Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Managing consultants

Tim Clark has written this book about the topic, arguing that it's impression management. I like the diagram that he has used to explain what bases he starts his argument from. With slight adapting, I can use something similar for my next set of notes for my supervisors.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Matching accountability to clients

After listening to a colleague's presentation of her MRes research on stakeholder understanding of museum value, I was stimulated to thinking how her seven types of values might be tabulated against types of stakeholder. Similarly, I could cross tabulate Schein's types of clients against Boven's types of accountabilities.

  • Bovens, M. 2007. Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework. European Law Journal, 13(4): 447-468.
  • Schein, E. 1997. The concept of “client” from a process consultation perspective: a guide for change agents. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 109 (3): 202-216.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007


Next task is to review literature on the management of consultants, which is quite difficult to find, possibly because
  1. there is little such literature
  2. it's hidden because the research terms 'management' AND 'consultant' could mean how consultants manage, or how they consult for managers rather than how managers select, use and manage them.

I also need to turn up at the next supervision meeting with around 10 possible PhD skills to pick three from and concentrate on.

Thirdly, I need to work out what, if anything I can submit to the student stream at the BAM conference in September.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Research on contracts

Dicke & Ott's research to my mind is good in that it doesn't start by taking accountability for granted but uses Romzek & Dubnick's 1994 model of accountability to work from.

It is the only research so far that looks remotely worth emulating. Having identified ten methods of demonstrating accountability, Dicke and Ott then examined contracts for human services to see if any of those methods appeared in the contracts. Findings were that some methods were explicitly mentioned in the contracts, especially audits, monitoring, courts and contracts.

They concluded that accountability has both positive and negative implications. Overdependence on controls means other dimensions of accountability may be neglected. The need for flexibility must be balanced with responsibility for maintaining all 5 dimensions of accountability in upholding the public interest. There’s a need not to overlook the moral dimension.

This is about how the contractor accounts for work, not how the principal accounts to the public for using the contractor, unless, you count ability to account by referring to the techniques that the principal uses to monitor and control the consultant-agent. I could use this approach for my work too, if I could get access to the contracts.

Dicke, L. A., & Ott, J. S. 1999. Public Agency Accountability in Human Services Contracting. Public Productivity & Management Review, 22(4): 502-516.
Romzek, B. S., & Dubnick, M. J. (1994). Issues of accountability in flexible personnel systems. In P. W. Ingraham & B. S. Romzek (Eds.), New paradigms, for government (pp. 263-294). San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Dimensions of accountability

Romzek & Dubnick's 1994 model is a book that I haven't managed to get hold of, so I can only go by what Dicke & Ott say. They indicated that accountability has at least four competing dimensions: bureaucratic or hierarchical, legal, professional and political. To that they add a moral or ethical accountability quoting Dwivedi & Jabbra.

I'd guess that there'd be a match to Bovens types of accountability. For instance, his social accountability might match moral accountability.

  • Bovens, M. 2007. Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework. European Law Journal, 13(4): 447-468.
  • Dicke, L. A., & Ott, J. S. 1999. Public Agency Accountability in Human Services Contracting. Public Productivity & Management Review, 22(4): 502-516.
  • Dwivedi, 0 . P., & Jabbra, J. G. (1988). Public service responsibility and accountability. In J. G. Jabbra & O . P. Dwivedi (Eds.), Public service accountability (pp. 1-16). West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press.
  • Romzek, B. S., & Dubnick, M. J. (1994). Issues of accountability in flexible personnel systems. In P. W. Ingraham & B. S. Romzek (Eds.), New paradigms, for government (pp. 263-294). San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Recent accountability literature

My problem with the recent literature is the geographical categorisation of the literature: Britain, America, Australia, EU, Jamaica & colonies, and developing countries.

  • EU – legislation and governance
  • Developing - participatory governance
  • American - little reference to rest of world
  • Different vocabulary e.g. ex-part, ex-ante relates to EU governance

Examples are embodied in language, rather than terms

Specific research is little mentioned but the literature discusses definitions, meanings, the concept of accountability, typologies, mechanisms, providing little experimental research or evidence.

