No Longer Only Numbers: An Exploratory Analysis of the Visual Turn in Reporting of Public Sector Organisations

  • Pasquale RuggieroEmail author
Part of the Public Sector Financial Management book series (PUSEFIMA)


Organisations, especially in the public sector, are developing reporting tools able to communicate different dimensions of performance to meet an increasing demand for accountability. Scholars and practitioners have focused mainly on the financial figures and narratives contained in these reports; there has been much less interest in their visual dimension. This chapter focuses on the visual dimension of reports, specifically the use of images in the reports of public sector organisations (PSOs) for evaluating their potential contribution to accountability processes by conveying information difficult to translate in numbers. To this end, adopting a Barthesian perspective, a case study has been developed by using the images contained in the sustainability reports published between 2003 and 2017 by a PSO operating in the multi-utility sector.


Reporting Images Accountability Public sector organisations 


  1. ABS (Accounting Standard Board). (2000). Year-End Financial Reports: Improving Communication. Discussion paper: Accounting Standard Board Publications, Milton Keynes.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, C. A. (2015). The International Integrated Reporting Council: A Call to Action. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 27, 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barthes, R. (1972). Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barthes, R. (1974). S/Z. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Barthes, R. (1977). Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bartlett, S. A., & Chandler, R. A. (1997). The Corporate Report and the Private Shareholder: Lee and Tweedie Twenty Years on. British Accounting Review, 29, 245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barzelay, M., & Armajani, B. J. (1992). Breaking Through Bureaucracy: A New Vision for Managing in Government. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Behn, R. D. (2003). Why Measure Performance? Different Purposes Require Different Mesures. Public Administration Review, 63(5), 586.Google Scholar
  9. Bourguignon, A., Malleret, V., & Nørreklit, H. (2004). The American Balanced Scorecard Versus the French Tableau de Bord: The Ideological Dimension. Management Accounting Research, 15(2), 107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brennan, N. M., & Solomon, J. (2008). Corporate Governance, Accountability and Mechanisms of Accountability: An Overview. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 21(7), 885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, J., Dillard, J., & Hopper, T. (2015). Accounting, Accountants and Accountability Regimes in Pluralistic Societies. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 28(5), 626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Busco, C., Giovannoni, E., Granà, F., & Izzo, M. F. (2018). Making Sustainability Meaningful: Aspirations, Discourses and Reporting Practices. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 31(8), 2218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell, D., McPhail, K., & Slack, R. (2009). Face Work in Annual Reports: A Study of the Management of Encounter Through Annual Reports, Informed by Levinas and Bauman. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 22(6), 907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carruthers, M. (2008). The Art of Memory (A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture) (2nd ed.). Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cherulnik, P. D., Donley, A., & Miller, R. (2001). Charisma Is Contagious: The Effect of Leaders Charisma on Observers’ Affect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31(10), 2149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. CIPFA. (2016). Focusing on Value Creation in the Public Sector. An Introduction for Leaders. London.
  17. Contrafatto, M. (2014). The Institutionalization of Social and Environmental Reporting: An Italian Narrative. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 39, 414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davison, J. (2007). Photographs and Accountability: Cracking the Codes of an NGO. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 20(1), 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Davison, J. (2008). Rhetoric, Repetition, Reporting and the “” Era: Words, Pictures, Intangibles. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 21(6), 791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davison, J. (2010). [In]Visible [In]Tangibles: Visual Portraits of the Business Élite. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35(2), 165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Davison, J. (2011a). Barthesian Perspectives on Accounting Communication and Visual Images of Professional Accountancy. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 24(2), 250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davison, J. (2011b). Paratextual Framing of the Annual Report: Liminal Literary Conventions and Visual Devices. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 22(2), 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Davison, J. (2014). Visual Rhetoric and the Case of Intellectual Capital. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 39(1), 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Denis, J. L., Ferlie, E., & Van Gestel, N. (2015). Understanding Hybridity in Public Organizations. Public Administration, 93(2), 273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dhanani, A. (2018). Identity Constructions in the Annual Reports of International Development NGOs: Preserving Institutional Interests? Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 59, 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dumay, J., Guthrie, J., & Farneti, F. (2010). GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines for Public and Third Sector Organizations. Public Management Review, 12(4), 531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dumay, J., Guthrie, J., & Puntillo, P. (2015). IC and Public Sector: A Structured Literature Review. