Managing and Accounting for Knowledge-Intensive Public Organisations: Challenges Represented by COVID-19 Pandemic to Achieve SDGs

Submissions open August 1st 2022


In 2015 the United Nations invited organisations worldwide to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 to produce more desirable outcomes at the international, national, regional and local levels.  

Knowledge-Intensive Public Organisations (KIPOs) are subjects focused primarily on accumulating, creating, or disseminating knowledge through highly-skilled workers (Grossi et al., 2020a). In KIPOs, knowledge is the key input and as well as output. They supply or co-produce public services and, due to their economic, societal, and environmental impacts, are involved in achieving SDGs.  

Examples of KIPOs, such as universities schools or research hospitals, are crucial for the community's well-being. They provide education, develop research and innovation and move many people by employing several workers and attracting various users worldwide. They also absorb substantial public-private financial resources, produce non-recyclable waste, and involve a vast network of stakeholders. Their services have long-term outcomes. Clinical research results are transformed into applications to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of human diseases. The skills students acquire during a study course will be part of the knowledge of tomorrow's professionals. Also, museums and theatres maintain public spaces of significant artistic interest and sustain cultural education. 

Hence, KIPOs' activities impact variously on the SDGs. To name only a few examples, consider the following. These organisations can support people in vulnerable conditions, creating social protection systems that help eradicate poverty (Goal No. 1), reduce inequalities and live in a more just and equitable society (Goal No. 16). They can raise lifestyles awareness, ensuring healthy lives (Goal No. 3). They can nourish quality education and increase learning opportunities (Goal No. 4). They influence gender equality and reduce disparities through employment (Goals No. 5, 8 and 10). Their consumption and production patterns affect natural resources, climate change and waste management (Goals No. 12, 13, 14 and 15), the infrastructures, economic growth and innovation (Goal No. 9). They improve scientific research and technological capabilities and establish partnerships between different organisations (Goal No. 17). They can cope or anticipate crises or mitigate risk, supporting the resilience of the services provided (Goal No. 11).  

Previous literature on KIPOs addressed their complex accounting, performance management, payment systems, and alternative forms of accounting and reporting (e.g. Laguecir et al., 2020). Also, it highlighted the hybridisation of some KIPOs, characterised by mixed ownership, multiple funding arrangements, competing institutional logics and potential goals incongruence, diverse forms of social and institutional control (e.g. Pache and Santo, 2013; De Waele et al., 2021). Though, hybrid KIPOs experience composite decision-making, governance and accountability processes (Johanson and Vakkuri, 2018).  

Nevertheless, some research directions are yet to be explored.  

This special issue aims to develop a corpus of research on KIPOs concerning the SDGs pursuit and the challenges posed to such organisations by the disruptive event of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a timely topic of international relevance essential to understanding implications for the future on the services they provide and their impact on communities (e.g. Grossi et al., 2021). 

Since 2020, the virus outbreak has worsened socio-economic disparities globally, entering the time frame of the SDGs and intensifying their need and urgency (UN, 2020; Adams and Abhayawansa, 2021). Indeed, the SDGs pursuit by organisations delivering public services relates to public value and publicness issues (e.g. Bastida et al., 2022; Bracci et al., 2021; Campanale et al., 2021). 

Scholars have promptly studied inequalities and public services management during the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. Andrew et al., 2021; Carnegie et al., 2021), calling for further research (Leoni et al., 2021). Moreover, scholars have undertaken SDGs-motivated research, albeit slowly (Bebbington and Unerman, 2020; Hassan et al., 2021; Adhikariparajuli et al., 2021).  

Therefore, research is unaligned with the SDGs' ambitions, and the challenges public organisations face in a world reshaped by COVID-19. Specifically, studies on the SDGs pursuit by KIPOs in a post-COVID-19 world (or in a mid-pandemic environment) are limited.  

Notably, KIPOs' contribution to sustainable development was under-explored before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing economic, social and environmental concerns. Little is known about the KIPOs' commitment to the SDGs, if they deliberately pursue them or, vice versa, are unaware of them. Given the peculiarity of these organisations and their impacts, it is appropriate to investigate the differences between the political level, i.e. the SDGs pursuit through strategic plans and objectives, and the technical one, i.e. actions for their achievement. Yet, operationally how are they pursued within KIPOs. Also, the specific context of emerging economies, low-income and developing countries requires particular attention. Furthermore, understanding KIPO's measurement and reporting mechanisms, different disclosure levels towards the SDGs and ways to integrate non-financial information into financial and planning documents are needed.  


Topics for submission 

This Call for papers encourages contributions from different disciplines offering theoretical and conceptual insights, or deploying empirical data analysis (e.g. qualitative or quantitative, longitudinal, etc.), case studies in various countries and comparisons among different national systems, or other suitable methods to shed light on the SDGs pursuit by KIPOs and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Issues of potential interest include, but are not limited to: 

  • governance models and institutional logics; 
  • management problems and tensions derived from the pandemic and related solutions; 
  • management and accounting tools; 
  • accounting mechanisms and performance measurement systems; 
  • economic, financial, and human resources management system and related assessment mechanisms; 
  • management and accounting practices to embed SDGs in everyday activities; 
  • the impact of including SDGs in KIPOs' core activities such as teaching, training and research; 
  • risk mitigation systems. 

These themes are only indicative. Papers outside them relevant to understanding the topic are welcomed. 