An exception is Jermias who explores the effects of over-confidence and accountability on decision making. Costs systems business students could be transferred to other areas such as choice of mobile phones, overconfidence in decision making process to employ, appoint, and use consultants. This experiment was laboratory based in which business students were allowed to choose a costing system, make decisions using that systems computer screen, given negative feedback and asked for rationale justification of decision. Results showed a confirmatory bias for the preferred / chosen system, blaming the non-preferred system. I could conclude that the post-use manager will justify the decision regardless of negative effects and evidence of poor choice.

Monday, 10 December 2007


I've been reading Johnny Jermias' paper on accountability [1]. Unlike all the papers that I've recently read about EU accountability, he at least has the results of experiments to report. Although the stress in his research is on overconfidence and resistance to change, he reports that accountability mitigates and attenuates overconfidence in a system. He suggests that someone could research the impact of accountability on overconfidence when performance is evaluated against a goal that is set participatively.

I like this idea. The public sector seems to be moving to more participative governance (probably a way of avoiding accountability), but could goals be set participatively? Imagine a school governing body. Who would set the goals? Usually it's the governing body in conjunction with the head teacher, so would other stakeholders participate, and then who would be evaluated? Probably only the head teacher and the teachers, not the governors. Wouldn't the governors be accountable for setting up this participation anyhow? I can't see how to set up the research situation, unless it's a totally artificial one like Jermias' experiment with statistical results.

Jermias, J. 2006. The influence of accountability on overconfidence and resistance to change: A research framework and experimental evidence. Management Accounting Research, 17(4): 370-388.

Friday, 7 December 2007


Our IT department arranged a drop in session to demonstrate how to use the smart board. It's quite nifty. All you need is your finger to act as the mouse and enter (tap the board). You have to have the software (Smart notebook & scratchpad) available either on the computer in the room you are working in, or on your laptop. It provides a nice clear screen with no old stains from previous many uses of pens, but I still think that actually, the white board or even the black board has a lot of advantages.

If you use the smart board it seems to me that you have to have done a lot of preparation before so that you know what to bring up, where to find it, what to do with it when it goes wrong, whereas with a blackboard, it's all in your head. Yes, you still have to prepare but you don't have to be distracted, stressed or embarrassed by technology that goes wrong.

Disadvantages of the smart board:
  • As a short person though I'm going to have difficulty tapping the top of the board for some functions such as calibrating it, or for the X square if I'm connecting it to the computer.
  • The smart software it takes up a lot of space (and as I don't have a laptop...)
  • If you're working with kids, they have great fun scribbling over the board.
  • The pens get lost.
  • The technology doesn't do what you thought it would and you don't know how to sort it out and everybody is watching you.
Advantages of a white board or black board
  • I can clean either of them myself, especially the blackboard, the pens are cheaper, and chalk is even cheaper and if the kids nick it, their scribbles are easier to remove.
OTH, I like the comfort of knowing that I have everything ready and available giving me a means of presenting my programme in preplanned order.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Rationale for literature on accountability

Why is there the interest in accountability? In Europe, the growth in the EU has put pressure on accountability mechanisms, and it is necessary to legitimise and democratise governance that occurs at many levels, in a manner that breaks chains of accountability, hence Bovens’ comment: no unbroken chain”. There has been a push to improve performance and decision making, modernising accountability and control procedures (Curristan?, 2005).

New Public Management (NPM) comes into the literature on EU governance and accountability. NPM makes demands – this is the reform in the public sector which involves transferring business and marketing principals from the private sector to the public sector with the aim of improving efficiently by applying business techniques.

Monday, 3 December 2007


Bovens is this law professor from the Netherlands who seems to be particularly strong on describing and explaining accountability. He extends existing theory providing a conceptual framework in the context of the EU suffering from deficits of accountability.
  • He explains the concept as a relationship between actor and forum.
  • He analyses types of accountability, discerning dimensions to describe relations in the EU
  • He assesses the accountability arrangements: democratic, constitutional, learning.

[1] Bovens, Mark, 2007, European Law Journal, Vol 13, No4, July 2007, pp 447-468

Friday, 30 November 2007

Accountability literature


After a dreary trawl through the EBSCO database, I reluctantly read a somewhat irrelevant paper this morning, until I noticed it mentioned Bovens' model of public accountability that
"does not rely on (unbroken) chains of delegation and (largely) single principals."
The journal, European Law Journal ( Volume 13 Issue 4) was a very recent one (July 2007) and it is a special issue prepared in the context of the Connex network on democratic governance. The introduction indicates that the authors
"had all been working on aspects of accountability and its links with other 'good governance' values, notably transparency and democracy."
Scholars from throughout Europe had presented papers at workshops coordinated by Curtin. It has led me to other names and papers: Dubnick, Mulgan, Sinclair, Day & Klein, Power and others whose names I don't yet know. Perhaps I will manage to get ten papers together to review for my next supervision.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Review of accountability

I'm to review the literature on accountability. I read literature on this for my MRes and attempted to make sense of the construct of accountability, writing and rewriting for months. If I'm to review the literature I suppose I go back to what I had first time round, and reread it. And add to it.

