Public sector to public services: 20 years of "contextual" accounting research

Jane Broadbent*, James Guthrie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

294 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to review and critique the field of public sector accounting research. Many nation states deliver essential public services. In recent times, many of these nations have been involved in programmes of "modernisation", which, in part, means that these public services now are significantly managed, delivered and governed by private and third sector organisations. Design/methodology/approach - The paper employs a literature-based analysis and critique of public sector accounting articles published in the selected journals from 1992 to 2006. From this, a descriptive meta-analysis of the characteristics of the research will be discussed. Finally, a conceptual analysis of the selected literature will be used to evaluate the field and address a possible future research agenda. Findings - The descriptive analysis highlights that among the research papers reviewed several interesting patterns emerged concerning public service research. Also, the dominance of Australasia and UK research was noted. The extent of research in different levels of government/jurisdiction indicated that the majority of research was organisationally based. Finally, when the various functional types of accounting are considered, management accounting remained the most researched area of interest. Research limitations/implications - The paper only considered research within eight selected journals and over the period 1992 to 2006. Therefore, for instance, US mainstream public sector accounting research has not been reviewed. Originality/value - The main implications of the paper are that "contextual" public service accounting research has a strong tradition and, through the process of reflection and critique of the body of work, several important insights are provided in order to highlight areas for further research and policy development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-169
Number of pages41
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Public sector accounting
  • Public sector organizations


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