On digital management control systems, performance measures and unintended consequences in the Swedish educational setting

Presenting an alternative framework for investigating technology- in use


  • Christina Mauléon University of Borås


evaluation, management control systems, unintended consequences, management accounting systems, education, school, accountability, performance measurement, performance management systems, sensemaking, translation, risk



Within the Swedish educational system improved student learning, teaching quality and organizational development has been the focus of attention for many years (OECD, 2015; Gorard 2010; Seidel & Shavelson 2007;). And many of the improvement initiatives have aimed at increasing learning and teaching quality by demanding more transparency and accountability (Everson 2016; Harris & Gorard 2015). To fulfill these requirements some of the solutions have been to implement and use digital management control systems (dMCS’) (such as unikum, schoolsoft, canvas, urkund, incident-reportingsystems and many more) to support follow-ups, decision-making, evaluations and actions in schools (Perry 2016; Leckie & Goldstein 2017). Subsequently are now teachers and principals required to collect, analyze and evaluate large amounts of performance data in dPMS’ to inform teaching and report achievements (DfE 2018).

Based on sociology and organizational research, it is known that the use of dPMS’ and performance measures will have unintended consequences (Ashton, 1976; Franco-Santos & Otley,2018 ; Ferreira & Otley 2009). Some of these consequences will be positive e.g. increased focus and attention; others will be undesirable e.g. measure fixation, bias, manipulation of data, ‘window dressing’, and stress amongst teachers and principals (Jones, et al., 2017).

The core idea for this paper emerges from the outcomes in a pilot study (Mauléon & Spante, 2015) showing how the use of an dPMS’ (a digital incident reporting system) at a primaryschool had adverse effects for the students being subjected to the dPMS’ and the teachers having to comply with it. It is also based on studies conducted in the US showing how groups of students such as African American, Hispanic and native American boys are disproportionately reported in dPMS’ due to the way in which teachers and principals enact (Weick, 1995) the systems. Over time, the digitally recorded information stigmatizes these particular students potentially affecting their futures (Anfinson et al., 2010).

This paper will present further empirical examples from the Swedish educational system of how well intended solutions end up having not only unintended but even negative consequences for students and teachers. We may call these unintentional social side effects, which due to the interpretation and use of the digital management control systems within the educational setting may affect them for years to come. The aim of our paper is thus to investigate the dark side of the use of digital management control systems within the Swedish educational system.







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1.2 The Dark Side of Management and Accounting