Data, Methods, and Analysis

This research intends to analyze the diffusion of PB as legally prescribed on the federal level in Austria. In particular, it is centered on stages 5 and 6 (“implementation” and “confirmation”; Rogers 2003). In line with recommendations in the literature, we studied “ex ante” and “ex post” reform views in order to get a hold on the diffusion (Steccolini 2019).

Empirically, this study triangulates official documents (e.g. Hammerschmid and Griinwald 2014; IMF 2018; Ministry of Finance Austria 2015; OECD 2018; Saliterer and Korac 2018) with those from the parliamentary process, budget documentations, and performance reports, and re-analyzes data from extant research (e.g. Hyndman et al. 2014; 2018; Saliterer et al. 2019).

Data, methods, and analytical strategy differed depending on the stage of diffusion. For stage 1 (“prior conditions”), practitioner and academic outputs are summarized in order to establish the criticisms raised against previous “input-oriented” systems and what instruments relating to or preconditioning outcome orientation had been implemented in the Austrian federal administration (e.g. Hyndman et al. 2014; Polzer etal. 2016).

Regarding stage 2 - “knowledge” - we first discuss the prevalence of the concepts of outcome orientation and PB in speeches in the Austrian federal Parliament. We then turn to the contributions in the most important national academic/practitioner journal on public financial management.

For “persuasion” (stage 3), we review studies in which the decisionmaking process and the preceding stages were described and commented on (e.g. Seiwald and Geppl 2013; Steger 2010). We also draw on information from interviews with key actors of the FBF reform (from the Ministry of Finance, the Federal Chancellery and the Court of Audit) on their reform experiences, in particular regarding processes, outcomes, and challenges.

Moving on to stage 4 (“decision”), we re-analyze data generated for previous studies (Hyndman et al. 2014; Meyer et al. 2012; Polzer et al. 2016) that focused on ideas from administrative reform discourses that were prevalent in the parliamentary discourse around the 2009-2013 reforms and look at draft bills, committee reports, debates, and concluded laws. Here, a qualitative coding strategy had been followed which is similar to previous diffusion studies (e.g. Hollerer 2013; Rao et al. 2003). In these documents, we focus on relevant paragraphs covering “outcome” or “effectiveness” as core ideas (n = 189; Hyndman et al. 2014). Mirroring extant research (Christensen and Faegreid 2011; Meyer and Hammerschmid 2006), our argument is that new ideas are introduced on top of, or alongside, existing ones, also referred to as “layering.” This is because new belief systems have been found to be fundamentally built on previous ones (Meyer et al. 2012) and with this, the constellation of core ideas often “reflects a slow layered dialectical pattern of elements of new emerging structures, systems and beliefs sedimented with pre-existing ones” (Figuori 2012, 511). We present our findings in the form of a semantic network (Polzer 2019b; Polzer et al. 2016).

In the implementation (stage 5), we start from the notion that new ideas and tools need to be legitimated in order to be accepted and implemented (Hyndman et al. 2018; 2019). Accounts by the “designers” but also “day-to-day users” of PB therefore represent discursive devices to achieve a fit between what is “indigenous” and “foreign,” or “accepted” and “problematic.” With this, accounts and related discursive legitimation (Vaara et al. 2006; Van Leeuwen and Wodak 1999) are necessary components in the implementation of change.

Extant studies have shown that when talking about and justifying accounting change, actors can select from a repertoire of rhetorical strategies:

  • Authorization (AUT) - e.g. reference to political/Ministry of Finance pressures, reference to internal managers, legal requirement
  • Rationalization (RAT) - e.g. enhancement of effective planning, better resource allocation, more efficient use of resources
  • Normalization (NAR) - e.g. role of the professions, private-public sector differences
  • Moralization (MOR) - e.g. good governance, transparency, sustainability
  • Narrativization (NAR) - stories to illustrate the implemented changes
  • Pathos (PAT) - e.g. personal commitment, career dedication, patriotism.

In order to shed light on the question of to what degree PB reform has led to actual change, we draw on archetype theory (Greenwood and Hinings 1993). These authors point out that organizational change entails not only reformed structures and management systems, but also the “interpretative schemes” - i.e. the ideas and beliefs - of those who work with the innovation on a day-to-day basis:

  • • In the case of “radical change” both structures/systems and “interpretative schemes” change and an existing archetype is replaced with a new one.
  • • On the contrary, in the case of “incremental change” structures/ systems are being altered, yet “interpretative schemes” remain untouched.
  • • Third, when public sector employees refer to “no change” neither structures/systems nor “interpretative schemes” are affected.

Re-analyzing data generated from qualitative coding of eleven interviews (the experience of “day-to-day users” regarding reform experiences, in particular regarding processes, outcomes, and challenges; Hyndman et al. 2018; 2019), we cross-tabulate the rhetorical strategy deployed and the outcome of change (radical change, incremental change, or no change) in the area of PB.

Finally, in order to determine if PB has been “confirmed” (stage 6), we revisit results from evaluation studies that have been conducted inside the administration and externally by the academic sphere and international organizations.

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