The power of accounting: A field study of local financial management in a police force

Paul M. Collier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes the introduction of management accounting change in the form of local financial management in a police force, West Mercia Constabulary, using an ethnographic study. The study applies institutional theory to understand the context, process and consequences of the introduction of devolved budgeting systems to the organization. The field study explains how the devolution of budgets in West Mercia was accompanied by a shift in power that helped to reconcile the interests of those pursuing a legitimating accountability with those who prioritized operational policing. This paper makes two contributions to institutional theory. First, is the development of understanding of relations of power, particularly where interests coincide and shifts in power are a by-product of legitimating processes. Second, is an explanation of how loose coupling can take place through accounting, in which a devolved budget can satisfy both institutional and technical demands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-486
Number of pages22
JournalManagement Accounting Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2001


  • Institutional theory
  • Local financial management
  • Loose coupling
  • Police
  • Power


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