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About the Actor-Reality Construction research group

In the series of interviews with research group managers the turn has come to Hanne Nørreklit who will present the work of the research group Actor-Reality Construction.

2015.06.29

Professor Hanne Nørreklit is among the group of academic staff members, who moved from the former Department of Economics and Business to the Department of Management earlier this year. In this article, she presents the activities of the Actor-Reality Construction research group.

Hanne Nørreklit is manager of the research group, which consists of 12 researchers from various departments at Aarhus University. Moreover, the group is part of an extensive network that includes international researchers, mostly from Europe, but also from Australasia.

Specifically, the research group is innovative in that it offers a paradigm for a functioning practice and develops methods and concepts for managing and observing that practice.

Establishing a successful functioning practice

The common denominator of the research conducted by the Actor-Reality Construction group is the concept of pragmatic constructivism. It emphasises the role of the actor in the construction of organised reality. The actors’ reality construction may function successfully or it may be hampered by fictive and illusionary elements. Functioning business activities are based on ‘construct causality’. A central topic is how management accounting can support collective and individual actors in constructing strings of functioning chains –  ‘construct causalities’ – that enable organisations and social collectives to achieve their objectives.

Hanne Nørreklit does research on management accounting and control, while other members of the network are concerned with topics in the fields of philosophy, economics, financial accounting and management. In that sense, their research is cross-disciplinary, but all group members take as their point of departure the following four dimensions, which must be integrated in order for endeavours to be fulfilled: facts, possibilities, values and communication.

As Hanne Nørreklit points out, contemporary organisational managers are constantly concerned about possibilities, because they outline the future of the organisations. However, in order not to be speculative ones, the possibilities must be grounded in the facts at hand. Furthermore, the values of the organisational actors must lie within the realm of possibilities – otherwise the actors are not motivated to act, regardless of whether they have the possibilities or not. Finally, communication works towards coordinating activities if, and only if, it expresses the integration of facts, possibilities and values for the actors involved.

“So to construct well-functioning organisational practices, managers need to be able to formulate and communicate strategies and plans that are factually possible and within the range of the actors’ values. A realistic strategy makes the foundation for the organisational employee’s constructions of operating causalities,” says Hanne Nørreklit and proceeds:

“Pragmatic constructivism has implications for the production of trustworthy performance measurement. Conceptual models for measuring particular types of performance are key, but so is the integrated learning based theory of truth that forms the basis for the on-going improvement of the ability to generate and use information. Overall, valid performance measurement requires that we move beyond mechanical approaches to management and accounting towards more reflective and interactive methods.“

Graduates in high demand

The members of the research group teach courses in management accounting on the Bachelor’s programmes in economics and business administration and on the Master’s degree programme in management accounting and control. The degree programme is highly focused on teaching the students to apply their advanced technical knowledge in practice. The students do not only learn advanced management accounting and control techniques and tools, but also learn how to understand complex cross-disciplinary processes in contemporary organisations, and to interact with the human dimensions in the workplace.

According to Hanne Nørreklit, the Master’s degree programme is a highly approved in practice, and the graduates are in high demand among consultancy firms and major companies – and also smaller companies.

“The students on this programme are highly skilled. They understand the processes within a company and know when to apply one method rather than another. They are able to identify which methods make the most sense in the given situation and what is the most sensible approach to make it function successfully. And this is exactly what companies are in need of,” concludes Hanne Nørreklit.

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