Accounting for changed accounting: a translation view comparing accrual accounting implementations in France and Australia

Document Type


Publication details

Christensen, M & Rocher, S 2010, 'Accounting for changed accounting: a translation view comparing accrual accounting implementations in France and Australia', paper presented to 12th Annual Conference of the International Research Society of Public Management, Bern, Switzerland, 7-9 April.

Peer Reviewed



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into how public sector accounting change is achieved.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses a comparative historical approach in which early and late adopters of public sector accrual accounting are described and contrasted. Actor-network theory is mobilised to consider how accrual accounting progressively became an obligatory point of passage in each jurisdiction (New South Wales – an Australian State Government - as early adopter and France as late adopter). In order to show how the same innovation (accrual accounting) was implemented in two different ways the analysis traces network development, emergence of controversies and translation processes during the relevant historical periods. Both archival and oral history data sources were accessed for each case.

Findings – The paper’s findings are: first, ANT proves efficacious for understanding public sector accounting change; second, even though the French and NSW adoptions are characterised by many differences, there were systemic similarities identified; third, the similarities in the two cases coalesce around the central roles adopted by some agent of change significantly influencing the actor network. These findings are consistent with Olson et al (1998) regarding numerous paths of NPFM however the findings also demonstrate that explanations of those different paths can benefit from analysis of the specific steps of translation in each accounting change. Although such a finding may disappoint by sweeping away suggestions of simplistic – even formulaic – conclusions of accounting change, it does point towards a powerful technique of analysis.

Research limitations/implications – This comparative study relies on data gathered after the reform process happened. Whilst these information sources are essential for historical analysis, there is also a need for study ‘in action’, engaged at the beginning of such a reform.

Practical implications – This article emphasizes how accrual accounting has become what is at present in NSW and France. It also identifies similarities and differences in order to characterise processes of accounting reform.

Originality/Value - This article does not follow the common idea in existing comparative studies on public sector accounting that order constitutes the rule, while change (the reform) is the exception needing analysis. Indeed, the approach followed here reverses that vision. Innovation is the rule and it is the emergence of a new stable state which should be explained.