ACCOUNTING STANDARD SETTING

  • Reading between the lines: Qualitative research on the lobbying of standard setters. In this paper, I find that the explanatory value of the quantitative analysis of lobbying of standard setters is enhanced if it is supplemented with qualitative analysis. I question the adequacy of research that employs purely statistical analysis to explain lobbying behaviour and regulatory outcomes. I replicate many of the statistical tests carried out by Giner and Arce (2012) as part of their study on the lobbying of the IASB on a new data set of 333 comment letters regarding the IASB project to revise IAS 37. An interpretive documentary analysis combined with interviews of key individuals, both at the IASB and at organisations that wrote comment letters, reveals salient factors that shaped the outcome of the project. These factors could not have been uncovered by the statistical analysis of comment letters alone. The findings of the qualitative research lead me to question the validity of some of the implicit assumptions made by researchers engaging in quantitative research in this area. This paper highlights methodological concerns with a reliance on potentially unrealistic implicit assumptions in quantitative research on comment letters, particularly when the theories of lobbying are not predictively accurate (Friedman, 1953; Musgrave, 1981). 

Social impact reporting and social investment

  • Social impact reporting as reputation management: Effective practice, symbolic adoption or business-washing? This paper examines the increasing use of business-style language by UK social purpose organisations (SPOs) over the last decade, focusing in particular on the use of social impact reporting (SIR). Using interviews with 21 staff at SPOs and an analysis of the websites of 128 SPOs, it reports three key findings and makes two theoretical arguments. First, it finds that SIR is primarily intended as a signal of financial competence to social investors, thereby serving as a tool for managing the reputation and legitimacy of the SPO in the eyes of its financial stakeholders (Neu et al., 1998; Ebrahim et al., 2014). Second, heterogenous styles and degrees of adoption of SIR were observed, often with limited, if any, internalisation of practice (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Bromley and Powell, 2012). Some cases of this variation appear to result from semantic widening (Bloomfield, 1983) whereas others result from disingenuous reputation management activity, which I label ‘business-washing’

  • Quants and qualia in the social sector: The impact of "impact". This study examines the trend towards the use of social impact reporting and language in social purpose organisations (SPOs). An analysis of 128 UK SPO websites shows their inclusion of both statistical content (quants) and emotional narratives (qualia). I argue that the arrangement of web content may reflect attempts by SPOs to ``gloss over'' (see Spence and Thomson, 2009) moral inconsistencies that arise from their need to satisfy multiple stakeholders. Second, the paper draws on philosophical theories of action, arguing that descriptions by SPOs of their activities matter to their staff. Interviews reveal that some staff at SPOs are likely to be demotivated by an increased use of statistical `impact' language to describe an SPO's achievements. This is because such language is inconsistent with their own self-descriptions of their activities as emotionally or morally motivated. Thus, a linguistic shift can open up a gap between practice and organisational objectives that I label, `language-means decoupling’.

  • Standardising the social. In this paper, I investigate the recent attempts by a transnational organisation, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), to develop new impact reporting and investment standards known as IRIS, which incorporate both financial and social data relating to the reporting entities. The GIIN describe this development as a response to the concerns raised by social investors about the absence of an accepted taxonomy of impact terms for social organisations. Using evidence collected from interviews with key individuals involved in the standard development project, I analyse attempts by standard setters to ensure procedural legitimacy for the standards and the potential network effects in their diffusion. Furthermore, using the framework developed in the work of Botzem and Dobusch (2012), I explore the relationship between input and output legitimacy in this case. 

FINANCIAL REPORTING:

  • Commentary on ‘Related Party Transactions as Red Flags (with Bjorn Jorgensen). This paper provides a commentary on Kohlbeck and Mayhew (2014), who analyse data for listed US S&P 1500 firms for 2001, 2004 and 2007 and demonstrate that certain types of related party transactions are associated with a higher likelihood of financial restatement and, surprisingly, with a lower audit fee. This commentary paper suggests opportunities for enriching future work in this area through the use of qualitative approaches, highlighting in particular, issues of causality, categorisation of variables and cross-jurisdictional application.