I've been search EBSCO for 'accountability' with other words:
  • public accountability
  • public accountability AND logic
  • logic of accountability
  • accountabilities AND logics
  • public accountability AND review
  • public accountability AND review AND literature- no recent review of the literature on accountability
  • Accountability review NOT accounting
  • participatory accountability - results seem to be about poverty & third world
  • participatory theory AND accountability
  • accountability AND risk-taking
  • ethical accountability - the results seem to relate to adverts
Then I followed up some systems writing by Flood [1] and looked for
  • public accountability AND structure - best is Pugh et al from years ago
  • public accountability AND processes
  • public accountability AND meaning - hits seem a bit old
  • public accountability AND power AND knowledge - no hits here
  • public accountability AND power

[1] Flood, Robert, L., Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning Within the Unknowable (Paperback)at

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Web words

I wrote some words for my page at the OUBS web site, but it doesn't display properly. What I gave the course secretary to upload has come out as one long unreadable paragraph.

Research so far

I am interested in:
  1. how public sector authorities accounted for the use of consultants

  2. how client-consultant relationships affected public accountability.
The media frequently accuse the public sector of profligate expenditure on private consultants. As a preliminary study for the Masters in Research Methods I examined public accountability for the management of external consultants looking for justification of use. The study applied agency theory to client roles and relationships to identify problems of different perceptions of accountability between multiple decision makers and stakeholders.

A social constructionist perspective was taken that led to a qualitative analysis of a single case study of the use of external consultants in a council service review project.

Emerging issues of public accountability included transparency of processes. Different perceptions of accountability revealed unconscious enactment and possible gaps. Findings confirmed the literature on accountability and began to extend research on some types of client-consultant relationships, suggesting public accountabilities in which managers of consultants account proactively and users account reactively. Further research might investigate the institutional pressures that influence client-consultant relationships and accountability.

Research to do

Different constructions of public accountability may come with different relationships; relationships may even prevent accountability. Some issues seem to be accounted for, but others are not. What influences the choice of what issues are publicly accounted for?

A culture may allow some ways of setting up and legitimising some accountability relationships but not others. The institutional context and culture shapes the micro-level of interaction between groups and organisations creating systems of meaning in a context of accountability. Accountability may be a function of institutional logic, or of organisational culture. So, for the moment I am exploring the literature on accountability more in order to refine the research topic and questions.

For my latest progress see my blog at:

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

DTW Rigour and reviewing

How are you going to demonstrate rigour in your research?
In the doctoral training workshop, our small group suggested (after a discussion about the meaning and spelling of 'rigorous'):
  • an obedience to rules
  • following instructions rigoursly
  • consistency
  • validity
  • reliability
The class suggestions were:
Before data collection: Address own bias, Be consistent with the research question, Be objective, Justify the methodology, Have awareness of the literature in the field

After data collection Triangulate, Be repeatable, Repeat experiments to make sure Use methods consistently, Compare with other’s work, Analyse from a different perspective, Know limitations, Find other explanations

Always Following the training rules, Be convincing, Demonstrate external validation

The answer taken from Research Skills for Policy and Development [1]:

  1. To show that you have enough evidence to justify your conclusions
  2. That evidence has been obtained properly and that contrary evidence has been sought, but either not found or found to be relatively unconvincing.

See slides that they'll post on the web site later.

Ways of doing research

Maybe have a section in the PhD dissertation about the way of researching, e.g.:

  • observing,
  • two-way interactions e.g. semi-structured interviews
  • participation.

