One of the strengths of mainstream accounting research is its standardized regularity. We define our exogenous and endogenous variables based on prior research studies. Then we develop our experimental hypotheses. And after drawing a sizable sample from our clearly defined population of transactions, we use large-scale statistical methods to test those hypotheses.
But what if the variables aren’t easily defined? Or the population, for that matter? Or what if a sizable sample cannot be extracted and quantitatively tested at a meaningful level of significance?
In other words, what if you sense that you need a different approach? How should you proceed? Under such circumstances, you may wish to explore alternative accounting research practices.
For instance, let’s say that you’re evaluating the anti-theft preventive controls at the card, dice, and roulette tables of a casino. How can an auditor test those controls while the games are in progress on a floor that never closes?
The best approach for testing whether controls are in place to prevent dealers from stealing chips may be to employ the auditing method of focused observation. And to make the system more “auditable,” the casino may choose to keep all of the stacks of chips in plain sight.
Indeed, the “plain sight” tactic may convey an additional benefit by deputizing gamblers to serve as auditors. In other words, by enhancing the visibility and thus the “auditability” of the preventive controls regarding chip theft, the casino can enable the players to form a transitory social community to observe and police the dealers.
Likewise, according to Ingrid Jeacle’s 2017 Accounting, Auditing & Accountability article entitled Constructing audit society in the virtual world: the case of the online reviewer, the reviewers of online services like Amazon have formed virtual communities that feature audit logics. Ingrid utilizes a new research methodology entitled “netnography” as a means of “… becoming familiar with the operational features of the site and analyzing its textual discourse.”
It’s not a traditional method of accounting research, is it? But its alternative approach is necessary for studying emerging communities in virtual online spaces.
Caroline Lambert, the Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee of the May 2018 Alternative Accounts Conference at HEC Montreal, also utilizes alternative accounting practices when necessary. According to Caroline:
Alternative Accounting is both an approach and a state of mind. It’s a way to look at events and characteristics with different lenses. It requires us to re-think our assumptions about the influences of accounting in our daily lives, encompassing the largest meaning possible.
For instance, together with Claire Dambrin, in an article entitled Beauty or not beauty: Making up the producer of popular culture that was published in Management Accounting Research in 2017, we analyzed the control mechanisms — mostly cultural controls — through which brand managers embody their product. The managers must continuously brand themselves within their own organizations to be considered “performing individuals.”
Alternative accounting is an interesting approach, isn’t it? Clearly, it is needed to study cultural, sociological, and other topics when traditional approaches fail to offer practical research methods. And given the prevalence of such topics in the Public Interest field, it’s the type of research approach that is sure to attract our colleagues.