the relationship
between academic accounting research and professional practice. Accounting,
Auditing and Accountability Journal, 24 (1), 5–14.
Reed, M. I. (2009). The theory/practice gap: A problem for research in business
schools? Journal of Management Development, 28(8), 685–693.
Steccolini, I. (2016). Public sector accounting: From “old” new public management
to a paradigmatic gap: Where to from here? APIRA conference, Melbourne.
ter Bogt, H., & van Helden, J. (2012). The practical relevance of management
accounting research and the role of qualitative methods therein: The debate
continues. Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, 9(3), 265–273.


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Tucker, B. P., & Lowe, A. D. (2014). Practitioners are from Mars; academics are
from Venus? An empirical investigation of the research-practice gap in management accounting. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(3),
394–425.
Tucker, B. P., & Parker, L. D. (2014). In our ivory towers? The research-practice
gap in management accounting: An academic perspective. Accounting &
Business Research, 44(2), 104–143.
Tucker, B. P., & Schaltegger, S. (2016). Comparing the research-practice gap in
management accounting: A view from professional accounting bodies in
Australia and Germany. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 29(3),
362–400.


CHAPTER 2

Where There’s a Will… The Research-­
Practice Gap in Accounting

Abstract  In this chapter, I engage with recent empirical research I have
been involved with in investigating the important question of how research
may become a closer companion to practice and address three questions
central to the research-practice debate:
. How prevalent is the research-practice gap?
1
2. How has the research-practice gap been investigated?
3. How, if at all, might research become a closer companion to practice?
These questions are by no means restricted to the public sector, and
their consideration in a more general context may be valuable for both
researchers and practitioners interested in the nexus between research and
practice.
Keywords  Research-practice gap • Accounting • Research relevance •
Public sector • Research policy

Basil Tucker
UniSA Business School, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia

© The Author(s) 2019
L. Ferry et al., The Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in the
Public Services, Public Sector Financial Management,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99432-1_2

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L. FERRY ET AL.

2.1   Overview
As reported on the website of Founded in November 1984, the Search for
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, the SETI programme was
to begin operations on February 1, 1985. The SETI programR was ranked
as the most thorough effort ever made to search the skies for radio signals
from nonhuman civilizations. NASA had planned to fund the SETI programme through to at least the year 2002. In 1993, Nevada Senator
Richard Bryan successfully introduced an amendment that eliminated all
funding for the NASA SETI programme, citing budget pressures as his
reason for ending NASA’s involvement with SETI. At an annual cost of
only $12 million, the programme was less than 0.1% of NASA’s annual
budget, amounting to about a nickel per taxpayer per year (SETI Institute
2017).
In terms of a need to demonstrate the practical relevance of its endeavours at least, the science of cosmology is not alone! The opening passage
offers two crucial and related lessons illustrating the importance of the
necessity of academic research to in some way inform, engage with, or
contribute to practice. First, public scrutiny of the value of research and its
perceived value to society can have critical ramifications—even for the
direction and indeed, sustainability of what might arguably be regarded as
the greatest scientific enterprise of our time (Tarter 2001), in terms of its
profound importance, significance, and potential consequence to humankind (Billingham 1998). Second, insofar as public sector funding is concerned, the (perceived) return on investment on research is inevitably
evaluated in the context of competing priorities within an environment of
finite resources.
Such lessons are not profound. However, their implications are. As
observed by Scapens and Bromwich (2010, p. 77), the nature and extent
of the gap between academic research and practice ‘raises fundamental
questions not only about the relationship between academics and practitioners; but more generally, about the role of academic research in society’. Indeed, resonating with the opening passage of this chapter, it has
been argued that the very legitimacy of academic research depends largely
upon its ability to demonstrate its policy and practice relevance
(Baldvinsdottir et al. 2010).
This chapter proceeds by addressing some fundamental issues that serve
to problematize the research-practice gap in accounting in terms of five
fundamental questions:


  WHERE THERE’S A WILL… THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP IN ACCOUNTING 

11

. How prevalent is the research-practice gap?
1
2. How has the research-practice gap been investigated?
3. What challenges does the research-practice gap pose for a public sector audience?
4. What are the problems with engagement?
5. Is the problem of relevance soluble?