See rules for rigourous research in Glassich, Huber & Maeroff, 1997 [2]

Some questions that a reviewer might be required to ask of a paper:

  1. whether there's evidence to support the claims
  2. whether the claims are relevant and topical
  3. accuracy of the numbers or quotations
  4. ethics of publication
  5. credible references
  6. relevance of the topic (journal/field/fashion)
  7. originality might be desirable but not required
  8. limitations
  9. clarity of ideas
  10. findings justified
  11. structure
  12. abstract

[1] Research Skills for Policy and Development: How to Find Out Fast (Published in association with The Open University) by Alan Thomas and Giles Mohan (Paperback - 16 May 2007) at
[2] Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate (Special Report) by Charles E. Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber, and Gene I. Maeroff (Paperback - 15 Aug 1997)

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Supervision - literature review

All three of us managed to meet for about half an hour yesterday for the first time since I started on the PG programme.

Agenda included:
  • PhD skills audit
  • my scribbles
  • ethics committee feedback on MRes, a summary and an issue that arose

PhD skills audit

My scribbles

These scribbles connected my ideas from reading on organisations and accountability. They linked the intangible recommendations of consultants to the invisibility of recommendations that were not taken up and the undiscussability of decisions to implement recommendations or not. These ideas built on readings from Mullins, Thornton and Argyris with reference to concepts of institutional logic and power.

Criticism is undiscussable, or consultants come up with recommendations that are ignored. I have stuff about how aspects of a consultancy and issues that arise are undiscussable so how does accountability work there, so single & double loop processes are being challenged. there are issue in my research about defining the context.
  • What does it mean to use consultants and
  • What might accountability mean in those contexts?
  • What happens if we've hired consultants to change the way we think? which is what institutional logic & double loop learning is about, throwing up in the air the criteria used. There might be conflicting logics in play.
  • what is legitimate, what's discussable?
There are ways of setting up and legitimising some accountability relationships and not others. You can have a culture that allows some and not others. The institutional context & culture shapes the micro-level of interaction between groups and organisations. The mental models take place within an institutional context. Supervisors suggest that where there are challenges to Argyris' double loop learning, then issues of context matter. There are systems of meaning in a context of accountability at a micro level with mental models. They recommend that I explore accountability more, e.g. what happens when organisational templates change? You import an institution to make an organisation out of. The organisation is the enactment of the model. you What does it look like when you have different institutional loyalties in play? what's the process of transition like? Thornton looked at something like this- a tradition called institutional theory.
Follow up Hinings & Royston Greenwood, 1998, Mayo & Rowan, DiMaggio & Powell, Michael Lounsbury.

Concepts in the accountability literature that I had read:
  • institutional logic
  • performance measurement - is an institutional kind of logic, imposed by audit & inspection regimes
  • participation - pressure on councils to consult, part of the institutional environment

Literature review

This is to be on:
  1. accountability
  2. new institutionalism
My task before Christmas is to write something about accountability giving a sense of where the literature on accountability now is and then to move on to anything promising about institutionalism. Also I'm going to look at one or two theses.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Phd skills audit

A couple of the directors of research studies (Geoff & Marion) delivered us a session on skills that we should have by the end of the three years of PhD studies. The list of skills gives seven (A to G) headings to these on the Joint Research Councils' web site. The one that matters to me is:

Research Skills and Techniques

This includes research problems, thinking, methods, reviewing, documenting and reporting, which are not skills that I have much experience of, whereas the other areas I have practised to some extent.

There is also a page for the supervisors on assessment where students can check what they'll be assessed on (in theory). However, after supervision yesterday, I have the impression that my supervisors are not aware of this web site nor or their formal role in skills audit. Supervisor #1 and I discussed some of the headings from a print out of the list of seven headings, and I think we'll have a fairly informal approach. That suits me fine.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

DTW literature review

See web site at and chapter 7 of Doing Postgraduate Research

Why do a literature review?
  • to know what's been said
  • to find gaps
  • to clarify the research question
  • to 'locate' research in context
  • to find who is doing what
  • to facility your learning about the process about how people do research.
Compare Potter's slide on the purpose of a literature review, which includes using the literature review to choose a research method or approach.
We discussed Woodley's 1980's review for the literature on the success rate of mature students. (I hope his more recent work indicates that mature students are successful.) He writes a story of the emergence of information on the topic, not a list of the papers that he's read.

Sources of information that we thought of include:
  • journals
  • books
  • grey literature: organisational reports, blogs
  • technical reports
  • web
  • people
See Doing Post Graduate Research Chapter 7.3

Friday, 16 November 2007

Supervision preparation

I have a supervision next week so need to put together what I got from the last supervisions (met supervisors separately) and indicate where I'm up to.