Deadline for submissions: January the 31st, 2023 


Contact details 

For inquiries and further information, please contact the guest editors:

Benedetta Siboni

University of Bologna - Italy

[email protected]

Paola Canestrini

University of Bologna - Italy

[email protected]

Abeer Hassan

University of the West of Scotland - United Kingdom

[email protected]

Ann Sardesai

CQ University - Australia

[email protected]


Key references: 

Abhayawansa, S., Adams, C.A. and Neesham, C. (2021), "Accountability and governance in pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals: conceptualising how governments create value", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 923-945. 

Adams, C.A. and Abhayawansa, S. (2021), "Connecting the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing and calls for 'harmonisation' of sustainability reporting", Critical perspectives on accounting, p. 102309. 

Adhikari, P., Kuruppu, C., Ouda, H., Grossi, G., Ambalangodage, D. (2021), "Unintended consequences in implementing public sector accounting reforms in emerging economies: evidence from Egypt, Nepal and Sri Lanka", International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 87 No. 4, pp. 870-887. 

Adhikariparajuli, M.; Hassan, A.; Siboni, B. (2021), CSR Implication and Disclosure in Higher Education: Uncovered Points. Results from a Systematic Literature Review and Agenda for Future Research. Sustainability, 13, 525. 

Andrew, J., Baker, M. & Guthrie, J. (2021), "Accounting, inequality and COVID-19 in Australia", Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 N. 6, pp. 1471-1483. 

Bastida, F., Bracci, E. and Hoque, Z. (2022), "Accounting for unstable environments in the public sector: managing post-COVID-19 times", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 1-26.  

Battilana, J. & Lee, M. (2014), "Advancing research on hybrid organizing. Insights from the study of social enterprises", The Academy of Management Annals, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 397-441. 

Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2018), "Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. An enabling role for accounting research", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 1657-1670. 

Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2020), "Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 1657-1670. 

Bracci, E., Saliterer, I., Sicilia, M. and Steccolini, I. (2021), "Accounting for (public) value(s): reconsidering publicness in accounting research and practice", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 1513-1526. 

Bebbington, J., Russell, S. and Thomson, I. (2017), "Accounting and sustainable development: reflections and propositions", Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Vol. 48, pp. 21-34. 

Budding, T., Faber, B. & Schoute, M. (2022), "Integrating non-financial performance indicators in budget documents: the continuing search of Dutch municipalities", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 52-66. 

Campanale, C., Cinquini, L. & Grossi, G. (2021), "The Role of Multiple Values in the Development of Management Accounting in Hybrid Organisations", The British Accounting Review, DOI: 10.1016/ 

Carnegie, G.D., Guthrie, J. & Martin-Sardesai, A. (2022), "Public universities and impacts of COVID-19 in Australia: risk disclosures and organisational change", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 61-73. 

de Jong, M. & Ho, T.A. (2021), "Emerging fiscal health and governance concerns resulting from COVID-19 challenges", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 33 N. 1, pp. 1-11. 

De Waele, L., Polzer, T., van Witteloostuijn, A. & Berghman, L. (2021), “ ‘A little bit of everything?’ Conceptualising performance measurement in hybrid public sector organisations through a literature review”, Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 343-363. 

del Sordo, C., Farneti, F., Guthrie, J., Pazzi, S. & Siboni, B. (2016), "Social reports in Italian universities: disclosures and preparers' perspective", Meditari Accountancy Research, Vol. 24 N. 1, pp. 91-110. 

Grossi G., Kallio K.M., Sargiacomo M. & Skoog M. (2020a), "Accounting, performance management systems, and accountability changes in knowledge-intensive public organizations: A literature review and research agenda", Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 N. 1, pp. 256-280. 

Grossi, G., Ho, A.T. & Joyce, P.G. (2020b), "Budgetary responses to a global pandemic: international experiences and lessons for a sustainable future", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting and Financial Management, Vol. 32 N. 5, pp. 737-744. 

Grossi, G., Vakkuri, J. & Sargiacomo, M. (2021), "Accounting, performance and accountability challenges in hybrid organisations: a value creation perspective", Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.  

Hassan, A., Elamer, A.A. & Lodh, S. (2021), "The future of non-financial businesses reporting: Learning from the Covid-19 pandemic", Corporate social responsibility and environmental management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 1231-1240. 

Johanson, J.E. & Vakkuri, J. (2018), Governing Hybrid Organizations: Exploring Diversity of Institutional Life, Routledge, London. 

Laguecir, A., Kern, A. & Kharoubi, C. (2020), "Management accounting systems in institutional complexity: Hysteresis and boundaries of practices in social housing", Management Accounting Research, Vol. 49100715, p. 1-14. 

Leoni, G., Lai, A., Stacchezzini, R., Steccolini, I., Brammer, S., Linnenluecke, M., Demirag, I. (2021), "Accounting, management and accountability in times of crisis: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic", Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 N. 6, pp. 1305-1319. 

Pache, A.-C. & Santos, F. (2013), “Inside the hybrid organization: selective coupling as a response to 
competing institutional logics”, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 56 No. 44, pp. 972-1001. 

UN Sustainable Development Goals (2020), The sustainable development goals: our framework for COVID-19 recovery; retrieved from… (accessed January the 28th 2022) 

Vakkuri, J., Johanson, J.-E., Feng, N.C. & Giordano, F. (2021), "Governance and accountability in hybrid organizations – past, present and future", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 245-260.