Actor-network theory analysis of the budgetary process in the New Zealand school sector
This study aims to examine the operation of financial management practices in the New Zealand school sector, particularly in the area of budgetary process. Drawing upon actor-network theory (ANT), it specifically explores how the school participants measure their performance under the changing social and political environment through the budgetary control systems. The study highlights the interconnections among human actors, budgeting, accounting technology and other related artefacts such as school policies and procedures. Through the study of three secondary schools, it analyses the formulation of a budgetary system which could be seen as a socio-technical construction where human and non-human actors align their interests with the schools’ strategic objectives. These actors negotiate, modify and fabricate to form networks that represent their interests. The interests of each participant, shaped in different forms of controversy, are conditioned by the dimensions of alliance performance, whether divergent or convergent.
Using the concepts of inscription and translation, the results of this study have provided five important lessons about the role of human and non-human actors in their relations with the social reality: (1) the budgetary process constitutes relations of power which are exercised by a wide range of stakeholders, not by the controlling actor alone; (2) the school context is conceptualised as an open system that is socially structured in a way that the school and its participants are interacting; (3) the performance of a school principal should be reviewed regularly and independently by an appointed education professional; (4) a code of conduct is recommended to regulate the conduct of a trustee of a board; and (5) the presence of “checks and balances” in the Principal–Board relationship is vital for effective school governance, and it is essential to the stability of a society.
It is concluded that the budgetary process adopts the concepts and reasoning of economics and decision making to legitimise power relations, and it is not without resistance and scepticism. When resistance occurs, the budgetary process becomes unstable. To overcome this resistance and scepticism, the translation process needs to be continually engaged with actors, whether humans or non-humans, forming an actor-network. Ongoing stakeholder participation in school governance contributes to its success, provided that “checks and balances” are put in place to regulate individual performance.