My topic seems to indicate that I’m investigating two areas:
  1. Organisations
  2. Accountability

The organisations are public organisations and use external management consultants. Accountability may be public but if it exists, it is expressed within and by a public organisation. Starting points then are visibility and power to account. My supervisors have consequently made recommendations relevant to these areas:

  1. Find a review of the literature on accountability
  2. Search for literature on organisational development interventions and the intangibility of management consultancy work.

Initial literature:

  • Public Policy and Administration vol 21 no 3 Autumn 2006 special issue on public accountability in a new institutional environment
  • Lukes, (1974 & 2005) Power: a radical view

These texts are leading me to consider

  • institutional logic,
  • the power of the invisible,
  • the effect of intangibility and
  • the resulting undiscussability.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Job interview

I had a quite intensive interview to tutor a business course. They started even before I sat down by asking if we'd met before then where. Discussion didn't give me good vibes since one of the interviewers was someone who'd interviewed me before and didn't give me the job - in fact she was quite scathing in her debriefing. That was a useful experience because it made me realise that there might be something in the culture that doesn't match your own values, and in fact you don't want the job because of that clash.

Preparation had included:
  • an electronic in-tray
  • an electronic assignment to mark
  • a 10 minute tutorial to prepare
Questions included:
  • how do you deal with the range of students
  • how do you involve the student who doesn't want to participate
  • what tutoring was I already doing
  • a question on a business topic
Trouble is, I feel so tense in those situations that I can't remember when I come out what they had asked about.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Argyris musings

Chris Argyris [1] wrote on un-discussability in the early 80s.
Something can’t be discussed and even its un-discussability is un-discussable.And this may be what is happening in the choice of what aspect of consultants’ work is publicly accounted for. Argyris was looking at the organisation so the un-discussability is at an organisation level.I also need to look at what happens in an organisation or an institution such as a government or public institution and the institutional culture that governs or influences what is discussable.

He mentions that organisations need double loop learning. Isn't this like the Johari window where there are things that you / others know/don't know about you?

[1] Argyris, Chris, 1980, Making the Undiscussable and Its Undiscussability Discussable, Public Administration Review,Public Administration Review, 205-213, vol 40, 3, 1980,, (Argyris, 1980)

Friday, 9 November 2007


nothing to write, nothing to say, I'm nearing the end of a dismal day,


Thursday, 8 November 2007

Institutional logics

Public policy and administration Vol 21 #3 autumn 2006

This small journal on public administration had a special issue following a conference on public accountability.

David Mullins writes on the non-profit housing sector. He identifies institutional logics (Friedman & Alford, 1991; Scott 2001; Thornton, 2002) as a relevant concept.

Institutional logics may be
· A shared belief system (Scott, 2001)
· ‘A set of material practices and symbolic constructions’ that provide a means of connecting beliefs and rules (Friedman & Alford, 1991)
· Competing logics with different consequences for attributes of organisations
Whereas Thornton proposed two competing logics as the logic of professions and the logic of markets, Mullins looks at the logic of local accountability and the logic of scale and efficiency in action. The relevant one for my interests is, I think the logic of local accountability, but I might find different logics in the context of a public organisation that uses external consultants.

Mullins uses the concept as a framework for understanding how housing associations manage the multiple accountabilities, which “place conflicting demands, and adaptation to these demands is mediated through beliefs and values.”

Mullins other logic is the logic of scale and efficiency. The two logics co-exist, which he suggests implies a process of transition from one to another. He quotes Thornton’s work as suggesting “that the existence of two logics within a field is a symptom of a change process”.

Follow up
  • Thornton PH (2002)”the rise of the corporation in a craft industry: conflict & conformation in institutional logics academy of management journal vol. 45 no 1 pp81-101
  • DiMaggio & Powell, 1983
  • Scott WR 2001

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Intangible, invisible, undiscussable

The recommendations of consultants are intangibles expressed verbally, but also made tangible through writing and thus may be visually visible, through reports and presentation slides for example.

However, the uptake of such recommendations may be less visible and therefore less discussable. For example, a recommendation whose implementation impacts the public requires or may elicit public consultation and accountability for the effectiveness and value of the consultancy project. However, a recommendation whose impact is internal to the organisation is less visible, and therefore may not be discussed in a public forum. Such an example might be recommendations for internal management restructuring or deployment of vehicles.

