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Accountability and control in a cat's cradle

Berry, Anthony J. (2005) Accountability and control in a cat's cradle. Accounting auditing and accountability journal, 18 (2). pp. 255-297. ISSN 0951-3574

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Abstract

Purpose – To examine control and accountability in an expressive organisation. Design/methodology/approach – The paper was based upon a longitudinal case study of events in the Church of England from 1994 to 2001 and was based on documents, debates in the governing body, conversations and interviews and participants' observation. Findings – As a response to a financial crisis a group of financiers from within the Evangelical theological tradition (which places stress on headship and control) proposed the creation of a new church governance body (a national council) with strongly integrated central control and severely diminished conciliar participation. This group described the complex church organisations and structures (disparagingly) as “a cats cradle of autonomous and semi autonomous organizations”. This conflicted with the values of the other covenant traditions (Anglo-Catholic and Liberal). The new body was created, but the proposed centralised control was unraveled, the existing constitution and governance was maintained, the “cats cradle” was enriched within the ground metaphor of autonomy. The case shows how the loosely coupled nature of this expressive institution with its multiple theological (value and belief) stances and multiple organisations, relationships and accountabilities was almost impervious to the attempt to shift them into an ordered and controlled hierarchy. Research limitations/implications – The great complexity of an ancient Church constrains the researcher to a limited account. Practical implications – Change in expressive organisations happens by emergent negotiation and cannot be directed because the various value positions infuse everything. Originality/value – The conception of control and accountability as being constructed and reconstructed in the interplay of the constructs of covenant, constitution and contract. This theorising may have a wider application both to expressive, public institutions and private organisations.

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