Accounting for sustainable and smart cities

Call for papers for: Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

Guest editors

Anatoli Bourmistrov, Nord University Business School
Jan Mouritsen, Copenhagen Business School

Aim of the Special Issue

This call addresses accounting for sustainable and smart cities. Originally, the smart city concept attempts to solve problems of excessive urbanization with a promise of increasing the quality of life and of a sustainable future via smart technology (Manville et al., 2014). Today, there is increasing number of smart cities globally and the idea has traveled beyond its original context of excessive urbanization. Even in the depopulated areas of the High North, small cities want to be smart. Smart city is a global phenomenon.

Smart cities are still hopes and ambiguous aspirations more than institutionalized facts. They are expected to develop smartness via investment in infrastructures of data collected from and about citizens, assets and resources. This includes information used to govern traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services. This requires investment in technological infrastructure which will have long term financial, operational and social consequences. Considering long term sustainability of cities involves complex investment decisions requiring attention to economic, social and environmental performance (Simnett & Huggins, 2015). This is directly relevant for accounting research when asking questions about the calculative practices used in mediating the uncertain future (Miller & O’Leary, 2007). This directs attention to the potential for accounting to help anticipate futures both in the sense of ex ante investment planning and in ex post tracking and monitoring effects.

Previous research has highlighted the role of accounting in managing cities that is relevant for understanding the sustainability challenges for a smart city. For instance, Lapsley et. al. (2010) demonstrates that accounting helps to govern a city via twin processes - visualizing the future and make the city calculable, and representing different interests and intervening, making city manageable. A smart city can be also good example of “promissory economy”. A promise of investment to improve quality of life of its citizens may represent a commitment making accounting a mechanism to facilitate future relationships between the actors in the city mediating processes of forgetting and forgiving (Mouritsen & Kreiner, 2016). With exception of few studies, a limited focus has been placed on the role of accounting for developing and running sustainably smart cities (Argento et al., 2019). There is therefore a need for a research-based understanding of how accounting of smart cities is intertwined with issues of sustainability.

There are three concerns regarding relationship between sustainability and smart cities worth exploring further. First, sustainability can be challenged by privatization of decision-making in smart cities (Grossi & Pianezzi, 2017). “Smart” can favor market mechanisms, managerialism, and extensive privatization. Such “smartness” favors extensive focus on technological solutions dominated by the economic logic of corporate actors and their vision of smartness thus limiting political and social issues (Hollands, 2015).

Second, there is increasing awareness that smart cities require going beyond “smart” technology incorporating smart city governance and participatory management. Accordingly, people should be asked what would be “smart” for them, requiring collectively legitimate decisions and shared visions on smart city development, its performance and sustainability (Meijer & Bolívar, 2016). However, current dialogic accounting practices seem to be of limited emancipatory potential for citizens (Alexandrov et al., 2018). Identification of what is good performance can also be captured by national and international technocrats and elites, or by pressures towards international comparisons among smart cities.

Finally, smart cities can be unsustainable in financial terms becoming rather “expensive cities”. Smart city development places additional financial burden on the municipality and its citizens – or at least there is a question about how development of smartness might be financed. New investments, industry development strategies and improved quality of services can result in both higher taxation level and the higher level of debts. The ideal model is when decisions by the city hall take explicitly into the consideration the principle that the future generations should not fund the services that the current generation consume. This asks for the development of management mitigation tools in order to secure long-term financial sustainability because not all actors in the cities are necessarily well prepared to make such judgements.

This call for papers, thus, focuses on critical examination of the role accounting plays in shaping realities and debates around suitability of smart cities.

Contributions could cover the following topics:

  • Use of accounting for long-term planning and strategic management of smart cities, e.g. different foresight techniques, scenarios, search conferences
  • Innovative capital budgeting techniques addressing long-term financial perspectives
  • Design of multidimensional performance management and KPI systems to address different dimensions of sustainability of a smart city, e.g. environmental, social and economic dimensions
  • Dialogic accounting and accounting/budgeting techniques for citizens’ participation
  • Visitation models to improve decision-making of laymen and non-experts
  • Alternative forms of accounting reporting
  • Accounting for transparency and improved accountability

All theoretical frameworks and methodological designs are welcome. Authors should bear in mind the publication policy of JPBAFM, which focuses on papers that are relevant to practice and policy.

Submissions and important dates:

  • The deadline for submission of full papers is December 20,  2020
  • To help authors prepare their manuscripts for submission, a Special Issue workshop will be organized at Nord University Business School in Bodø, Norway (September 14th – 16th,  2020).
  • At the workshop, papers are presented and discussed in the light of the final submission to the Special Issue. Please be aware that presentation at the workshop does not guarantee acceptance of the paper for publication in Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting, and Financial Management.
  • More information can be found on the journal's page.
  • For inquiries and further information please contact: Anatoli Bourmistrov:  ([email protected]); Jan Mouritsen: ([email protected])


Aleksandrov, E.; Bourmistrov, A. and Grossi, G. (2018) Participatory budgeting as a form of dialogic accounting in Russia: actors’ institutional work and reflexivity trap. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 31:4, 1098-1123

Argento, D., Grossi, G., Jääskeläinen, A., Servalli, S., Suomala, P. (2019), “Governmentality and performance for the smart city?”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Forthcoming.

Grossi, G. and Pianezzi, D. (2017). Smart cities: Utopia or neoliberal ideology? Cities, 69, September, 79-85

Hollands, R. G. (2008). Will the real smart city please stand up? Intelligent, progressive or entrepreneurial? City, 12(3), 303-320.

Lapsley, I., Miller, P. and Panozzo, F. (2010). Accounting for the city. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 23:3, 305-324.

Manville, C. et al. (2014). Mapping Smart cities in the EU: European Parliament.

Meijer, A. andBolívar, M. P. R. (2016). Governing the smart city: a review of the literature on smart urban governance. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 82(2), 392-408.

Miller, P. and O’leary, T. (2007). Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 32(7-8), 701-734.

Mouritsen, J. and Kreiner, K. (2016). Accounting, decisions and promises. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 49, 21-31.

Simnett, R. and Huggins, A. L. (2015). Integrated reporting and assurance: where can research add value?Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(1), 29-53.