Also someone decides which of these recommendations are open to discussion; someone has the decision making power. Yet there are undiscussable issues, which, by definition, are not available as examples.

All these issues lead to my current research interest, the intangibility of consultancy work in the public sector.

Does this sound sensible? I think I'm going to read up on Foucault, power, institutional logics, as well as accountability and consultants. Chris Argyris wrote on the undiscussable in organisations, and organisation is a huge area to study.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Academic writing

What is academic writing?
That was the first question we had to consider at the Doctoral Training Workshop on academic literacy run by Theresa Lillis.

Answers included:
  • formal writing beyond reports
  • e.g. essays, thesis, dissertations, conference abstracts & papers,
  • very exact, saying precisely what is meant
  • argument laying out reasons for a position
  • referenced, structured, a particular genre and style
  • emotionally detached in the sense of being objective
  • coherent
  • a process
Another question was
What do I feel or think about academic writing?
Personally, I worry, don't like arguing and fear I lack opinions, but also that if I don't lack opinions that someone will attack my opinion, identifying its flaws, that my arguments won't stand up to scrutiny or that I'm using the wrong words, too many words, and being imprescise. Other students mentioned dense or long winded writing and unfamiliarity. That sounds to me like reading academic writing whereas I was thinking about writing academic writing.

Nevertheless, on five minutes free writing, I was delighted to find that I had thoughts to put to paper on an idea related to my current thinking on accountability. I know writing is hard work, but it is very satisfying when you produce something.

Here are some useful texts on the topic:
  • Potter, S., (ed) 2006, Doing postgraduate research, chapter 6 on Academic Writing
  • Swales, J., & Freak, C., 2004, Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills,
  • Writing down the bones, Natalie Naimark-Goldberg
This last one is not necessarily about academic writing, but perhaps more creative and one that I read some years ago, but I noticed a colleague at the DTW had a copy and said she liked it, so I intend to reread it.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Lukes on power

Supervisor #1 suggested I look at Luke's work on power. He was a philosopher who wrote a conceptual analysis of power, publishing this thin little pink book[1] before Foucault was writing on the topic.

Lukes discusses three views on power, describing them as one, two and thee dimensional views. Despite being possible paradigms for behaviour study of decision making power the first two views he argues, lack sufficient depth.

The 1-dimensional view is pluralist, but can generate non-pluralist conclusions. This view involves a focus on "behaviour in the making of decisions on issues over which there is observable conflict" of interests. This seems to me to be related to agency theory so perhaps is applicable when consultants enter a public organisation. The 1D view involves conflict of interests.

The 2-dimensional view, he quotes from Bachrach & Baratz who claim power has two faces:
  1. power is totally embedded and fully reflected in concrete decisions so a person who "creates or reinforces barriers to the public airing of policy conflicts" had power

  2. 'power is exercised by confining the scope of decision-making to relatively "safe" issues'
The 2D view involves control over the agenda of politics. But Bachrach & Baratz confuse the issue by having a typology of power:
  • compliance: threat of deprivation
  • coercion: threat of sanctions
  • influence
  • authority
  • force
  • manipulation

Non-decision making may be what happens when there is no accountability for consultancy work that does not visibly impact on the public. Non-decision making that thwarts the power of others, is power and an enacting of power.

The 3-dimensional view of power critiques behavioural forces and allows for "work in which potential issues are kept out of politics" through:

  • operation of social forces
  • operation of institutional practices
  • individual decisions.
There may be latent conflict between the interests of those exercising power and the real interests of those excluded.

The 3d view summarised is:
  • critique of behavioural focus
  • focus on: decision-making & control over agenda, issues, conflict and interests
Lukes (p28) quotes Arendt that power "corresponds to the human ability to act in concert" Hence, consultants have power because the clients that they work with, as a group, give power to them. I think there's further evidence for this, perhaps from metaphors such as in Kaarst-Brown's paper.

Finally,Lukes compares the three views. The 1D view of power
"cannot reveal the less visible ways in which a pluralist system may be biased in favour of certain groups..."
He states that the "exercise of power" and "exercising power" is problematic; the words both connotate individual consciously acting, and conceal ambiguity.

The problems of the 3D view are:
  1. inaction, non-events lead to inactions which lead to further non-events
  2. unconsciousness: unaware of the motive of action or unaware of how others interpret action or unaware of the consequences of action.