2.2   How Prevalent Is the Research-Practice Gap?
In view of the public scrutiny of research investment, competing priorities
for research funding, and disciplinary legitimacy, it is hardly surprising that
apprehensions about how effectively academic research speaks to practice
have been raised by scholars within a diverse range of ‘practiced-based’ or
applied disciplines (Short et  al. 2009; Van de Ven and Johnson 2006).
Indeed, calls to more effectively link research to practice have been made
in management (Shapiro et al. 2007; Vermeulen 2005); human resources
(Keefer and Stone 2009); economics (Ormerod 1994); finance (Trahan
and Gitman 1995); medicine (Denis and Langley 2002); public health
(Philip et  al. 2003); social work (Kondrat 1992); nursing (Fink and
Thompson 2005); speech pathology (Fey and Johnson 1998); organizational psychology (Hodgkinson et  al. 2001); education (Abbott et  al.
1999); management information systems (Lee 1989)—as well as in
accounting (e.g. see Mautz 1978; Baxter 1988; Mitchell 2002; Inanga
and Schneider 2005; Scapens 2006, 2008; Hopwood 2007; Baldvinsdottir
et al. 2010; Laughlin 2011; van Helden and Northcott 2010; Unerman
and O’Dwyer 2010; Parker et al. 2011; Kaplan 2011; Balakrishnan 2012;
Lapsley 2012; ter Bogt and van Helden 2012; Cooper and Annisette
2012; Lindsay 2012; Merchant 2012; Moser 2012; amongst others).
Most of these commentaries are predicated on an underlying concern
that the need for academic research is crucial to the future health, vitality,
and construction of a distinctive identity of the discipline. In terms of the
accounting academy, Parker (2012, p. 1173) offers a pointed and portentous warning, ‘…this must be addressed if we are to avoid becoming an
incestuous, self-referential species whose existence becomes a matter of
ever declining importance’.
However, apart from the concerns expressed by accounting researchers,
the imperative for academic research to engage more effectively with practice has been accentuated by recent research rating exercises across the


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L. FERRY ET AL.

globe. For instance, the Australian government’s Excellence in Research
for Australia (ERA), the UK government’s Research Excellence Framework
(REF), and the New Zealand government’s Performance Based Research
Fund (PBRF) are becoming an increasingly common fixture in the environment within which public universities operate. This trend has been
mirrored in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the
Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, and Canada (Parker 2012).
The rating of academic research outputs forms part of an overall
national government research management system designed to allocate
public funding to universities’ research efforts by measuring, monitoring,
and evaluating academic research ‘impact’, ‘relevance’, or ‘usefulness’.
Such systems signal to university management and researchers the type of
research that is valued and rewarded (Wren et al. 2007), and in so doing,
directly influence not only the quality and concentration of research
endeavours (Middlehurst 2014), but also universities’ quest for reputations and financial inflows.
Although less reliant on public funding than their Australian and
European counterparts (Chevaillier and Eicher 2002), North American
Universities are not exempt from the need to legitimize their research
investment decisions, and with this reliance comes a need to legitimize
their spending on research by demonstrating the return it generates
(Rousseau and McCarthy 2007). As with the scenarios in Australasia and
Europe, North American higher education institutions are increasingly
reliant on private monies for their continued survival (Bartunek and Rynes
2014). Thus, the production of academic research that is or is seen to be
‘relevant’ carries with it a financial imperative for universities on both sides
of the Atlantic and Pacific (Yang 2003). It is both an important and timely
issue for university leaders, academic researchers of all disciplinary persuasions, and other parties with a stake in the construction, propagation, and
application of academic research.
2.2.1  A Public Sector Perspective
Although commentaries on the divide between academic research and its
application in practice have proliferated in the general academic literature,
and across most applied disciplines (Rynes et  al. 2001), trepidations
voiced specifically in relation to the research-practice nexus within a public sector context have been surprisingly limited (van Helden and


  WHERE THERE’S A WILL… THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP IN ACCOUNTING 

