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Most of the literature on management accounting (MA), both practitioner-oriented and academic literature, views ‘change’ rather as a means to an end, with emphasis on the ‘end’. The majority of business schools also teach MA change as a phenomena for which there is assumed to be some optimal design, so simply design it!

So, conventional MA approaches not only see its subject as a neutral bundle of tools and techniques which will inform managers’ rational decisions, but also that any changes necessary in MA systems, techniques and/or roles for accountants are borne out of a state of disequilibrium and a need to re-establish optimal MA practices.

Furthermore, in the conventional, mainstream view of MA, change is generally assumed to be unproblematic, straight-forward and ‘simply’ a case of good (i.e., rational) design.

An alternative way to view MA change, however, is to treat it as constituting complex, frequently irrational in nature, and ongoing processes over time. One such alternative approach, though certainly not the only one, would be the ‘institutional framework’ of MA change, proposed by Burns and Scapens (2000).

The Burns and Scapens (2000) theoretical framework of MA change assumes that much MA practice is underpinned by rules (e.g., budgets are underpinned by the budgeting manual), which over time become routinized practices, and can eventually become ‘institutionalised’ such that their use becomes rather unquestioned and taken-for-granted. As such, over time, this routinised and potentially institutionalised nature of MA practices can bring a degree of predictability and stability to their form and use.

That said, it is held in the Burns and Scapens (2000) framework that changes can occur, in particular when powerful people in organisations force or coerce change. But, changes in rules (e.g., changes to particular systems, techniques, roles) tend to be easier than forcing change in routines and institutions. Importantly, and probably more than anything else, an aim of the Burns and Scapens (2000) framework is to emphasise that it is important to view the ‘life’ of MA practices as ongoing processes over time rather than as static outcomes.

Reference: J. Burns and R. W. Scapens (2000), Conceptualising management accounting change: an institutional framework, Management Accounting Research, 10(1), pp.1-19.

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