Lukes (p56) states that

"the attribution of power is .. the attribution of responsibility for certain

which seems to me to relate responsibility with accountability, so the attribution of power makes accountable for the consequences of using that power.

So far that gives me to work on: power, decision, issues, conflict, interest.

[1]Lukes S. 1974. Power: a radical view. London: Macmillan.
[2]Kaarst-Brown, M. L. 1999. Five symbolic roles of the external consultant: Integrating change, power and symbolism. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(6): 540-561.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Useful sites for planning

The PhD skills web site also sends me to:

and post-graduate online research training at:

Planning review- Why am I doing the review?

I have to identify relevant literature, to find what is already known.

What do I hope to achieve?
  • to gain ideas of what to follow up,
  • to learn relevant models that might apply,
  • to identify where my research might fit in,
  • to see if there is a gap in the literature

Notes to make during the review

  • On critical decisions (& justification)
  • All meetings (what was discussed & decided)
  • Measures put in place to reduce bias
  • How my understanding of the topic develops

Thursday, 25 October 2007

What it's about

My research is about public accountability for the use of external consultants in the public sector.

The aim is understand how public organisations express accountability for the use and management of consultants. Do relationships with consultants influence the expression or do requirements to account influence the relationships?

A question that arises concerns what issues become visible thus eliciting demands for accountability. This relates to hidden dimensions of power: the power to decide which issues are discussed, and which aspects of those issues become visible.

I'm trying to write only 300 words about what I'm researching and it seems hard. Why is it that whenever I have to write, I have a blank mind?

Friday, 19 October 2007

Skills audit

To get through the skills audit at the end of the first year, a student has to show evidence (tick boxes) of a lot of skills. See

However, this useful link is only available if you are logged on to the OU system.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

To do in first year PhD

At supervision meeting we talked about what I need to get done in the first year of the PhD so that I have an idea what I am aiming at, i.e.:
  • lit review,
  • clarifying research questions,
  • working up the proposal for what I will do,
  • considering research design and methodology

Supervisor's suggestions:

  • Identify the key issues in accountability. A couple of years ago, there was an ESRC meeting in the West of England University where Marilyn Taylor & Helen Sullivan spoke and Bovens provided a paper. The results were produced a special issue of a journal. I should find out what that journal was.
  • Consider a question of what issues do become visible so there are demands for accountability? This relates to the hidden dimension of power, and power as decision that sets what issues are discussed, and which aspects become visible. Steven Lukes has written on “Hidden Dimensions of Power”.
  • Use the above to identify search terms.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

First supervisory

First supervisory meeting of the PhD is due tomorrow. I need to think in the light of the MRes experience, what to do next:
  • is this still the topic I want to pursue?
  • what is the research question?
  • what further reading do I need to do?

I think it is still what I want to pursue. Accountability is so important - public accountability is especially demanded in a social state that provides care such as the NHS. See for example the outcry over the dirty hospital.

What light does the MRes cast? That there are different ways of accounting for use of consultants depending on what sort of client relationship you have with the consultants, but also what your relationship with the public is, and what sort of job you have. Relationships are complex.

What's the research question? For the MRes, it was about how the client-consultant relationship influenced accountability. But perhaps there's further to go on this question. Perhaps develop the question further to examine types of clients, types of consultants types of relationships and different types of accountability. There's more research to do on just the question as it stands, using other organisations, or a different project in the same organisation.

What further reading do I need to do? But, if I read further, then I might find new questions. What should I read? Do I read quantitative or qualitative papers? Both I think, as both shed light on what research is already done. What areas? Accountability relates to ethics, and to finance. I think it's more ethics that interests me. What else does accountability relate to - psychology, such as personal construct theory? When starting a systematic review of the literature last week, there were questions:

What is the size of the literature?
How do I measure size of literature? There is a body of literature on accountability, a sub division on public accountability. Similarly, there is academic literature on consultants, written either from the consultant’s perspective, or from the client’s.

Are there any cross-disciplinary perspectives that need to be taken into account?
Could be, such as psychology, social science, maths if it gets complex, IT if concentrate on one of the large sectors for consulting. Use economics for agency theory. Perhaps social network theory is relevant.

What are the major issues and debates about the topic?
Issues about client types, about the discourse of accountability, and about the discourses between clients and consultants.

