The 'Third Hand': Private Sector Consultants in Public Sector Accounting Change

Posted: 26 Sep 2005


This paper explores the role of large private sector consulting firms in the promotion and implementation of public sector accrual accounting. By focusing on an early adopter of accrual accounting for its entire public sector, this research presents an analysis of the activities of large consulting firms in the process of a significant public sector accounting change. The role of consultants in the change is presented by analysing primary data extracted from archival sources and oral histories provided by a number of prominent actors classified as users of information (politicians), producers of information (bureaucrats) or accounting consultants. The role and impact of the consulting firms' actions can be better understood by applying concepts of non-coercive isomorphism and the interplay between self-interest and perceived public interest. The consulting firms are shown to have used phantom images to promote the case for accounting change. This was done with a zealous belief that bringing public sector accounting into line with private sector accounting was an inherently righteous objective.

Keywords: Public sector, Accrual accounting, Consultant, Epistemic community, Isomorphism

JEL Classification: M41, M48, J44

Suggested Citation

Christensen, Mark, The 'Third Hand': Private Sector Consultants in Public Sector Accounting Change. European Accounting Review, Vol. 14, No. 3, Available at SSRN:

Mark Christensen (Contact Author)

Southern Cross University ( email )

Lismore, New South Wales 2480

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