13

Northcott 2010). This is at odds with the expectation that the practical
relevance of academic research would be of interest to public sector managers (Pettigrew 2005). At least three observations may be thought to
underpin this expectation. First, long-standing criticism of the public sector for being insufficiently effective and efficient (van Helden et al. 2010)
has led to quite significant transformations in this sector over the past
three decades. Perhaps the most significant transformation has been the
New Public Management (Hood 1995), characterized by increased
accountability and control practices, and extensive and measurable indicators of performance to ensure more efficient resource use but at the same
time seeking to maintain or improve the quality of service delivery
(Arnaboldi et al. 2015). It is fair to say that both the conceptual foundation and implementation of the New Public Management have been controversial (Jacobs and Cuganesan 2014), but this controversy has also
created scholarly interest and potential opportunities for academic research
(Arnaboldi 2013).
A second factor suggesting that academic research and its contribution
may be germane to the public sector is the inherent complexity of public
services, agencies, and instrumentalities. Complexities associated with the
sector are well documented. They result from sectorial responsibilities for
quite abstract and contestable outcomes related to justice, responsibility,
equity, democracy, and change (Lapsley and Skærbæk 2012). In such an
uncertain and complex environment, it is not inconceivable that public
sector managers might turn to findings from academic research to reduce
uncertainty and complement experience-based practices (Hemsley-Brown
2004).
Finally, some evidence shows that although a majority of public sector
managers do not engage extensively with academic research, a sizeable
minority of them do use academic research in their policy-related work
(Newman 2014). Thus, rather than existing as isolated ‘silos’, it may be
that public sector and academic communities possess links that can further
encourage the use of research in policy making.
Although arguably of lower profile than in disciplinary conversations,
when considering the nexus between academic research and practice, it is
important to remember that under the umbrella of the generic term ‘the
public sector’ are entities charged with the responsibility of delivering a considerable diversity of services, programmes, and agendas typically encompassing emergency services, infrastructure, utilities, telecommunications,


14 

L. FERRY ET AL.

transport, education, and health care. The size of the divide between academic research and practice varies from discipline to discipline (Brennan
2008; Short et al. 2009; Van de Ven and Johnson 2006; McKelvey 2006),
with some academic domains experiencing strong knowledge uptake, while
other disciplines are only beginning to promote knowledge sharing actively
to close the research-practice gap (Tsui et al. 2006). There is no reason to
believe such variations would not also apply across the portfolio of public
sector agencies. To draw definitive inferences about the ways in which academic research informs or is informed by practice would therefore reduce
the discussion to a naive and unsophisticated level, and distort the veracity of
any conclusions reached. That said, particular public sector domains have
varied in the attention they have directed and the importance they have
afforded to the research-practice gap. The health sector in general, and the
nursing profession in particular, has developed an ‘Evidence-Based Practice’
(EBP) tradition that has as its aim the utilization of the ‘best available’
research evidence from management, medical, biological, and behavioural
sciences to inform and underpin nursing practice, policy, and education
(Tucker and Leach 2017).
As a profession, the advances that nursing has made in bridging the
gap between academic research and practice through EBP1 is an observation that has been repeatedly noted (e.g. see Reay et  al. 2009;
Brennan 2008; Rousseau and McCarthy 2007; Hemsley-Brown and
Sharp 2003). Admittedly, the nursing profession has an established history dating back to the 1970s in seeking to integrate academic research
and practice (Abdellah 1970; Lindeman 1975); nevertheless, the
achievements and progression that nursing has achieved point to one
realm of the public sector that may be considered to be at the forefront
of such discussions. Interestingly, and as will be discussed later in this
chapter, the reasons attributable to, and implications of, the divide
between research and practice in nursing are remarkably consistent
with those articulated in general commentaries (see Tucker and Leach
2017).
1
 For example, through the move to tertiary-trained nurses, incorporation of research as a
component of training, engagement with research as a prerequisite for continued registration
or accreditation, and the establishment of academic journals such as Evidence-Based Nursing,
Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, dedicated
to publishing expositions on this aspect of nursing.


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