I have a year for the literature review, so there must be a lot of reading.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Participatory video

Chris High runs a series of work shops on participatory video. As this involves participants in film-making I cannot see how it will fit in with my research. Can I get clients to film themselves? Get them to film themselves accounting for their use of consultants?

Last night on BBC there was a documentary on public accountability, specifically of the accountability of MPs. Unfortunately a number of MPs being filmed took exception to the interviewer's suggestion that MPs lie, and asked that the filming be stopped. So how could I get clients who are politicians to agree to be filmed? I recorded only the voice of the politician I interviewed for my Master's and when she saw the transcript she withdrew permission for me to use anything from it.

So I can't see me getting access from PV. But I'll find out more before I reject it.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Literature search

This first year is about the literature search, as I understand it. By the end of the year, I have a probationary report, must present a review of the literature and a proposal for research at a viva. So now I must plan how I go about this.

Dave Denyer from Cranfield came and talked to us last year about a systematic review of the literature as a means of ensuring that you have covered all the relevant sources, and can provide an audit trail.

Secondly, last year we were introduced to Endnote. I'd come across Refworks, but not doing academic research had not seen the need for it. Now I do see the need for an electronic tool for referencing and citing. However, my skills with Endnote haven't been sufficiently honed so went on a refresher course. I think that together with a systematic review of the literature I should find enough to keep me going for the first few months. But I'll check when I get my first supervisory meeting next week.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


I find a thesaurus really useful for helping me write. It sits right next to my dictionary.

For example, today I was considering the word 'astute', perhaps as a way of describing the diplomatic senior public managers who implement the politicians' policy decisions. But I wanted to identify other words that might mean the same as 'astute', or that might be its opposite, so I got out the thesaurus and identified other words like 'Machiavellian' - I hadn't thought of that.

My surprise and perhaps concern is that other students don't use a thesaurus, don't even know what one is and how useful it can be. Can they write so easily? or is it that I recognise a useful tool that they haven't got?

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Getting going

First doctoral training workshop today was full to standing space only since all the new PhD and the MRes students were there.

Why are we doing this?
Reasons included:
  • vanity
  • curiosity
  • the money
  • career
We divided these into essential reasons, such as following up interesting ideas, and some supporting reasons such as career development.

What the examiner will be looking for:
  • good style and presentation
  • proficiency in research methods
  • initiative and independence of thought (Masters)
  • significant (distinct at Masters) contribution to knowledge
  • material worthy of publication (PhD)
  • able to pursue further research without supervision (PhD)
  • able to argue and discuss research (PhD viva)
We had a short discussion on what ways we expected our research to be original and what various streams accepted as originality. Apparently, whereas for instance a new criticism of something might be original in some disciplines, in others it is merely a review.

And we finished up with some mention of resources such as DVDs and web sites. I think I'll try for my social bookmarking - I've given up with scuttle.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Induction conference

The Open University had its postgraduate research students induction conference this week on Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday was for registering. As when I started the Masters in Research Methods, there were hundreds of people gathered in the Old Lecture Theatre, which is both impressive and a bit daunting. However, this year I know that few of those people are full time students, and I'm unlikely to meet them again. Only about 50 are full time students who will be studying on campus. And some of the full time students will be starting, like I did a year ago, their MRes.

There was the usual speech from the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, the networking and the food. I am well impressed by the variety of people we have. At lunch time I sat on a table with five Chinese, a Bermudian and 3 people from Africa (I think). As usual, I was the oldest, although I did meet some part time students who were around my generation.

There were three workshops, which turned out to be very much about what I had learned over the last year, so I skipped one of them. It is nice to realise how much you now know, like the difference between constructionist and positivist approaches. Nevertheless, the dreams and nightmares continue to exist because life goes on despite what you learn.

In the session on planning research we listed our dreams and nightmares:
  • Talk and coffee with like minded people
  • Engaged for three years
  • Writing well, writing easily
  • Producing something meaningful
  • Publishing a book
  • Time to ponder
  • Changing minds (others)
  • Changing mind

  • Being poor
  • Everyone else being better than me
  • Not thinking at a high enough level
  • Too much reading
  • Insufficient data
  • Loss/death in family/at home
  • Impact on relationships
  • Supervisor problems
  • Lack of access to data
  • Changing tack half way through
One of the useful things was a reminder of the PhD skills web site at

The timetable for the doctoral training workshop is at sites are only available though if you can log on to the OU site.