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 16(2), 267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dumay, J., Bernardi, C., Guthrie, J., & Demartini, P. (2016). Integrated Reporting: A Structured Literature Review. Accounting Forum, 40(3), 166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Bastow, S., & Tinkler, J. (2005). New Public Management Is Dead-Long Live Digital-Era Governance. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, 16, 467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eccles, R. G., & Krzus, M. P. (2010). One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  31. Eccles, R. G., & Krzus, M. P. (2015). The Integrated Reporting Movement. Meaning, Momentum, Motives, and Materiality. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  32. English, L. M., & Guthrie, J. (2003). Driving Privately Financed Projects in Australia: What Makes them Tick? Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 16(3), 493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Flower, J. (2015). The International Integrated Reporting Council: A Story of Failure. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 27, 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Graves, O. F., Flesher, D. L., & Jordan, R. E. (1996). Pictures and the Bottom Line: The Television Epistemology of U.S. Annual Reports. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21(1), 57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gray, A., & Jenkins, B. (1993). Codes of Accountability in the New Public Sector. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 6(3), 52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greenwood, M., Jack, G., & Haylock, B. (2018). Toward a Methodology for Analyzing Visual Rhetoric in Corporate Reports. Organizational Research Methods, 22(3), 798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Guthrie, J., Olson, O., & Humphrey, C. (1999). Debating Developments in New Public Financial Management: The Limits of Global Theorising and Some New Ways Forward. Financial Accountability & Management, 15(3), 209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hopwood, A. G. (1996). Introduction. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21(1), 55–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hyndman, N., & Lapsley, I. (2016). New Public Management: The Story Continues. Financial Accountability and Management, 32(4), 385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hyndman, N., & Liguori, M. (2016). Public Sector Reforms: Changing Contours on an NPM Landscape Public Sector Reforms. Financial Accountability & Management, 32(1), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Inkinen, H., Kianto, A., Vanhala, M., & Ritala, P. (2017). Structure of Intellectual Capital – An International Comparison. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 30(5), 1160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Katsikas, E., Manes-Rossi, F., & Orelli, R. L. (2017). Towards Integrated Reporting: Accounting Change in the Public Sector. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Kuasirikun, N. (2011). The Portrayal of Gender in Annual Reports in Thailand. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 22(1), 53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Loughran, T. (2018). Linguistic Tone and the Small Trader: Measurement Issues, Regulatory Implications, and Directions for Future Research. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 68–69, 38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McKinstry, S. (1996). Designing the Annual Reports of Burton PLC from 1930 to 1994. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21(1), 89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Modell, S. (2004). Performance Measurement Myths in the Public Sector: A Research Note. Financial Accountability and Management, 20(1), 39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Monfardini, P., Barretta, A. D., & Ruggiero, P. (2013). Seeking Legitimacy: Social Reporting in the Healthcare Sector. Accounting Forum, 37(1), 54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Piotrowski, S. J., & Steccolini, I. (2014). Introduction: Accountability Processes in Modern Day Government. International Review of Public Administration, 19(2), 160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Preston, A. M., & Young, J. J. (2000). Constructing the Global Corporation and Corporate Constructions of the Global: A Picture Essay. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 25(4–5), 427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Preston, A. M., Wright, C., & Young, J. J. (1996). Imag[in]ing Annual Reports. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21(1), 113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Quattrone, P. (2009). Books to Be Practiced: Memory, the Power of the Visual, and the Success of Accounting. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34(1), 85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rafaeli, A., & Pratt, M. G. (1993). Tailored Meanings: On the Meaning and Impact of Organizational Dress. The Academy of Management Review, 18(1), 32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ruggiero, P., & Monfardini, P. (2013). The Case of HERA. In C. Busco, M. L. Frigo, A. Riccaboni, & P. Quattrone (Eds.), Integrated Reporting: Concepts and Cases that Redefine Corporate Accountability (p. 313). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Thomasson, A. (2009). Exploring the Ambiguity of Hybrid Organisations: A Stakeholder Approach. Financial Accountability & Management, 25(3), 353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding Advertisements. Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars.Google Scholar
  56. Yekini, L. S., Wisniewski, P. T., & Millo, Y. (2016). Market Reaction to the Positiveness of Annual Report Narratives. The British Accounting Review, 48, 415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case Study Research Design and Methods (3rd ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SienaSienaItaly
  2. 2.Brighton Business SchoolBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations