Misum Seminar "Nothing Saves the World: Accounting for Nature and the 'Common Good'" with Paolo Quattrone
About the speaker
Paolo Quattrone is Professor of Accounting, Governance and Society at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.
Prof. Quattrone's research relates to two big issues. The first of these concerns how decisions are made under radical uncertainty and ambiguity and looks at the role that data visualizations and governance mechanisms play in decision-making processes. He is particularly interested in major programme management, where he applies historical research on how the Jesuits dealt with unknown unknowns through an intelligent and innovative use of accounting figures. In this context he also uses some more contemporary research on the roles that information technologies (such as ERPs, data viz, etc.) and data viz (e.g. dashboards) play well beyond the metaphor of viewing them as ‘oracles’ that provide answers in all kinds of decision-making scenarios.
The second area of research concerns the notion of ‘value’ and its fluidity and volatility, and the need to rethink reporting to adjust to the contemporary social contexts, markets and technologies. This involves exploration of what it means to move from an idea of corporate communication as a ‘push’ effort (with corporations preparing reports ‘pushed’ to the market) to one where various stakeholders can instead ‘pull’ information on the corporations in various forms and formats. This also means to shift the focus from reporting as the measurement of shareholders’ value to reporting as a tool to explore the ‘common good’. He pursues this line of inquiry through research on alternatives forms of accounting in historical and contemporary times.
In the paper which will be the main focus of the seminar, the authors explore a genealogy of value-added planning and budgeting practices in one of Italy’s largest state-owned public holding companies from the mid-20th century, the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI), extending beyond standard rationality and efficiency ideas. They focus on the origins, development, and implementation of these calculative practices among a set of organizational actors in mid-20th century Italy committed to a Catholic conception of common good, materialized in terms foregrounding ambiguity as a critical institutional value. This commitment produced specific quantification practices, which presented social order as an unfolding com-promesso, animated by the potential to find workable integrative agreements over time. The research makes two contributions: 1) demonstrating how calculative practices designed to sustain ambiguity contribute to management, animated beyond the standard focus on rationality and efficiency; and 2) providing evidence for how these practices can embody ambiguity that informs economic and social governance. IRI provided a practical incubator for policy tools that shaped Italy’s broader economic policy and governance in Italy. This ongoing micro-level compromise created conditions for dynamic reconciliations between state and society and between ambiguous institutional values and calculable economic value to pursue societal wellbeing during periods of unsettled institutional and political order.