Social impact reporting in the public interest: The case of accounting standardisation

Sarah Adams*, Dale Tweedie, Kristy Muir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: We investigate the extent to which accounting standards for social impact reporting are in the public interest. We aim to (i) explore what the public interest means for social impact reporting by charities; and (ii) assess the extent to which the accounting standardisation of social impact reporting supports the public interest so defined.
Design/methodology/approach: We conduct a case study of how stakeholders in Australian charities conceptualise the public interest when discussing accounting standardisation. We distinguish three concepts of the public interest from prior research: aggregative, processual and common good. For each, we analyse the implications for accounting and how accountants serve the public interest, and how they align with stakeholder views.
Findings: Stakeholder views align with the aggregative and processual concepts of public interest, however this was contested and partial. Accounting standards for social impact reporting will only serve the public interest if they also capture and implement the common good approach.
Practical implications: Clarifying how key stakeholders interpret the public interest can help standard-setters and governments design (or withhold) accounting standards on social impact reporting. We also distinguish different practical roles for accountants in this domain – information merchants, umpires or advocates, which each public interest concept implies.
Originality/value: We extend prior research on accounting for the public interest to social impact reporting. We empirically demonstrate the salience of the common good concept of public interest, and demonstrate the diversity of views on the standardisation of social impact reporting by charities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 5 Oct 2020


  • Social impact
  • public interest
  • charities
  • Common good

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