Customer Orientation and Management Control in the Public Sector: A Garbage Can Analysis

Fredrika Wiesel, Sven Modell, Jodie Moll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent public sector reforms have increasingly tended to re-cast citizens as 'customers'. This paper explores the implications of such customer orientation efforts for management control based on a field study in a Swedish central government agency. We extend prior research on this topic, informed by critical and institutional theories, with insights from the garbage can literature and focus on a key decision-making process involved in making extant management control practices more customer-focused. Our analysis nuances the predictions of critical scholars, suggesting that customer orientation initiatives will commodify public services and narrow the interests served by public sector organizations. In doing so, we draw attention to how conflicting institutional arrangements fostered a garbage can situation hampering radical change in management control practices. Our garbage can analysis provides a bridge between critical and institutional perspectives by re-instating a focus on decision-making. We show how the intricacies of decision-making may moderate the power embedded in novel management control practices and foster inertia and unintended outcomes. Our analysis also raises important policy implications pertaining to the possibilities of combining customer orientation efforts with rationing of public services. © 2011 European Accounting Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-581
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Accounting Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


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