Institutional work and the interplay of stability and change in public budgeting reform: the case of public universities in Iran

Farzaneh Jalali Aliabadi, Muhammad Bilal Farooq, Umesh Sharma, Dessalegn Getie Mihret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to understand the efforts of key social actors in influencing the reform of Iranian public universities budgeting system, from incremental to performance-based budgeting (PBB), the tensions that arose as competing efforts of institutional change were undertaken, and ultimately the impact of these efforts on the extent to which the Iranian government transitioned to a system of PBB in public universities. Design/methodology/approach: Data comprises of semi-structured interviews with managers and experts involved in the budget setting process and an analysis of budgetary policy documents, reports and archival material such as legislation. An institutional work lens is employed to interpret the findings. Findings: While actors advocating the change were engaged in institutional work directed at disrupting the old budgetary rules by disassociating the rules moral foundations and creating new budgetary rules (through new legislation), universities undertook subtle resistance by engaging in extended evaluation of the new proposed PBB rules thereby maintaining the old budgetary rules. The reforms undertaken to introduce PBB in Iranian universities achieved minimal success whereby incremental budgeting continued to constitute by far a larger percentage of the budget allocation formula for university budgets. This finding illustrates change and continuity in university budgetary systems resulting from institutional work of actors competing to control the basis of resource allocation under the proposed PBB system by proposing contradicting models. Practical implications: The findings highlight the importance of understanding the interplay of institutional work undertaken by competing social actors as they seek to advance their goals in shaping budgetary reforms in the public-sector. Such an understanding may inform policy makers who intend to introduce major reforms in public-sector budgeting approaches. Originality/value: Unlike prior studies that largely focused on how organization-level budgeting practices responded to changes in public budgeting rules (i.e. at the site of implementation of the rules), this paper highlights how strategies of change and resistance are played out at the site of setting budgetary norms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)786-818
Number of pages33
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Incremental budgeting
  • Institutional work
  • Performance-based budgeting
  • Public budgeting
  • University budgeting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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